How much IT security should an office have?

Information technology is an essential part of every modern business. Whether you run an online shop or use computers on your daily office operations, it is important to make sure that your electronic communications are secure and that they comply with the current cyber security regulations. Never underestimate the possibility of being a victim of a cyber attack, especially since these have been on the rise over the past few years. Security breaches are more than just a nuisance: they can also be costly. Some companies have reported damages of up to £115,000, so the threats posed by inadequate IT security should not be taken lightly.

Protecting your IT systems and implementing the right security procedures will not only benefit your business, but also your clients and your overall reputation. Below you will find some useful recommendations on how you can best protect your IT systems at work.


A quick guide to IT security in the office

The Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills has put together some guidelines to help UK businesses protect themselves and their clients from IT security vulnerabilities. The guidelines encourage business owners to take a proactive approach to IT security by carrying out regular risk assessments, providing staff training, and following a number of good IT practices.


Risk management: Understanding what is at risk

Every business uses IT to a different extent and for different purposes, so every business owner should evaluate which aspects of their IT system are more vulnerable. This could include client databases, confidential staff and client details, the company's financial details, patents, product design, website files, pricing lists, potential deals and/or business expansion plans. This kind of data can be stored in computers, laptops, external devices such as hard drives or USBs, email accounts, company phones, etc. An increasing number of companies now store their data via cloud storage systems or third party companies, which offer certain security benefits but are not totally risk-free. Some companies decide to hire IT security consultants to better understand the potential flaws and vulnerabilities of their IT systems, whereas others carry out risk assessments on their own by evaluating the following elements:


  • Passwords: always use strong passwords and change them on a regular basis. Some software programmes automatically request a password update every 30 days. If you feel the need to make a list of passwords, make sure it is adequately protected, for example through encryption (see below).

  • Data encryption: it is always wise to encrypt sensitive data, especially any information that is likely to be transmitted online and data stored in mobile phones, laptops, and other mobile devices, as well as any IT equipment that staff may use when they telecommute. This also applies to data stored in the cloud.

  • Malware and anti-virus protection: this must be installed on all company computers and must be kept up to date. Staff should be briefed accordingly. You can also use malware and anti-virus programmes to automatically scan or block removable devices (such as USBs or CDs), which can pose a security risk if lost or stolen.

  • Network security: you can protect your IT system with adequate network security practices, which range from simple measures like implementing password authentication and firewalls to more complex tasks designed to prevent hacking, phishing, and spoofing. Network security may involve software and hardware, so if you are in doubt as to the most effective techniques for your office, consult a network security specialist.

  • Restrict access: carefully consider the type and amount of information that every staff member should have access to. It is likely that only a very small number of employees need access to sensitive or confidential information, so make sure your IT system offers the option of managing user privileges.

  • Keep software up to date: a large number of cyber attacks (up to four fifths according to some sources) take place because outdated software makes it easier for cybercriminals to get into an IT system. However, software updates can disrupt the workflow, so it is recommended to use an automated software updater programme that can perform updates outside of working hours.

Physical IT Security

In addition to IT security, physical security is also important in any office. If prototypes, confidential files and other sensitive information are being stored physically in the office it is important to ensure they are secure. Breaches in security could compromise proprietary information or confidential details about clients, customers or other stakeholders. Securing sensitive information in an office might mean a solution as simple as a locked room or a more advanced storage space with high-tech key or fingerprint access to restrict entry to only certain individuals. Keeping your office secure from unauthorised entry also keeps staff safe, including using electronic access pads for staff-only areas of the office. A security system might also include CCTV. The level of security should be determined using data gathered from a risk assessment on potential risks to employees, visitors and sensitive information. Discussions with employees will also help inform what level of security is needed for the office.


Regulations

Any company that handles data is bound by the Data Protection Act. The Act required business owners to ensure that any information about staff, clients, or suppliers is kept secure, up to date, and used only for specified purposes. Personal data should not be kept for longer than necessary and should not be transferred outside the EEA without appropriate protection. There are fines associated with failing to comply with the Data Protection Act, which can be as high as £500,000 in cases where serious security breaches occur due to poor compliance.

Although businesses can never be 100 per cent safe from cyber attacks, implementing the recommendations mentioned above will significantly reduce your chances of being a victim and will bring peace of mind to staff and clients alike.

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