The internet is a fantastic tool for getting word out about your business. That is why businesses of all sizes, from the smallest sole trader to the biggest and most profitable multi-nationals, use the internet every day. It’s great for marketing, for communication, for sales and for publicity. Yet the internet is also the greatest threat to your business, even the smallest of sole traders can fall victim to some of the following.
Phishing is when a scammer sends you emails while pretending to represent a genuine business or other professional interest. They may offer goods or services and request personal information such as passwords or credit card numbers. The most common is fake emails from PayPal. A recipient will receive and email you, reporting to be from Customer Services, indicating false activity on your account and requesting that you change your password by clicking the link in the email (a fake link).
In a recent survey, 98% of people, including small businesses, failed to tell fake phishing emails apart from the real thing. Nearly ¾ correctly identified more than half of the fake emails but only 2% correctly identified them all. This is extremely concerning.
How to identify phishing scams: look for markers such as an unusual email address (PayPal employees will not use Yahoo! Mail to send confidential emails, for example). Also, look out for poor language skills such as spelling and grammar. One common error is emails indicated from “Costumer Services” or errors in the business’ name (PayPal Inc rather than PayPal Ltd).
You have probably already received plenty of scam emails. Typically, they will claim to be from somebody based in Nigeria. The sender will offer millions of US dollars from an unclaimed fund. It used to be that these scammers would claim access to a 9/11 compensation fund, but there are other common false claims these days. These will offer you the split of an enormous sum of money if you send a few hundred pounds as an administration fee. The fund is non-existent. As a small business with an active web presence, you are likely to receive many more of these in future.
Viruses were once the biggest threat on the internet, but thanks to improvements in software and users becoming more aware of the problems, they are less common threats than scams or phishing. Nevertheless, it pays to be on your guard. Most virus downloads are the result of human error. If you receive an untrustworthy email, do not download the attachment, especially if it contains a file with the extension “.exe”. Viruses come with a range of problems. Some may steal your personal or sensitive information (Trojan Horses), others may wipe your hard disk. Others simply replicate themselves and take up all the space on your disk, making it unusable.
Ransomware is a relatively new concept. As a small business, you are unlikely to ever receive an email or download this type of file; you will not be profitable enough for those who use this type of virus. Ransomware is what it sounds like. Scammers infect a computer system and then threaten to delete the data if a ransom is not paid. They will demand payment in something called “Bitcoin”. Several notable high-profile cases in the USA have centred on providers of medical insurance and a few private hospitals around the world. Your chance of infection is low, but your best defence is to back up your system regularly.
Why Are the Threats Now Greater?
There are threats from the internet to all of us, every day. We cannot really avoid that. However, now our email information and web address is public information – it must be in order to reach your customers. Publicly available information means that scammers and others who would do us harm are more aware of our presence and find it easier to locate us. This is why you need to be on your guard more than ever before about what you download, which emails you open and how you interact with senders.