Data is a valuable asset to any business. Here’s how to keep it safe. 

What types of business data need to be kept safely and securely?

How many of the following do you have?

  • Emails
  • Documents – letters, proposals, reports, plans, diagrams, contracts, estimates, quotations, budgets, accounts, etc
  • Photos, graphics, videos, audio files, etc
  • Databases – contacts, customer records, product details and descriptions, etc.

Even the smallest business can have masses of data, which if lost would at the very least be inconvenient, or at the worst, disastrous. Floods, fires, computer viruses, file corruption, hardware failures and problems when installing software upgrades can damage or even destroy your data.

There are stories of people taking their laptops for repair, only to discover that when they pick up the machines their hard drives have been changed: all their data has gone for good!

Theft of information about your customers, clients, employees or suppliers would not only be commercially damaging, but also open you up for prosecution under the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which obliges you to keep such data secure.

You need to ensure you back up your data – to copy it from your computers to somewhere else - so that you don’t lose it if things go wrong.

What sorts of places can I back up my data to?

Data can be stored and backed up on the following:

Computer hard drives

You can backup your files to another sector of your computer’s hard drive, or even copy the whole drive (known as ‘disk imaging’), for example by using Windows programs. 

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Computer hard drives

This is useful if one sector goes down, or one set of copies get corrupted,  but obviously you still lose everything if the whole hard drive fails or if the computer gets damaged, lost, or stolen. Images and copies also take up storage space.

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Memory sticks

USB memory sticks are a useful way of transporting files around. They’re inexpensive – for about £10 you can get 16 gigabytes of storage.

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Memory sticks

You might use them for very short-term storage of documents you’re working on, but they’re not suitable for systematic backing up. They’re notorious for being easily lost – make sure you encrypt them so that if they do fall into the wrong hands the files can’t be opened.

The convenience of memory sticks can also be their downfall. They’re a perfect way to pass viruses from one computer to another, or even infect whole networks. That’s why some businesses ban their employees from using them. If you do need to use memory sticks, be sure to scan them with virus protection software before you open any files.

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CDs /DVDs

Files can backed-up (‘burned’) from desktops and laptops onto CDs or DVDs, but this can be a very slow process.

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CDs /DVDs

The discs have limited space (about 5 -10 gigabytes) and can be damaged relatively easily. They’re not recommended for systematic data backups.

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Portable hard drives

Backing up to hard drives is a cost-effective option for many smaller businesses. These range from 500 gigabyte models for around £50, to 8 terabyte versions for about £200.

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Portable hard drives

Larger businesses tend to backup to tape drives, many of which cost £1,000 or more. As with any portable storage device, it’s a good idea to encrypt the data in case it gets lost or stolen.

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Network storage devices

If you have a network, you’ll have a network server or network attached storage (NAS) device (costing £400 to £2,500) that stores terabytes of data.

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Network storage devices

‘RAID’ type servers in effect backup data to different internal discs so that if one fails the data is safe on another. But these data copies are held within the same device – for proper security the data needs copying and then storing at a different location.

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Cloud storage

With online backup (or cloud backup) your data is sent via the internet to a vendor who stores it on their own servers in a data centre.

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Cloud storage

This means you avoid the risks associated with storage on your own premises, such as fire, flood or theft. Costs may range from around £6 per month for limited storage for one user, to £550 per year for unlimited use by five users.

Here are the websites of some of the companies that provide cloud hosting services:

How should I make backups?

Here’s key information about making backups.

Software

To make backups to external devices and/or the cloud, you’ll need appropriate software. Portable storage devices, network attached storage devices (NAS) and servers may come with backup software but check with your supplier. A package for free-standing computers might cost around £50. Server versions start around £150 and go up to over £1,000 for sophisticated packages with unlimited support.

Here are the websites of some of the companies that provide backup software:

Full v Incremental

The first time you backup, you need to do a full backup – i.e. to back up everything. Ideally this would be your entire system (operating system, settings and data). After this, the backups can be incremental – only back up the files that have been changed or added since the previous backup. This saves time and storage space.

Frequency

You need to decide how often you need to do a backup. Ideally you’d do this daily. Backup software can enable you to schedule backups that are then carried out automatically.

Separation

If you make backups on portable storage devices, keep them at a separate location from your computer or server. Make sure that they’re stored in a cool, damp free environment, away from magnetism.

Copies

Remember that you always need at least two copies of all your data. If you’ve made backups (e.g. on external storage devices or the cloud) but later you remove data from your computer or server to free up space, you’re then back to having just a single copy. You need to re-copy this so that you’ve still got two.

Test

Test your backups regularly – you don’t want to have to wait until something goes wrong to find out if your backups are actually working!

What are firewalls and antivirus software

The internet is crawling with viruses that have the potential to infect your computer or network. Firewalls and antivirus software are designed to help prevent this from happening and provide quick and effective cures should a virus manage to worm its way in.

Firewalls are like nightclub doormen – their job is to keep out undesirables. The troublemakers – villains like malware and spyware – are intent on barging in to see what they can steal, or just to cause problems for the sheer hell of it.

Individual computers and portable devices like smartphones can be protected by software firewalls. Windows has its own built-in firewall, but you can also subscribe to enhanced firewall protection. This may come as part and parcel of an anti-virus software package. Once you install it, make sure you look out for updates – and don’t forget to renew your subscription.

Computer networks need a double level of firewall protection. The first level is known as a hardware firewall. Typically this is provided by the router, which is the point where the network connects to the internet. Make sure your router is correctly configured and tested to ensure the firewall is working properly.

The next line of defence is the software firewall you install on each computer. If viruses do manage to penetrate the hardware firewall they’ll come up against the firewalls on each machine. And if a computer does get infected – for example by someone plugging in an infected memory stick – the software firewall on each of the other computers will help to protect them from cross-infection.

Firewalls are designed to keep-out viruses, but if any do manage to sneak through, all is not lost – as long as you’ve installed anti-virus software. This acts like a detective who systematically searches for viruses, removing any they uncover. You can download free anti-virus software from providers including McAfee and AVG, or you can pay for business versions of these and others, like Norton, Bitdefender and Kaspersky.

Before you choose a particular anti-virus software, research its effectiveness. Also, check that your computer will be able to run it okay – sometimes performance will be slowed down because the anti-virus software is running all the time in the background.

Once you’ve installed anti-virus software, make sure you run full scans about once a week. Many virus protection packages enable you to schedule automatic scans and regularly search for updates. Make sure you get anti-virus protection for your mobile devices as well as your laptop and desktop computers.

The Windows operating system (OS) has an inbuilt anti-virus application that offers baseline protection. Depending on what version of the system you have, this might be called Windows Defender, or Microsoft Security Essentials. If you install third-party anti-virus software this will normally override the OS version. If you rely purely on the OS version, make sure you have the automatic update function properly configured.

What is encryption?

No matter where you store your data, there’s always a risk that someone else can get hold of it. Portable devices like laptops can easily be lost or stolen – even if they’re password protected, someone who’s skilled and determined enough can normally get to your data, for instance by removing a laptop’s hard drive.

Data stored on hardware in your own premises or with your cloud storage provider, is normally safer than data on portable devices, but there’s not a 100% guarantee that  hackers or intruders won’t be able to get their hands on your information.

Your last line of defence is to use encryption – the scrambling of data so that no one else can read it. Encryption involves setting a password that’s needed to unscramble your data. For files, such as documents, the simplest way to do this is to encrypt them before you back them up locally or to the cloud. Windows and Mac both provide ways to encrypt files.

Macs have an built-in encryption function for the system drive itself. Windows has similar tool – this is only available on corporate versions of the operating system, but you may be able to find third party solutions.

Some portable storage devices have built-in encryption. Alternatively you can use commercially available software.

Here are websites with information about encryption: 

Here are some of the products you can use for encryption:

Checklist: What else can I do to protect my business data?

Ensure you, and any staff you employ, to do all of the following. Login to save this checklist to your profile for future use. (To register to join and enjoy the benefits of membership click on the link at the top right of the page. It will only take a few minutes to create your profile).

Next Steps

For more information and advice on data safety go to the Cyberwise website

Be Cyber Streetwise is a cross-government campaign which aims to measurably and significantly improve the online safety behaviour and confidence of consumers and SMEs.

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