28/08/2015

By Guillaume Desnoes, head of European markets, Dashlane

The advent of affordable technology has certainly enabled small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to compete more readily with competitors with deeper pockets. However, with opportunity has come challenge, especially around security.

Naturally, the vast majority of SMEs do not have dedicated IT departments and have to rely on the individual employees as the first line of defence. And SMEs have coped admirably in years gone by. However, the evolution of the SME sector has thrown new, significant obstacles in the way.

One of the biggest changes to this sector in recent years has been the advent of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). With flexible working, the extrapolation of tablets and affordability of personal laptops, the lines between home and the office have become increasingly blurred. It has undoubtedly had a great deal of positive effects on the working world – increased productivity, preferential work/life balance and generally happier workforces. However, for small business owners, a perennial worry over the last couple of years is employees storing sensitive business information on their personal devices.

A few years ago, employees tended to use just three to five business software packages on their respective work computers. Security was about building advanced security systems and obliging employees to use them. This can still make sense for highly sensitive software, but it can be seen as a chore and impeding productivity.

Today’s consumers (and therefore employees) are completely reliant on their devices, are using a myriad of apps and programmes and are constantly producing data. It’s estimated that 90 percent of the world’s data has been produced in the last two years alone. Also, the average Brit now has 83 password protected accounts. It’s no surprise that the top logins are ‘password’ and ‘123456’. We just aren’t built to remember that many, so we choose the simplest ones to remember and often use them across multiple accounts. And herein lies what appears to be a true problem for small business owners.

With BYOD prevalent in pretty much every business, organisations are very much at the mercy of their employees, who are their first line of defence. Business and personal lives are merged onto one device. And this means the hackable passwords they use for their personal accounts are likely the ones they use to access their work emails, Google documents or the business network remotely too.

This laissez-faire attitude to security is naturally working its way into business, due to BYOD. Also consider that hackers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and are preying on lax password security. You just have to look at the likes of the Heartbleed scandal and high profile data leaks, such as British Airways, Match.com and Sony. It sounds like SMEs are at the mercy of ruthless hackers and there is nothing they can do about it. But they’re not. And they can actually turn this new “situation” to their favour.

It sounds overwhelming but SMEs shouldn’t see this as an insurmountable challenge, but a great opportunity. It’s true that many employees don’t fancy themselves as security gurus. However, they are tech savvy and what today’s employee does appreciate is ways to make their lives more fluid and smooth, whether at home or at work. There is a golden chance to empower employees with training on online security and easy to use tools that make them safer and help them to save time. It’s the reason new apps and tools, such as password managers and digital wallets, have been developed. It’s not to cause more admin for employees, but to harness today’s employee’s aptitude for tech and apps.

Deploying such a strategy not only shows forward-thinking from small business leaders, but also trust in their workforce. Empowering them with these skills enables them to be this critical first line of defence and makes them more efficient in both work and home life. And most crucially of all, it allays any fears of security breaches from external threats and allows SMEs to crack on with what they do best – innovating, growing and being the lynchpin of UK plc.