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“Small Businesses Across NI Must Learn To Protect Themselves Online” Says Digital Expert

While the digital landscape offers a wealth of opportunities for small businesses, it equally presents a bounty for cybercriminals.


In the UK, a small business falls victim to a successful hack every 19 seconds. By the time you reach the end of this article, at least six more will have been compromised.


Senior developer Adam McBride at Excalibur Press, a Belfast based multidisciplinary media and marketing company, has over a decade of experience helping businesses plan, create and maintain an online presence whilst offering a range of additional creative technology services such as app development, CRM system development and online learning platforms.


He said that more often than not businesses who become susceptible to cyber attacks could easily have prevented it:


“Navigating the complexities of online security can feel overwhelming, especially when your primary focus is running your business.


“Small businesses across Northern Ireland must learn to protect themselves online and there are some simple things they can do that they can do themselves or prompt their website developer or social media manager to implement.”


Here are Adam’s nine top tips to stay safe online:


1. Power Up Your Passwords


Your password often stands as the first line of defence against intruders. Yet, many of us underestimate its importance, resorting to easily guessed phrases like 'password123' or 'letmein'. Such weak passwords are akin to leaving your front door not only unlocked but wide open.


Adam explained: “A strong password is a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols, and is unique to each platform you use. If you find it difficult to remember a number of different passwords, consider using a password manager such as 1Password.com. You can also use tools such as dinopass.com to generate more secure passwords that are still easy to remember.”


2. Use Two Factor Authentication


Adam says that while a strong password is a good start, on its own, it often isn't enough to keep your accounts safe. Enter Two-Factor Authentication (2FA), which adds that much-needed additional layer of security.


He added: “What exactly is two factor authentication? Beyond the usual password input, 2FA asks for a second verification step. This might come as a text to your mobile, a unique link sent to your email, or a code generated by an authentication app.

“If a hacker somehow snags your password, they're still out of luck without access to your second means of verification. It considerably amplifies your security, putting up stronger barriers against prying eyes. And it's not just for your own website, implement 2FA on your social media, email accounts, and any platform where it's available.”


3. Be Savvy On Social Media


That fun graphic on Facebook that promises to reveal your Star Wars name might seem like harmless fun, but strip away the engaging visuals and playful premise, and it's a different story warned Adam.


“If an online stranger asked you for personal details such as your full date of birth directly, would you still be so keen to share them? Most likely not” he said.


“Yet, when this information is cloaked in a shareable graphic, many of us inadvertently reveal personal details that could be exploited. Always be careful about what information you share online, and ask yourself whether you would be happy for that information to fall into the wrong hands before sharing it.”


4. Use Professional Email Services


Using the free email service included with your web hosting may seem like a good way to save some money, but it's essential to consider the broader implications.


Adam said: “At Excalibur Press we see clients all the time who have relied on the free email services available or substandard systems set up by people trying to keep their costs down.


“The problem here is that they often lack the advanced security features offered by dedicated managed platforms like Google Workspace. Without these defences, your email becomes a vulnerable target, susceptible to breaches.


“Not just that, these free services typically have less effective spam filters, meaning your inbox may get cluttered with unsolicited messages. Investing in a professional email service might seem like an additional cost, but the enhanced security and peace of mind it provides are invaluable.”


5. Protect Your Website With A Firewall


“Every website is a potential target for cyberattacks, from malicious bots to more intricate threats” said Adam, adding: “Think of a firewall as your site's personal security guard, diligently monitoring and filtering the traffic that comes its way.


“It's a barrier designed to keep out unwanted guests while letting genuine users in smoothly. For top-tier protection, consider using services like Cloudflare. Not only does it offer a robust web application firewall, but it can also enhance your site's performance and speed.”


6. Keep Your Website Up To Date


Adam said: “Maintaining a website is much like looking after a car; you wouldn't drive year after year without a service, right? Websites need similar attention.


“Regularly updating your website's software, plugins, and themes is crucial. Outdated components can have vulnerabilities that cybercriminals are quick to exploit.”


By staying updated, you're not just enhancing your site's features and performance; you're also fortifying its defences against potential threats. Just as you'd keep your vehicle serviced, ensure your website gets its regular 'tune-ups' too.


7. Use A Good Web Host


“When it comes to web hosting, you often get what you pay for. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. That’s why at Excalibur Press we use my hosting company Belfast Web where we can confidently ensure that our client’s websites are hosted on a superior system that helps their website run faster, as well as making setting up features like SSL certificates and backups easier” explained Adam.


A good web hosting service will also keep their software more up to date without needing your intervention, set up security features that may not be available on a cheaper host, and if the unexpected happens and your site is compromised, they're better equipped to offer swift and effective support.


8. Set Screen Time-Outs in Shared Office Spaces


In a shared office space, screens can easily become windows into sensitive data. By setting automatic time-outs or screen locks on computers, you ensure that any unattended device isn't an open invitation for prying eyes.


“It's a simple yet effective step, guaranteeing that only the authorised individual, with the right credentials, can access the system. In the hustle and bustle of a busy workspace, these time-outs serve as essential digital checkpoints” advised Adam.


9. Educate Your Team


Your cybersecurity is only as strong as its weakest link, which can often be an uninformed team member. Educating your team about the basics of online safety is a proactive measure.


“At Excalibur Press, keeping our team educated about how they work online not just for Excalibur Press but also for our clients ensures they're aware of how to spot phishing emails, the importance of strong, unique passwords, and the protocols to follow if they suspect a security breach” said Adam.


“Regular training sessions and reminders can keep cybersecurity at the forefront of their minds, transforming them from potential vulnerabilities into vigilant defenders.


“In today's digital age, protecting your business online isn't just a best practice. It's a necessity. By implementing these steps, you'll be better poised to safeguard your brand's online presence and stay safe online.”


When it comes to staying safe online for most businesses the key is to be vigilant about how you behave online and ensure you are educating anyone who has access to your digital and online channels.


If you would like to find out more about Excalibur Press’ digital services which includes website design and development as well as app building, digital transformation and more contact Adam McBride on adam@excaliburpress.co.uk or go to excaliburpress.co.uk


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