Cyber security as a service

SOHO operators and SMBs may be intimidated by the perceived resources it takes to secure their computer and data systems; however, not making cyber-security a priority can be an even more costly decision.

Unless your business has a dedicated PC or IT focus, your decisions about computer safety, cyber-security and online privacy may be lacking.

Your skills lie elsewhere, and your passion for your own product or service probably means you do not have a lot of time or money to throw at cyber-safety and online security issues.

And if you do have some expertise in the cyber-security field, you know that things change constantly. New and ever more malicious threats are appearing almost daily, posing serious challenges to businesses of all shapes and sizes. It’s not just the big, rich multinationals that are being threatened – small and medium sized businesses are at risk, too.

That’s one reason why a number of computer and technology solution companies are now providing ‘security as a service’ – be it through on-board PC software, online monitoring and update services, or a powerful combination of both.

Security as a service means you, the business operator and computer user, can licence the network security and data protection services you need.

Rather than having to become an expert yourself, you can now hire one. The best programs will automatically protect, monitor, update and refresh themselves – often, without you having to do a thing!

That’s what MG Moore Designs does.

A small digital design company based in Ontario, MG Moore Designs specializes in building effective websites, and creating effective photographic and print-based communications. The company is owned and operated by Gemma Moore, a dynamic and energetic ‘momprenuer’ and marketing grad.

The company started small, doing friends websites and those of local businesses, but Moore is now working with a roster of international clients as well.

She’s highly focused on her business and the creative satisfaction it brings, but she’s also aware of some of the pitfalls: “Like many small business owners, I need to keep track of client details, invoicing information and other important and often confidential data.

“But I don’t have dedicated IT resources – or the time – to constantly check my laptop to make sure it’s running the latest anti-virus and anti-spyware programs. These are really important in this age of ‘zero-day’ viruses, and spy programs that seem designed to target financial information and personal details.”

Moore runs her business via a home network, connecting a main desktop computer, a portable laptop, an external data storage device and other peripherals. She’s taken care of her data concerns with tools from Microsoft, including its Vista operating system and Windows Live OneCare security service.

Windows Live OneCare is a subscription-based computer care service (for up to three PCs), featuring antivirus, firewall, anti-spyware, anti-phishing, PC performance tune-ups, and file backup and restore functionality.

Moore describes the set-up, use and operation of the program as “problem-free. I love not having to take time out of my day to do a backup, or check on computer status. I tried the 30 day free trial, and had no issues at all setting it up.

“Then, I took the subscription for a whole year, and definitely loved using it. I’ve just renewed for another year, and I’m putting it in the second computer, networking the two and running back-ups to my external hard drive.”

After that, she says, there’s really not much to do. “I do not have to think about it each day; there’s really no need to even open it up. I have set it to my needed parameters, and away it goes. ‘Set it and forget it’, as they say. That allows me to focus on the most important part of my business – creating great websites!”

A quick glance at the Windows Taskbar is really all it takes for Gemma to know things are OK. A small red, green or yellow icon displays the status of the OneCare service, and the PCs it is protecting.

Yellow indicates an update may be required, and red warns against a loss in protection – such as could be caused by a loss of Internet connection to the PC.

Green, of course, is good – your PC, your subscription service and your business are good to go!

One of the newer functions built into OneCare, one that companies like Moore’s can really utilize, is the so-called ‘circle of protection’.

It allows for multi-PC management (up to three), as well as printer sharing support, and centralized backup under the same subscription. Home network management and monitoring, WiFi security features, computer start-up optimization and even online photo storage and backups services are also built-in.

Even the ability to schedule proactive maintenance is included, as Moore notes: “It runs a tune-up for me every month, on schedule, including a de-frag of the hard drive. All these things I might not think of, it does automatically.”

Moore is not alone when she admits she may not think of cyber-security and computer health on a daily basis – as important as that is.

Many SOHO operators are in the same boat, but security issues affect small businesses just as much as big ones- perhaps more so, as Microsoft’s Chief Security Advisor Bruce Cowper, explains: “The small business just does not have someone responsible on a day to day basis for its IT infrastructure,” he says.

“Small business owners just do not have the time. But we’re seeing a few things that are really starting to hit home, especially for small business, in terms of the size of the threat they face. We see new tools in the hands of attackers, showing that small businesses and their employees are now being targeted.”

Small size is not a protection, Cowper underscores.

Any company with an online presence can be a target. A permanent Internet connection, like DSL or cable, is a point of vulnerability.

And for small businesses trying to utilize the Internet to reach new potential markets, a safe online presence is very important. As well, more companies have their own websites and online shopping functions.

“Where that is the case,” Cowper continues, “the shift has been away from attacks on things like the infrastructure, and towards things like the application layer, and any apps used within the organization.” Day-to-day business tools are vulnerable to malware distribution, including from social or business networking sites, not just network infrastructure.

Understanding the seriousness of the threat is one step; the next is selecting the right kind of remedy.

The key for ‘security as a service’ providers like Microsoft’s OneCare team, Cowper describes, is to make cyber-protection as easy as possible for small businesses to manage.

It cannot be a lot of extra work, or the protection just won’t be put into place. Simple commands, plain language, and an easily understood end user orientation to feedback are important. A single point of contact for all cyber-security functions helps ensure the user actually uses them.

Second, the security features offered should be as much as possible ‘built-in.’

Small business owners should not have to get or use a large number of extra tools to have a safe experience online, or within the company network. Tracking an assortment of third-party licences or discrete tools just won’t help.

Also, because of the incredible convergence of personal communication, data and computing devices, small business owners are almost by definition mobile workers, too. The laptop they carry, the PDA they use, the MP3 player or USB key they carry are all places to store valuable company information – so they are all potential targets.

Security mechanisms must be in place that recognize these facts, and are robust enough to take them into account.

“One of the big things with mobile workers is having them understand where data might be stored,” Cowper concurs. “We traditionally think of valuable data as being resident on the PC back home, or in the office. But our Blackberry or our cell phone is a repository of both personal and business information, too.

“And, especially in the small business setting, my business machine may be my personal machine. In some cases, my kids may have access to the compute to play games on, so we ask people to think about where sensitive information is stored, and how the integration of consumer devices into the business world can lead to security issues.”

Often the biggest challenge for any business – small, medium, or otherwise – is keeping on top of security. In addition to all the other concerns, it is incredibly important that business owners be aware of the current state of their own cyber security.

Think of security challenges as a part of the overall business plan, and take advantage of the support that is available from the experts. Assess your own needs, and assess the capabilities of new solutions like ‘security as a service’ that are available.

Then, get back to business – that’s what you do best.

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