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Preparing for a digital disaster: what every SME should know

on Tuesday, 13 October 2020. Posted in Cyber security, Technology

Calling 2020 a challenging year for businesses would be an understatement. In addition to the global COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been a sharp incline in fraudulent activity and cyberattacks

Preparing for a digital disaster: what every SME should know

Calling 2020 a challenging year for businesses would be an understatement. In addition to the global COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been a sharp incline in fraudulent activity and cyberattacks – threatening business security like never before. 

With an increase in online transactions and working from home now the norm, it’s opened a host of new avenues for criminals to attack both individuals and organisations. In addition, our world is changing, and we’re facing adverse weather conditions that are impacting business continuity more and more frequently. 

So, if disaster strikes, is your business prepared?

Dealing with disaster

Any SME deals with a variety of data types daily, some that hold limited importance, but others that are fundamentally crucial in keeping a business up and running. Ensuring this data is backed up in an easily-accessible and quickly restorable way is essential, and often the difference between a business being able to manage a disaster, or crumbling under it. 

Business continuity refers to the management of extreme or emergency situations that impact day-to-day business operations, such as power outages, cyber-attacks, or natural disasters, and being able to quickly get back up and running if they strike. And for any startup or SME leader, sidestepping risks by installing well-built and sophisticated backup systems should be high on the priority list. 

The benefits are clear: less downtime means limited interruption and availability for customers, building trust and maintaining positive brand reputation. It also means a business can minimise financial losses, and ensure they’re adhering to data guidelines and legal requirements. 

Implementing your recovery plan

Disaster recovery can only be successful if you and your business are well prepared. Firstly, when creating or reviewing a disaster recovery plan, ask yourself, ‘how much data can I afford to lose?’. The answer to this will determine the length of your backup cycles. If any data loss would be business critical, a continuous backup cycle is required, but if losing a few hours of data is manageable, you can opt for a lesser frequency.

Secondly, what amount of downtime can you realistically manage? Global e-commerce businesses can lose millions with just an hour out of action, whereas less digitally-focused SMEs could manage much longer. 

Finally, where does your data need to be? Is an external hard drive sufficient? Requirements differ significantly company to company, but in this day and age, data backups in the cloud are often the most flexible and convenient option. 

Choosing the right option for your business

Researching the difference between full, differential and incremental backups will help you better understand your options and will help inform the most suitable set-up for any SME.

Full backups include your entire data inventory, which understandably requires the most storage space. Backup cycles will take time, but would give you full data recovery should disaster happen. 

Alternatively, differential and incremental backups only copy data that has changed or been added since the last backup. Both take up less space, and less time than a full backup, but can be time consuming to restore. 

Businesses should also consider where offline or online backups are best suited. Offline backups – for instance on hard drives or internal network drives – have the advantage that they remain on premise and are therefore less vulnerable to external attacks. However, the data is vulnerable to theft, or a disaster at the office might destroy the stored information. 

Online backups are theoretically more susceptible to an outside attack, but cloud computing providers prioritise safety and security, and have to meet strict data protection standards. Many offer multi-level data centre security concepts and geo-redundancy – just two methods for increased security. 

If you’re struggling to decide, hybrid solutions combining both methods might be the best fit. That way your business is prepared for all eventualities by keeping the data you are currently working with off-premises (such as a hard drive stored securely) and an online copy in the cloud.

Covering the essentials

Detailed documentation that features step-by-step descriptions of how to proceed in an emergency is an integral element of any disaster recovery plan. 

A comprehensive overview of your data infrastructure – whether stored on premise or in the cloud – should be the first point of reference in restarting your business. Including necessary configurations (such as IP addresses, DNS configurations, firewalls and routing) takes some stress out of the process, and limits mistakes that can be made by employees. You can also detail the order in which systems should be put back into operation, meaning you disaster recovery runs as smoothly as possible.

While disaster recovery might not be an immediate consideration for a start-up or SME, a lack of planning can be a business breaker in worst case scenarios. 

As the saying going, failing to prepare, means you’re preparing to fail. It’s likely many of us didn’t pre-empt a global pandemic, but discussing all potential risks your company faces and creating thorough plans of action will help ensure your business is ready to face and manage and disaster scenario.

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