By: Maitjian Welke and Ken Norvell of CMIT Solutions of Southwest Silicon Valley & Pleasanton.

It is important for Livermore businesses to be prepared for security risks – sadly, they are inevitable. Whether you receive an email impersonating your boss or colleague, client or friend asking you to send your phone number or complete a financial transaction, there are many routes that cyberattacks use to invade your software. Being prepared and keeping a watchful eye for hacks is the best way to avoid any attacks to your business.

Business owners need to know that any hacking attempt have the same motives in mind: to steal your money, company data or sensitive information. The following tips are ways that Livermore businesses can be prepared for any potential risks:

1. Look for the most common email scams.

These can come in a variety of formats that are more common than you think: fraudulent COVID-19 alerts, fake invites to collaborate on a shared document, urgent requests to review an attached file, or even personal pleas engineered to appeal to your emotions. Once you know what to look for—suspicious sender addresses, confusing subject lines, minor errors in the body copy, missing email signatures—your alert level will heighten and you’ll find yourself catching more spam attempts.

2. Don’t open any unexpected or suspicious email attachments.

Tricking someone into opening an infected attachment is still the easiest way for hackers to gain access to a computer or device. Popular formats include PDFs that purport to be important, text files that claim to be shipping updates or MP3s that pretend to be voicemails. NEVER open an attachment unless it’s a specific file you’re expecting from a trusted co-worker. If you do receive an attachment from a colleague that triggers even a hint of apprehension, verify the authenticity of the attachment face to face or over the phone if you can. In seconds, opening just one infected file can unleash a world of hurt on your computer—and any other networks, systems, or devices it is connected to.

3. Give every link in every email an extra look before clicking.

Sometimes, curiosity gets the best of us and we click before we think. We need to slow down and think twice before opening any URL—hover over or right-click the link(s) and look for a legitimate web address that corresponds to the one the email came from. If you see unintelligible strings of jumbled numbers or letters, use caution; instead, manually type the address of the website you’d like to visit directly into your browser.

4. Use caution with any request for personal, financial, or medical information. 

This may seem obvious, but one of the biggest threats of email-based scams is their ability to use social engineering to trick users into sharing sensitive information. Be especially wary of any requests you receive via email that appear to come from someone within your own company and request passwords, birthdays, account number confirmations, or other private details. Again, if you can, verify the authenticity of the attachment face to face or over the phone.

5. Don’t count on free, web-based email accounts if you need heightened security.

Free open-source email applications like Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, and AOL offer only rudimentary security measures—and hackers will often target them first. Every company should use established business-grade solutions with secure domains and official email accounts. Reliable IT providers like CMIT Solutions can help any business affordably and efficiently deploy a system like this that offers heightened protection against ransomware, phishing, and business email compromise.

Following these five steps will help ensure that Livermore businesses are prepared for cyberattacks. Through my experience, there is always a risk for hacks to take place within a company, but providing helpful tips and showing the warning signs for hacking attempts lead companies to be better prepared and avoid losing any vital data to schemes. At CMIT Solutions we strive to provide easy strategies for local businesses to stay at the top of their game and keep private company data in the right hands.