BBB study reveals small businesses are struggling with data protection

The October, 2017 National Cybersecurity Awareness Month is sandwiched between one of the largest reported data breaches in history and the busiest online shopping period of the year. Connecticut Better Business Bureau says a new study shows small businesses are having difficulty calculating the cost versus risk of strengthening protection of their vital information.

A new study by the Council of Better Business Bureaus, The State of Small Business Cybersecurity in North America, concludes that while most small businesses are aware of specific threats, the majority are at odds about how to prevent becoming a victim.

"Awareness of the potential and perceived cybersecurity threats is a crucial starting point," according to Connecticut Better Business Bureau spokesman Howard Schwartz. "The study shows that most small businesses are strengthening their data protection to some degree, however, it concludes they must place more emphasis on employee education to prevent cybercrime."

In an online survey of 1,100 businesses in North America, The State ofSmall Business Cybersecurity in North America finds 81 percent of small businesses use basic data protection tools such as antivirus software, and 75 percent protect their systems with firewalls. The downside is that the report reveals less than half of respondents concentrate on employee education, which is considered by the authors to be one of the most cost-effective prevention tools.

The most compelling reason for small businesses to take stronger cybersecurity measures is because half of the study's respondents said they could not remain profitable for more than one month if their essential data was stolen.

Even though small businesses may be easier targets for determined cybercriminals, data breaches at the largest commercial, industrial and government networks yield information that is of much greater value because of stolen informations quantity and content.

BBB urges businesses to train employees about data security protocols, because firewall and antivirus protection are not sufficient if your employees don't know how to detect and steer clear of suspicious online activity.

What does this mean for consumers?

As we head into the busiest retail season of the year, consumers should be more vigilant than ever when shopping online and aware of what steps to take to reduce the number of places where their information may be stored and potentially exposed by third parties. These include retail websites that offer to hold on to payment information for customers' convenience when they make subsequent purchases.

BBB offers National Cybersecurity Awareness Month tips to help protect personal and financial data while doing business and browsing online:

  • Look for HTTP"S" — You will find it in your web browser's address bar. The "s" stands for secure and it will be accompanied by a padlock icon. That means the business is using technology to secure information between your digital devices and its website.

  • Avoid using free wireless connections for shopping — Scammers can set up a fake wireless network with a legitimate-looking name in a coffee shop, restaurant, library, airport, hotel or anywhere else. Unless you verify the name of the establishment's real network, a hacker can burrow into your computer. Experts also recommend avoiding conducting any commerce or logging on to your accounts using a free public wireless network.

  • Greeting cards can come at a high price — It's not unusual to receive an online greeting card at this time of year, but you can lessen the chances of downloading a virus if you confirm with senders that they emailed the card link to you. Clicking on a fake holiday card can cause big trouble and infect your computer.

  • Educate your family — Explain why it is potentially dangerous to click on email or social media links or attachments, unless they are absolutely certain the sender is legitimate. Use the same caution on websites when clicking on hyperlinks or downloading files.

  • Update and scan — Antivirus and firewall software do not provide sufficient protection unless you update it and scan your computer or smart device regularly.

Business owners can learn more through "5 Steps to Better Business Security" at .