Businesses rely on information technology to improve productivity, share information and reduce the time it takes to communicate. Despite how important information technology is to their success many small businesses tend to manage it poorly. For the most part this has to do with the depth of expertise and investment of time that is necessary to ensure that software, hardware, networks and telephony are maintained to promote maximum stability and security.
These tips are based on my experiences and are intended to provide a basic guide for improving your IT experience.
Problems begin with software that’s not maintained
The majority of malware is able to enter computers because they run out of date software. That includes applications like Adobe Acrobat Reader or Java and the operating system itself, such as Windows or Mac OS X. Software publishers release updates that include fixes for security problems. When these updates are released they reveal problems with the software that hackers can focus on and attack. About 80% of malware targets out of date operating systems and applications. By keeping yours up to date you can reduce the probability of malware invading your computer.
Update your software regularly
To update your software it’s best to visit the publisher’s website, such as www.adobe.com for Adobe Acrobat Reader or www.java.com for Oracle Java. I strongly recommend opting out of any third party add-ons such as tool bars, free anti-virus or other potentially unwanted programs (PUPs) that may come along. For Microsoft Windows you can check for updates manually by visiting control panel and searching for Windows Update and then clicking the Windows Update icon. For Apple Mac OS X you can click on the Apple icon and then click on Software Update to check for the latest updates.
Don’t click that Internet ad
Many problems begin with a too good to be true advertisement that redirects the user to malicious software or fraudulent websites. Avoid advertising entirely by employing a third party plug-in to filter your ads. AdBlockPlus on FireFox and AdBlock on Google Chrome are both worthy of consideration. By avoiding potentially dangerous ads you can also circumvent a lot of online risks.
Avoid fake programs
There are many programs that pose as legitimate software, but are instead trojans (a fake version that install malware). Be very careful which programs that you allow access to your computer. The fake version of a real program can bring a lot of trouble with it, including locking you out of your computer, encrypting your data and causing numerous performance and security headaches.
Back up your data
Most small businesses don’t have a continuous backup or an off-site backup. That means that there isn’t continuity of data should there be a significant disruption to their computers. Backing up sporadically or hoping that cloud backups work properly when the time comes to restore data is not enough. Having at least one backup on-site and one off-site is critical. The immediate access to critical files and keeping them private is the best way to ensure continuity of business and prevent information leakage. Mac users are in luck as their backup software is built-in.
Don’t share unnecessarily
Keep your private files private. As mentioned above I don’t recommend backing up sensitive business data to the cloud. I also don’t recommend actively sharing sensitive financial or trade secret data unnecessarily.
Many small businesses put extremely sensitive data in to Internet-facing applications that anyone may be able to gain access to, whereas if they were stored on a private network it would be much more difficult for an intruder to gain access.
These data aggregation and storage Internet sites become treasure trove targets for hackers that want to get a large payoff with not too much work. As low hanging fruit they are often targeted and successfully exploited.
Invest in your web presence
Clients appreciate a well maintained, visually appealing and most of all useful web site. Web sites that match these criteria will generate leads for the business as well as give clients a way to refer new business to your company. Most web sites will contain useful information, such as the company’s background, offerings, contact information and location. Some web sites also offer answers to frequently asked questions to improve customer service. By having a web site available you are giving yourself virtual billboard online for current and future clients as well as an efficient way to collect leads, inquiries and provide basic customer support.
Don’t be afraid to upgrade or replace your system
It works just like you want it to, but it’s an older computer and it may not be around much longer. How long can you afford to be down? Are your backups current? Maybe it’s a good time to consider getting a new business computer. There are still systems that run Windows 7 Professional if the prospect of Windows 8 has discouraged your investment in newer technology. But the basic question with technology one must ask is how much longer is it going to last? If the machine in question is five or more years old it’s definitely worth looking at replacing it since it is a cornerstone of your company’s productivity and being down for any period of time can be destructive.
Consider a backup computer
Just like upgrading, it’s also good to have a backup of your company computer. Another machine, possibly older and slower, but functional, can be a lifesaver when your main computer goes down. You could look at repairing your older system or investing in a refurbished or lower end machine. These preventative measures pay off in the long run as disruptions can become less of a panic attack moment and more of a subtle bump along the road.
Hire a professional IT consultant
If your company still needs help, consider hiring a professional IT consultant.
About the author
Alexander G. Chamandy is a seasoned information technology professional with more than two decades of experience in the industry. He is a managing member of Envescent, LLC, a business IT solutions provider serving the Washington, DC area.