National Cyber Security Awareness Month: It's a Team Effort

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month and this year, there is one development in particular that's creating lots of buzz among small businesses and consumers - the switch from traditional credit cards to EMV/chip cards in the United States. EMV is a global payment standard for credit cards that is used in more than 80 countries. EMV (Europay, MasterCard and Visa) technology makes each in-store transaction unique so that counterfeit cards cannot be created.

Beginning Oct. 1, the liability for card-present fraud shifts to whichever party is the least EMV-compliant in certain fraudulent transactions - which means small businesses, if they haven't begun using machines that accept chip cards. These chip cards enable more strongly encrypted transactions that should decrease fraud among brick-and-mortar stores.

However, based on research from other countries, analysts are predicting that while storefront retailers will see a decline in fraud, online credit card fraud will likely rise, since online purchases don't allow the extra level of security the chip provides. Consumers manually enter their information, so the chip is not scanned to make the transaction encrypted and unique. Increasingly, when it comes to cyber security breaches, it's no longer a matter of IF it will happen, but WHEN it will happen to you.

That's a problem. So how can small businesses and their customers protect themselves from online fraud?

The truth is that businesses and consumers need to share responsibility in taking steps that can keep online user information safe and sound. Consumers may feel helpless about protecting their credit card information after a purchase, but there are ways that both small businesses and consumers can secure their information.

Businesses can:

- Update passwords regularly. Frequent changes in passwords will allow information to stay safe and reduce the chance of hackers obtaining passwords.
- Protect domain names by using a multi-step security procedure. Multi-step security does not add much extra time, and the additional level of protection is well worth the effort.
- Utilize trusted secure links for e-commerce sites. Using unsecure links makes a business vulnerable.
- Store customer data on secure sites. This is a simple but crucial step to keeping customer information from being easily accessible.
- Implement virus protection software and scan systems regularly. This should be a regular part of your online routine so you can find out if there is an issue right away. Knowing if there are weak points in your security will give you the chance to make updates before it's too late.

Consumers can:

- Strengthen passwords on computers and mobile devices. Use a mixture of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Use different passwords for secure sites and change them often. Try to avoid commonly used phrases and general information about yourself, like names of children or pets and birthdays.
- Pay with a credit card, not a debit card, when shopping online, making large purchases or traveling on vacation. Also, when traveling on vacation, make sure to keep track of purchases so you can identify anything suspicious right away.
- Avoid security threats by regularly updating software to keep your devices free from malware and bugs. Updated systems work more efficiently and make your platforms more stable and secure.
- Understand what data mobile apps can access on your device before downloading. Most people have the tendency to just agree with terms and services without actually reading them. Take the time to look over what personal information the app will have access to and set preferences if given the option.

These easy-to-implement tips can help consumers and businesses join together to fight against hackers and improve cyber security. If we are all proactive and diligent in following steps like these, our personal information will be that much more secure.

What are other steps that you take to keep your information safe online? Leave them in the comments below - I'd love to hear them!

Web.com offers additional small business resources through our Small Business Summit marketing seminars and our online forum. If you have a question for me about your small business' online presence, just leave it as a comment below. And if you'd like to see if a Small Business Summit is coming to your town soon, please visit forum.web.com/small-business-summit/.