Ten Steps to Safeguard Your Computer

Today, more than ever, small business success relies on information—from financial data and customer records to marketplace performance indicators and trends. With much of that data being stored electronically, safeguarding your computers is vital to your business success. The California Society of CPAs (www.calcpa.org) advises small business owners to follow ten steps to protect their company information systems from internal and external threats.
  • Use a surge protector. Sudden increases in voltage, such as those that occur during a storm, can internally damage or destroy computers. The best way to protect your computer against power surges is with a surge protector. But don't expect a surge protector to safeguard your computer against a direct lightning strike. For the best protection, you should unplug your computer and modem during severe storms.
  • Install Anti-Virus Programs. Many new computers come equipped with anti-virus protection, but if your computer doesn't, you should buy and install anti-virus software to protect your company’s computers. Bear in mind that new viruses surface on a regular basis. Fortunately, you don't need a new version of the program to stay current. Most companies offering virus protection software regularly post virus definition updates that you can download. Be sure to take the time to get the latest updates.
  • Use Caution With E-Mail Attachments. Instruct employees to carefully evaluate any files received via e-mail—particularly those from unknown or anonymous senders—before opening or saving them. It’s best not to open an attachment unless you are sure of the credibility of both the sender and the contents of the attachment. 
  • Don’t Leave Computers Unattended. Be sure employees always log-out of their computers before leaving their workstations.
  • Keep Computer Operating Systems Current. New security flaws are discovered all the time, and manufacturers frequently release patches. Most newer operating systems automatically notify users when updates become available. If your system doesn’t, you should regularly check the Web site of your computer’s manufacturer and download critical updates and patches, especially those that correct security-related defects. 
  • Update Software Programs Regularly. When you install application software on your computer, you typically have an opportunity to register with the manufacturer. While not mandatory, this is a good idea because registering your software makes it possible for manufacturers to alert you via e-mail of security patches and performance updates. 
  • Select Passwords Carefully. Remind employees to create passwords that are not easily identifiable. The most secure passwords contain at least eight characters, with a mixture of upper- and lower-case letters, numerals, and symbols. Be sure that employees do not post notes with log-ins and passwords around their workstation.
  • Back Up Files Regularly. You should periodically create a backup of your company’s entire system. This will help minimize the loss of data in the event that critical files are destroyed. There are automatic back-up systems available that are not too expensive. Smaller companies may be able to use a zip drive or a CD for back-up purposes. 
  • Secure Data Transmissions. If your company sends sensitive proprietary information via the Internet, you should consider using encryption to prevent data from being copied or stolen. Another safeguard is to install a firewall. A firewall is a security method that keeps outsiders from accessing restricted information on networks or intranets. 
  • Consult With A CPA. Many CPAs are specially trained in information security and can help you assess the safety of your company’s system.