By Rachel Oliver 

Nothing strikes terror into the minds of business professionals faster than an alert about a global or sweeping Internet hack or virus. The average non-IT person can feel vulnerable and fearful about having information, financial transactions and even intellectual property compromised by a third-party. Security protocols are never perfect, but more stringent in corporate environments and intranets that are constantly monitored for threat.

But how does the average work from home employee, small business owner or freelancer protect their data in a home office? What are the mandatory essential software’s, firewalls and practices that should be implemented to reduce your risk of a hack, or a damaging virus on your home network? In this article, we’ll share tips to help home businesses ‘lock it down’ and protect both digital property and hardware from malware attacks.

Secure Equipment and Ports

From a hardware perspective, securing your ports and equipment is less a concern in a small home business than it is for a public location, or traditional office environment.   All network equipment including routers and access points, should be hidden from view if you receive customers or clients to your residence or office. Anyone can access your network through ethernet wall ports, and gain immediate access to your network and files, so keep them hidden and disconnect any ports that are not in use, which may be accessible to non-employees.

Do Not Allow Family Members or Friends to Use Business Devices

It’s not that your family member or associate may be a hacker, or mean any harm, but if they have a lower Internet proficiency than you do, chances are that they may open a personal email, or visit a website that has malware, and infect your network. If you must have a laptop of desktop for guest use, make sure it is connected via encryption to the Wi-Fi, and that it has no access to file storage.

For best security practice in the home, buy a router that offers two or more separate Wi-Fi networks. That way, you can separate business activity on one secure and encrypted network for your confidential information, while still offering guests and family members Wi-Fi access, on a ‘public’ network. Ensure that no business machines are connected to your public network.

Choose Your Cloud Storage Wisely

Every small business owner, consultant or freelancer will need to store files, invoices and other financial information, and back it up to prevent data loss. However, choosing the right kind of cloud storage service, and using the right methods to organize archived information and encrypt it is essential to preventing others from accessing your confidential information.

Dropbox cloud storage software is one of the only providers to offer access to Linux, Blackberry, Windows, Mac OS, Android and iOS users.   Create folders on your local directory or desktop and then drag and drop them into organized folders on Dropbox to safely archive your information, or share it with clients, or other team members.

Some of the impressive new features rolled out in DropBox including essentials that most small businesses can’t be without, such as the ability to sign PDF documents inside the application, sharing files in iMessage (for Apple users) and more.

The caveat is that the free account does not come with all the bells and whistles that most small businesses need, both in terms of security and storage. The free account is provided with a small 2GB of storage. The standard membership upgrades that to 2TB of storage for $12.50 per month (USD).   Professionals who are concerned about security should upgrade to the $20.00 per month version, which includes the following enhancements:

  • 120 days of file recovery
  • Smart Sync
  • Paper administrator controls and granular permissions
  • User management
  • Two-factor authentication for access (2FA)
  • HIPAA compliance (required for medical or personal information management)
  • Unlimited storage space
  • Single Sign On (SSO) integration
  • Enhanced monitoring and reporting tools
  • Tiered administrator roles

The last two services are important to small business owners operating from a home office. It allows you to set up folders and assign access to clients, or team members, without making other folders available (such as administrative or accounting data). The enhanced monitoring and reporting tools can also track who added to a folder, uploaded, downloaded or shared any of the documents in the centralized archive. This helps detect fraudulent access or sharing of confidential information.

If you are using the free version of Dropbox, consider upgrading to improve cloud storage security, and prevent identity or intellectual property theft. Other recommended options include Zoolz, or JustCloud, but there are many options to choose from. Again, when picking cloud storage, always choose the paid subscription to access additional security and encryption tools.

Pay Attention to Essential Updates, Anti-Virus and Firewalls

You may be a whiz kid, but having a professional install an encrypted home network and provide recommendations on the right anti-virus can save you thousands in lost data and downtime. Your local independent IT professionals or businesses like Best Buy and Office Depot offer security consulting and installation services that are affordable and well worth the investment. Keep your virus definitions updated daily by scheduling one after business hours every day.

A firewall is either software, hardware (or a combination of both) that figuratively functions as a security wall between internet traffic and your home and business network. Viruses, worms and hackers are constantly attempting to exploit not only business machines, but also personal devices and home computers, to access identity and health information, or other data that has value on the ‘dark internet’. Information that can be used to compromise credit history, personal finances and much more.

Remember to invest in the highest quality anti-virus and firewall installation that you can manage for your home network. And ensure that your website, laptop, desktop computer and other personal devices are updated promptly when an update is available.

In the United States alone, hackers cost American’s and businesses billions of dollars in data losses and recovery annually. Protect your proprietary and personal data, by remaining informed on best practice for cyber-security at home.