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Source: Ezine Articles

Posted on March 3, 2007

      For most small business owners and managers, computers are a necessary tool of the trade. Whether they embrace technology with open arms or barely tolerate it, there's no escaping the fact that very few businesses operate without at least one PC to manage email, accounts and a wide range of other functions.

      But as we become more and more dependent on technology, we become more and more vulnerable to the impact of computer downtime and security issues.

      The biggest threat in terms of computer security is not viruses, hackers or spyware. It's ignorance.

      You hear about this stuff in the media, but do not really understand it, and so do nothing. After all, it would cost a fortune to implement an effective solution, right? And besides, the people telling you about the threats are the same ones who are trying to sell the solutions. So who can you trust?

      The truth of the matter is that computer security is a critical area for any business. In the same way that you do not leave the outside door swinging open when you head for home each evening, you have got to put reasonable measures in place to keep out any prospective criminals.

      For most of us, that means locking the doors and setting an alarm. In some cases, more strict measures are required; Security Guards, 24x7 monitoring, more intelligent alarm and detection systems.

      The key point to remember here is that computer security is primarily about security, not computers! And while security of any type cannot provide 100% guarantees, you can achieve relatively effective security levels without breaking the bank or having to hire an IT guru.

      So what can you do to reduce the risk of computer outages? What measures can you implement to protect your computer, your data, and ultimately your business?

      According to Microsoft, there are three steps to computer security heaven; install a firewall, apply security patches and ensure you have properly maintained anti-virus software. Obviously in a business environment there may be additional layers of complexity, but the underlying principles remain the same.

      A firewall is a piece of hardware or a program that acts as a gateway between your computer or network and the outside world. It will monitor all incoming and outgoing data and only allow the type of traffic you permit.

      With Windows XP, Microsoft introduced a basic firewall. Configuring the Windows XP firewall is relatively simple and will provide you with a basic level of protection that will be sufficient in many cases. Other vendors also offer free desktop firewalls, ZoneAlarm being one of the most popular.

      Security patches are fixes released by Microsoft for security-related bugs discovered in their products. When a fix is released Microsoft issues details of the exposure along with the fix. Unfortunately what this means is that anyone with the technical know-how can develop a virus or program to exploit that bug on any machines that have not been patched.

      In 1999, the gap between the publication of vulnerability and the discovery of a program exploiting it was 288 days. In 2004 it was 10 days. In 2007, 0-day exploits are commonplace. Therefore it is important that patches be applied as early as possible to protect yourself.

      The third step in the process is to ensure you have a properly maintained anti-virus solution. Very few of us fail to realise how important it is to have anti-virus software installed, but when was the last time you checked to see if it was updating properly? Out-of- date or badly configured AV software give you little or no protection.

      Regardless of the product you use, the key thing is to ensure your program is updating itself as frequently as possible. The other key aspect of any virus protection software is real-time protection, which allows it to scan files as they are being accessed.

      None of the measures outlined above are expensive to implement, and all could potentially save you a lot of heartache. Once these are in place, you will need to look at passwords, spyware protection, backups and so on.

      However, ensuring you have covered these three areas effectively will be a very important start on the road to effectively protecting your business.

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