Opening the Door to a Hacker

We use our computers and other devices every day. Often, we use them to access valuable financial and personal information. Just as often, we are using the same device for work, bill paying, and online searches. Accessing bank and other sensitive sites without appropriate security is just like opening the door to a hacker. 

For weeks, many workers have been unable to work from the office due to COVID-19. That means that they could be working outside the protection of their employer’s computer security, opening the door to hackers even wider. So how can you and workers on your team close the door to hackers, no matter where they are located and what devices they use?

Follow these five tips to close the door to hackers:

  • Anti-Virus Software

Anti-virus software scans computer files or memory for certain patterns that may indicate the presence of malicious software. Anti-virus vendors find new issues and update malware daily, so it is important that you have the latest updates installed on your computer. Set security software to automatically receive and download the latest updates so that it is always current.

  • Firewalls

Firewalls provide protection against hackers by shielding your computer or network and preventing malicious software from accessing your systems. Firewalls can be configured to block data from certain suspicious locations or applications while allowing relevant and necessary data through.

  • Phishing emails

Never, never, ever open a suspicious email or click on a link from an unknown source. You could be a target of a phishing attack and your data could be compromised. Same thing goes for clicking on links in pop-up windows and downloading “free” software from a pop-up. You could be installing the spyware that the pop-up claims to be eliminating. 

  • Public Wi-Fi

Avoid using public hot sites. The money you save on your service plan is not worth opening the door to a hacker. Due to its unsecure nature, online access that you can snag from a business down the street should not be used to pay bills or open confidential client files. Hackers can also masquerade as a public hot site and intercept whatever valuable information they can.

  • Two-Factor Authentication

Many providers now offer two-factor authentication protections to add an extra layer of security. Returning users must enter username and password plus another step, such as entering a security code sent via text. A hacker with your username and password is unlikely to also have the device needed to receive the code and complete the process.

Follow these five tips, and you and your workers will close the door to hackers, no matter where they are located and what devices they use.

Tightening the Expense Belt

Dire circumstances – like the economic challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic – call for reexamining business plans, including expenses. If ever there was a time for tightening the expense belt, this is it. But how do you know the number of belt notches you can cinch up before you cut off your business’ circulation and kill it? 

A lot of the answers come from tracking the finances for your business during “normal” operations. You have been doing that, right? If not, during a pandemic is probably a bad time to learn that making informed financial decisions, including where to tighten the expense belt, only works when you track your business financial activity.

Tracking income and expenses may not sound important, but it is the most important financial management activity for your business. Why? Because financial tracking provides the historical record needed to see what income is really coming in and how much it really costs to produce that income and run the business.

Tracking your business financial activity involves three steps:

  • Maintain a record of all financial activity. 

The IRS does not specify a particular system or format for financial records. The only requirement is that financial records are accurate, complete, and provide enough detail to identify the business purpose of each item. Using QuickBooks or another accounting application is an option, but using a spreadsheet can work, too. Expenses should be tracked by category, such as rent, so you know where your funds are going.

  • Organize financial activity using a logical filing system.

No matter what format you use to record your income and expenses, it’s important to keep support documents that capture the five information elements that are required by the IRS – when, what, who, how much, and why. In other words, capture the date, item description, payee/payer, dollar amount, and business purpose to substantiate the expense. 

  • Keep a running total of your financial activity.

Seeing the financial status of your business at a glance is immensely powerful. That power comes from complete and accurate tracking all financial activity and keeping running totals. QuickBooks or a bookkeeper can provide that information in the form of financial statements at any time. Spreadsheet users can achieve the same goal by keeping up-to-date totals for income and expenses. 

Tightening the expense belt during tough times can help to keep your business afloat. Knowing where to tighten the expense belt, and how much, only works when you track your business financial activity. Without a clear view of income that is really coming in and how much it really costs to produce that income, you could cinch that expense belt too tight and cut off your business’ circulation.

Virtual Volunteering

Giving back to the community always feels good. Americans have a strong tradition of giving back by volunteering for nonprofit organizations. Nationally, about 30% of us volunteer for a nonprofit. The Commonwealth of Virginia is the 22nd most volunteering state at 34%. My community, the Washington, DC/Arlington/Alexandria area, tops those averages with 38.3% of residents contributing 148.7 million hours of service worth an estimated $3.5 billion.

So how can we maintain our local volunteer statistics while COVID-19 is still on the rampage? The Arlington Chamber of Commerce figured it out by moving its Annual Arlington Chamber Volunteer Day to an all-virtual event. In years past, nonprofits hosted Chamber member businesses at their locations to perform service projects like stream and grounds clean-ups and shopping for nonprofit clients. 

This year, the Arlington Chamber created a new format to meet the current needs of the nonprofit community. Businesses registered for virtual nonprofit projects that were in accordance with CDC guidelines for all participants, such as volunteers videoing him or herself reading a book to a child and organizing data in a volunteer database. It was the classic Win-Win-Win for the nonprofits, their clients, and the participating businesses.

Businesses benefit from volunteering in their community in three ways:

  • Visibility

Sponsoring a nonprofit event or connecting your team with on-site (or virtual) volunteer projects is one way to get the name of your business in front of more potential customers. Event sponsorship and volunteering are not free, but if you’re paying to get your business name out there, it may as well be linked with a good cause. 

  • Credibility

When you are doing good, people will assume that you are good, or at least dependable and credible. Establishing your credibility as an honorable and trusted business through volunteering will make potential customers look at your business first when making a purchasing decision. 

  • Employee Enrichment

More than ever before, employees want a job where they can feel good about what they are doing and contribute to a better future. While workers can certainly volunteer on their own time, businesses that provide opportunities to volunteer as a team increase employee engagement, satisfaction, and retention.

Arlington businesses appreciated the opportunity for Virtual Volunteering with local nonprofits at this year’s Arlington Chamber Volunteer Day. Nonprofits and their clients benefited from the Virtual Service Projects and Arlington maintained its strong local volunteer statistics. The ultimate Win-Win-Win!