21/06/11

By Andrea Barnard, e-Crime Wales Police Manager

Staying safe online has never been more important for businesses of all sizes. Internet criminals have become increasingly sophisticated over the past few years and continue to devise new ways of scamming businesses and individuals. e-Crime Wales is an organisation which can advise businesses on how to stay safe online and ensure they’re aware of what’s out there and how to avoid becoming another statistic.

The majority of businesses are probably confident that their existing IT security precautions – invariably based on conventional, off-the-shelf anti-virus and firewall solutions – will provide them with sufficient protection from all significant online security threats. The fact remains however that businesses every year fall victim to e-Crime, despite having such precautions in place.

Last year, e-Crime is thought to have cost UK businesses £27billion. It is now widely accepted that cyber crime is dangerous and it is here for the long term. Some high profile hackings over the past few months, such as that of the Australian Prime Minister and the infamous Play Station network hack that put 100 million customers’ personal data at risk, shows that no-one is safe.

It’s important to note that had a similar hack to the Play Station network happened to a smaller company, it is quite possible that they would have gone out of business. It demonstrates the power of cyber crime and that all businesses have to take precautions to ensure they do not get caught out in the same way that Sony did.

Almost without exception, organisations today conduct their operations with some reliance upon the Internet. Many will have taken steps to use a website as a virtual shop-front, promoting their products and services, and some will have taken the use of the internet further to trade online with customers and suppliers, otherwise known as e-Commerce. Without taking the necessary security measures, e-Criminals can intercept sensitive information that is passed between the business and the individual. Credit card companies can also refuse to work with you if your website fails to have the necessary protection to make it difficult or impossible for hackers to infiltrate the site.

There are various steps that businesses and individuals can take to ensure they do not fall into traps set up by intelligent cyber criminals. When setting up an e-commerce website, a privacy policy that customers and other visitors can read should be established, along with a firewall solution to protect the internal network and the files stored within it, and a qualified ICT advisor with expertise in network and information security should be consulted.

It’s not just large businesses that are at risk, but also small and micro-businesses that rely heavily on the internet for a large percentage of their income. As more and more businesses have increased their productivity by using networks and high-speed Internet connections, viruses have become the most prolific and costly security issues facing small to medium sized businesses. The downtime for a company, as a result of data loss, can drastically influence it’s long-term success. And as aa small company, it could mean the difference between having a business and going bust.

When active, some viruses delete important files from the computer, while others send confidential information that may be stored on the PC to other people. There are ways to stay protected from these particularly hard to spot viruses, but the best method is to ensure that Anti-Virus Software (AVS) is in place. Companies should bear in mind that anti-virus software needs to be constantly updated as new viruses are always being devised by e-Criminals in an attempt to bypass the latest security measures.

Anti-virus software is essential and effective, but most e-Crimes take place via proactive action on behalf of companies – clicking on mysterious links, opening suspicious emails being the main enticements. Always think twice before clicking on something online. It may only take a second to open a file, but once a virus has infected a system, it can take a lot of time and effort to get rid of it. A virus may have the appearance of a game, but may also install spyware or adware which may then open a backdoor on a computer allowing an intruder to connect without the user’s knowledge or consent.

To keep businesses protected, a clear IT policy for acceptable use of business systems, websites and email should be in place. This document can then be referred to in employment contracts and provide training for procedures. Even if just one employee opens an attachment with a virus in it, it can quickly spread to other computers and potentially disable entire networks for a significant period of time.

Businesses must continue to download software and keep it up to date, but the most effective way to avoid being caught out by e-Crime is by simply knowing the risks and avoiding opening dangerous files in the first instance. Somebody who cold calls you with an offer that sounds too good to be true would be questioned immediately and the principle is the same with cyber crime. There is a perception online that most of what you see is trustworthy and that is not necessarily the case.

There are many threats facing businesses and the Play Station Network hack shows that no-one is safe, no matter how big an organisation is. This should send alarm bells ringing for small to medium sized companies who will hopefully move to tighten up their own cyber security.

The e-Crime Wales website includes free fact sheets to download with information on emerging threats and the best ways to counteract them. For further information, and to ensure your business does not fall prey to the latest scam or hack head to www.ecrimewales.com.


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