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3 Ways to Protect Your Customer Data from Hackers

Hackers recently attacked a Vermont-based furniture store, stealing company data and holding it for ransom. Ransomware and other cyber attacks are real threats to businesses. Here are three ways to protect your business and customers.

Alison Martin
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Photo: Pexels

It might as well have been a plot in a movie. Yesterday, CBS-affiliate WCAX reported that Vermont-based Wendell's Furniture had been the victim of a ransomware attack, an attack in which software downloads to a computer, encrypts the software so the user cannot access data and then demands money in order to release the data. Wendell's lost customer data (names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses, but thankfully, no credit card numbers) from the last five to 10 years, and while the company was able to recover most of it, some months' worth of data are still missing. 

Independent retailers be warned: Not only big corporations like Target or Equifax are at risk. Cyber attacks can happen to any business, and having to tell your customers that you've been hacked could shatter your local reputation. 

The best way to avoid cyber threats is to get smart and savvy. Here are three ways to protect your customers and your business from cyber threats online.

Know how to spot phishing emails

Email hacking no longer involves elaborate stories or too-good-to-be-true winnings. These days, email hackers impersonate well-known brands and even other known associates to trick users into providing private information.

This is what's called phishing emails. The fake emails will look like legitimate correspondence from popular companies such as Apple or a bank and have similar layouts and logos. Some phishing emails even appear to come from other people within the same company. The emails themselves ask for private information such as credit card or social security numbers, and once the information is given, it's like to be used and abused.

There are ways to spot phishing emails. Here a few giveaways:

- No direct address. If the email is legitimate, it will address you by your name, not Dear Customer or Dear Sir.

- Obvious grammatical errors. No one's perfect, but a phishing email will have some blatant grammar and spelling errors.

- When you hover over links, the actual page you're going to doesn't match. It may read www.mychasebank.com, but when you hover over, you can see that the page you're actually going to is not at all related. Don't click it.

Update your software and secure your WiFi

Be honest: How many times have you skipped over a software update on your computer because you didn't want to wait for it to restart? Those updates usually include security updates as well, and if your system isn't fully updated, then you could be open to security threats.

Your WiFi could also be a security risk if it's not password protected. While employees should have access to WiFi, make sure the password isn't easy to remember. Use a random string of numbers, letters and symbols and have the password posted in just one place in your office, far away from customers. If you want to offer customers WiFi access, set up a separate network.

Back up all your data

The team at Wendell's Furniture had no choice but to cooperate with the hackers and try to get their data back, but there are ways to circumvent the hackers if this should happen to you. 

Using external hard drives, create copies of all your company data and save them to these hard drives. This solves two problems. First, your copied data is not accessible to hackers and cannot be held for ransom. Second, your data will be safe if your computer should ever crash or malfunction in any other way. 

The key with backups, of course, is updating them regularly. Once you have an external hard drive, make a point to recopy your data and save it over your old files every few months. This will ensure that if you do run into a problem with a hacker or a malfunctioning computer, you won't lose as much data, and you won't have to start from scratch.

What happened to Wendell's could happen to any furniture or lighting showroom. Small business owners should never assume that hackers wouldn't bother with them. Keep yourself updated with the latest in cybersecurity and train your employees to recognize and minimize cyber threats.

Tell us: Have you had phishing emails in your inbox? How did you handle them? Share with us in the comments!

Photo: Pexels

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