Since the advent of the Internet, cybercriminals have been constantly devising new ways to steal your data. Today, it’s not just about protecting yourself from viruses or malware — you need to stay one step ahead of hackers who are trying to break into your company’s servers and get their hands on sensitive information.

Here are 7 steps you can take right now to keep your business secure:

1. Deploy a firewall.

A firewall is a software or hardware barrier between your computer system and the Internet that prevents unauthorized access from outside sources. A firewall can work at one or more layers of the OSI model:

Layer 7 (application layer) — For example, web application firewalls (WAFs) inspect HTTP requests for malicious content.

Layer 3/4 (network) — Firewalls at this level inspect network traffic for suspicious activity.

Layer 2 (data link layer) — Firewalls at this level inspect Ethernet packets for suspicious activity by looking at MAC addresses, protocol types, and other data in packet headers.

2. Install antivirus software.

The best way to stop cyber criminals from getting into your system is by installing antivirus software on all of your devices and computers. This software will scan every file that is downloaded onto your computer and look for any signs of malware or viruses. If it finds anything suspicious, it will take action and either quarantine or delete the file so that it doesn't infect your system.

Antivirus software isn't just for computers; there are many different types available for phones and tablets as well. Some even offer protection for mobile devices that don't have an internet connection because they rely on cloud-based services for updates, so you can access them even if you don't have an internet connection at home.

3. Keep your operating system updated.

This is a simple step but one that many people forget about or don't know about. Make sure that you're running the latest versions of all your software, including your operating system (OS), browser, and all other applications on your computer. This includes updates from Windows Update, Apple Software Update, and Google Chrome's built-in update mechanism, among others. The reason this is so important is that hackers often exploit known vulnerabilities in software applications to gain access to systems and data. By keeping your OS up-to-date at all times, you minimize the chances that hackers will be able to utilize any known exploits for those applications on your machine.

4. Avoid spam, phishing, and malicious websites.

Spam, phishing and malicious websites are the most common ways that hackers get into your system. Scammers send you emails with links to sites that look like they're from reputable companies but actually contain malware or viruses that can steal your personal information or damage your computer.

Malicious websites are designed to trick people into downloading malicious software onto their computers. These sites often appear as legitimate websites that resemble a bank's website or another trusted website, but they're really a trap set by hackers who want to steal your passwords and other personal information.

5. Use strong passwords and enforce their security.

Strong passwords are at least eight characters long, contain both letters and numbers, and include special characters (such as $ or *). Passwords should be changed every 90 days or sooner if they’re discovered by hackers.

6. Implement a data backup and disaster recovery plan.

It may seem like overkill, but creating a comprehensive backup plan is one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself against cyber threats. A backup plan will ensure that if your business ever suffers from an attack or data loss, you'll have an up-to-date copy of all your critical files ready to go at a moment's notice.

7. Educate your employees on cyber security best practices.

You can't rely on IT alone — everyone in your organization needs to know how to protect themselves and their devices from malware, ransomware, and other cyber threats. This means educating them on what they should and shouldn't do when using corporate devices or email accounts. It also means teaching them how to identify phishing emails, which are often disguised as legitimate messages from colleagues or vendors.

Final Say

Cyber attacks on businesses of all sizes have increased dramatically over the years, as cyber criminals grow increasingly sophisticated in their methods of attack. The result for businesses is a growing number of data breaches, which can cause serious financial and reputational harm. It's important to prepare your business accordingly. Put these seven steps into practice and use them as a baseline for your business' defense plan against cyber criminals.