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Don’t Let What Happened to Target Happen to Your Small Business. Secure Your Data

business-data-breachPopular retailer Target has been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately. In a scheme that began on Black Friday and continued until mid-December, sophisticated fraudsters were able to illegally gain access to the credit card numbers of approximately 40 million shoppers, which they likely intend to sell to other criminals in illicit online marketplaces.

The breach has left the company in damage-control mode, and while its stock prices haven’t taken a complete nose-dive as a result of the incident, consumer confidence in the company’s data security is understandably shaken. Furious customers have threatened to boycott the company, and while a Target spokesperson announced via Facebook that more workers are being enlisted to help address customer concerns, many have complained of being unable to reach the company.

Obviously, this data breach has been messy, embarrassing, and costly. If you don’t think something like this could happen to your small business, think again. Small businesses are far more likely to become targets of fraud attempts than their larger counterparts.

Obviously, it’s impossible to completely prevent data breaches from happening; large retailers such as Target spend millions of dollars each year on data security measures. Businesses of any size must minimize their vulnerability to fraud attempts, through whatever precautions are available to them. Unfortunately, many small-business owners neglect to do so.

What can you do to protect your small business against data breaches like this one?

Conduct Background Checks

Many small-business fraud attempts are inside jobs. It’s a sad fact, but it’s true. Even small-business owners who consider themselves to be excellent judges of character should run background checks on new hires. Remember: it’s called a confidence game for a reason. Fraudsters are experts at gaining the confidence of their victims. Fraudsters lie. Background checks don’t.

Adopt Credit Card Security Policies

The attack on Target was a sophisticated effort, but small-time perpetrators target credit cards, too. That’s why small businesses must take extra precaution when processing credit card transactions. A step as simple as requiring ID for every credit card can prevent many fraud attempts. For telephone orders, all of the information related to the card should be collected and verified, and business owners should be wary of fictitious-sounding names and addresses, or unusually large and urgent orders.

Secure Your Mobile Devices

These days, most businesspeople are taking advantage of the convenience and connectivity offered by mobile devices. But if the proper precautions are not taken, these electronic gadgets can pose serious security risks. Small-business owners must make sure that all of the portable devices that have access to sensitive data are kept secure. Mobile devices and tablets should have security applications installed that allow tracking and remote locking, and all devices should be password protected.

Secure Your Network

Failure to take the necessary precautions makes a business’s computer network vulnerable to fraud attempts. Businesses utilizing Wi-Fi must make sure their wireless network is protected with a strong WPA2 password, and those who offer free wireless access to clients should take care to isolate business machines from public access. Firewall, anti-virus, and data encryption software should be put in place and kept up to date with all the latest patches. Restrictions should be placed on administrative access so that only those with legitimate business needs have it. Personal use of work computers should be limited, as should the downloading and installation of new software.

Monitor Your Business Credit

Sensitive customer data isn’t the only thing fraudsters are after; they’ve also been known to hijack a business’s credit information. That’s why business credit monitoring is an essential tool in the war against fraud. Business owners should be on the lookout for incorrect balances, collections notices, and accounts with dubious vendors.


John R. Klaras is a serial entrepreneur and small business professional, a writer, and an educator by trade. With nearly a decade of experience in the telecommunications industry, he is currently in the process of building a burgeoning new microbusiness. He has written for leading companies in a wide variety of verticals, including travel, finance, motorsports, and real estate.