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Do you think your small business is too small for cyber criminals to bother with? Think again. According to data from Travelers Insurance, half of small businesses have been targeted by a cyber attack, and 60 percent of all attacks are aimed at small and midsized businesses.

Cyber criminals target smaller businesses because they know these companies are less likely to have security measures in place than bigger companies.

In addition, hacking into your small business’s computer network can serve as a “backdoor entry” enabling criminals to access data from your partners and customers. Just imagine if your biggest customer got hacked as a result of your failure to put security measures in place. One of the ways hackers access computer networks is by using sophisticated software to figure out passwords.

Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to keep computer passwords secure and provide better protection for your business. But few small businesses are actually taking those steps, a survey by AVG reports.

The study of small and midsize companies revealed some scary stats:

  • Four out of 10 people admit they use the same passwords for different business logins.
  • 51 percent of employees save all or some of their passwords through their web browser.
  • 16 percent of companies give independent contractors, freelancers, temps or others outside the company access to passwords.
  • 43 percent of people with access to company passwords don’t have a clause in their contract requiring them to keep these passwords confidential.
  • Just 22 percent of businesses use password management software.
  • Only one-fourth of participants use two-factor authentication for their passwords.
  • Just 19 percent of businesspeople surveyed say their business uses an automated password generator.

Despite this, nearly three-fourths (72 percent) of respondents believe their workplace passwords are stored in a safe place.

If you think your employees are coming up with secure passwords on their own, a quick look at AVG’s list of the most-used passwords in 2015 will burst your bubble. The most common passwords were ‘123456’ and, you guessed it, ‘password.’ (“Starwars” was up there too.)

AVG offers these tips to keep computer passwords secure:

  • Control who has access to your business’s passwords. People outside the company should never have access to them. Instead, consider creating temporary passwords for these users. Otherwise, you'll need to change the password as soon as the temporary employee or freelancer stops working for you.
  • Store passwords in a safe place. Storing them in a web browser is not safe, despite the tempting convenience of this option (the little pop-up that says something like “Remember me on this computer”). Also avoid storing them in obvious places, such as on a note stuck to the computer screen or under the keyboard. You never know who may be snooping around.
  • Ensure the passwords are strong. Cyber criminals have gotten better at hacking into passwords, so your passwords need to be more complex than just a few years ago. They should contain a mix of capital letters, numbers and symbols. Longer is better, too — at least eight characters.

If this sounds complicated, it doesn't have to be. One simple way to take care of passwords is by using a password manager. These solutions can generate passwords for you, store them securely and automatically log you into accounts without the risks of writing down your passwords on paper. Try the AVG password generator or investigate other popular options, such as LastPass and RoboForm.

In addition to these steps, you may want to consider using two-factor authentication. This can work in different ways, but in most cases, you put in a password and then enter a temporary code that's delivered via voicemail or text message and expires after a short time. While this can be a hassle, it's worth using for important accounts, such as your business’s bank accounts, sensitive customer information or financial data.

Need more advice on securing your business from cyber attacks? The experts at SCORE are here to help. Visit www.score.org  to get matched with a SCORE mentor today.

About the Author(s)

Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company specializing in covering small businesses and entrepreneurship and SmallBizDaily.com.

CEO, GrowBiz Media
password on computer screen