By Emily Suess

In August, PCWorld published the article, “Hackers Put a Bull’s-Eye on Small Business.” In it, author Robert Strohmeyer tells the story of Pamela, a financial officer for a small Chicago-based manufacturing company and a victim of cyber crime.

Pamela’s computer became infected with malware that redirected bank URLs to phishing sites, and — long story short — the company’s bank accounts were completely drained in a matter of minutes. We’re talking about $300,000 that was there one minute and then poof!

According to a Biztech article, small businesses are essentially low hanging fruit for cyber attackers. It’s not that owners are completely oblivious to the dangers of hacking and phishing scams, it’s just that many seem to think they’re not worth a hacker’s time and energy. However, as the article points out, “nearly a third of all malware attacks targeted businesses with 250 employees or less in 2012.”

It seems hackers actually prefer to prey on small businesses.

So what can small business owners do to protect themselves from hacking and other cyber crimes?

Use Firewalls and Antivirus Software

Small business owners should take advantage of firewalls and antivirus programs and install updates as soon as possible after they are rolled out. When it comes to installing new software, particularly files downloaded from the Internet, it’s important to add functionality without increasing risk.

Set Network Policies

Next, clearly communicate and enforce Internet and network usage policies for all of your employees. For example, it’s not a good idea for employees to access sensitive materials from public Wi-Fi locations. Data that you don’t want available to the general public shouldn’t be transmitted through public Wi-Fi. This includes private customer information, proprietary documents, credit card numbers, and other financial account information. Sensitive files should only be accessed internally. Instruct employees to lock their screens when they step away from their computers.

Secure Your Wi-Fi

It’s also important to secure your company’s Wi-Fi signal. Protect your small business from hackers by hiding your network name and protecting it with a password; open networks are a huge no-no. Make sure all administrative passwords and user passwords contain combinations of numbers, lower- and upper-case letters and symbols and are updated regularly.

Watch for Phishing

Small business owners should also be on the lookout for phishing scams like the one that caught Pamela and her company off guard. Many banking websites offer security images for verification and other protections against phishing sites. Instead of clicking links, type URLs into your browser directly. And before you give out any information over the phone, verify the phone number belongs to the company you are trying to call.

Despite your best efforts to prevent a security breach, hackers may gain access to sensitive information. It’s essential to develop an emergency plan just in case. Your plan may include include informing customers who may be affected.

Remember that technology changes, and hackers are always looking for new ways to breach the security measures you have put in place. Protecting your small business from cyber criminals is not a once-and-done endeavor. It is an ongoing process that requires diligence on the part of you and your staff.