Updated January 24 at 4:24pm
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Keeping computers clean, safe

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It’s called cybersecurity, Internet security, data theft or a variety of other names. But whatever you call it, the problem is growing for small businesses of all kinds. From T-shirt makers, medical offices and wine shops, to sporting goods stores, dog kennels and non-profits, small businesses are falling victim to data theft and other types of “cybercrimes” at a high rate.

Business owners tend to think of computer or data security as a problem that mostly involves hackers who indiscriminately target different businesses. But that’s only one part of it. Disgruntled vendors have been known to steal data in order to hurt a business that dumped them.

According to the National Small Business Association, 44 percent of small businesses say they’ve been victimized by a cybercrime of some kind at least once. And the cost of those crimes averaged nearly $9,000 each to rectify. Part of the cost is notifying customers of a data theft that might compromise their personal credit or other information. Nearly every state now requires businesses to tell customers if personal data has been lost or stolen. But that cost can pale in comparison to the other damage a data breach can inflict.

Here are some of the most important things you can do:

• Keep clean machines. Your computers should be equipped with the latest security software, Web browsers and operating systems. This simple step is the best defense against viruses, malware and other online threats that are constantly changing.

• Secure your Wi-Fi networks. If you have a Wi-Fi network for your workplace, make sure it is secure, encrypted and hidden. To hide your Wi-Fi network, set up your wireless access point or router so it does not broadcast the network name, known as the Service Set Identifier (SSID). Password protect access to the router.

• Provide firewall security for your Internet connection. A firewall is a set of related programs that prevent outsiders from accessing data on a private network. Make sure your operating system’s firewall is enabled or install free firewall-software available online.

• Get tough on passwords. Require employees to use strong passwords and change them every three to six months. Consider implementing multifactor authentication that requires additional information beyond a password to gain entry. •

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