Michigan small businesses get cyber security right

This story is the tenth in a statewide series about cyber security and small businesses, supported by the Michigan Small Business Development Center. [Read the rest of the series here.]

It doesn't matter if you're on the board of a Fortune 500 Corporation or the sole proprietor of a cozy shop, cyber crime can affect anyone. And when there is a data breach, how is a company to recoup its losses when the stolen goods don't physically exist?

It's rare to find a business that doesn't have a digital presence these days, and that means there are just as many potential victims of cyber threat. Fortunately, Michigan is home to several businesses that lead the field in cyber security and digital awareness.

MFP Engineering is one of the top 30 fluid power machinery distributors in the country and maintains a large database of product and customer files from its headquarters in Hudsonville. President Roger Betten says it's respect for clients paired with a strong IT team and software that keeps MFP safe.

"Staying up to date on latest practices and tech security knowledge can be crucial to keeping your personal and professional lives secure," he says. "Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to a business’ cyber security."

MFP's security software is constantly being updated and the company's IT teams, along with attending regular training programs, have constant access to surveillance tools. Perhaps most importantly, Betten says, "we truly attempt to limit the amount of sensitive information we gather on our customers. By not having an abundance of unnecessary, potentially risk-worthy information on our customers, we greatly reduce their chance of a third party’s ability to access sensitive material."

Of course, not every business has access to the experience and tools MFP relies on. Phil Catlett, President and CEO of the West Michigan branch of the Better Business Bureau, says cyber security can present more of a challenge to small businesses because their awareness and resources may be limited.

"Many small business owners and leaders are wearing a variety of hats, and typically do not have an IT expert on staff," Catlett says. "The small business owners I have talked to are learning and making do as opportunities arise. Some are aware of their responsibilities to protect data, and some are not as well informed."

Catlett and the BBB recommend a 5-step approach to cyber security based on the National Institute of Standards and Technology Cybersecurity Framework, which can be contracted out or monitored in-house:

    •    Identify your Assets: take inventory of key technologies you use and know what information you need to rebuild your infrastructure from scratch. Inventory the key data you use and store and keep track of likely threats.
    •    Protect: assess what protective measures you need to have in place to be as prepared as possible for a cyber incident. Put protective policies in place for technologies, data and users, and ensure that your contracts with cloud and other technology service providers include the same protections.
    •    Detect: put measures in place to alert you of current or imminent threats to system integrity, or loss or compromise of data. Train your users to identify and speedily report incidents.
    •    Respond: make and practice an Incidence Response Plan to contain an attack or incident and maintain business operations in the short term.
    •    Recover: know what to do to return to normal business operations after an incident. Protect sensitive data and your business reputation over the long term.

"There are companies in West Michigan that can be hired to perform some of all of the steps above, and there are appropriate businesses to work with companies of any size," Catlett says.

Cops & Doughnuts is a hub of activity in the city of Clare, and to owner Greg Rynearson and others in the community, it's more than just a doughnut shop. Rynearson and vice-president Alan "Bubba" White have even expanded their services into educating others about marketing online.

Several businesses in Michigan have already hosted one of Cops & Doughnuts' two classes, "Business Done the Cop Way" and "Social Media S.W.A.T." In the "Cop Way" Rynearson and White explain the near 115-year history of Cops & Doughnuts and how they maintain its current success through advertising. "Social Media S.W.A.T." is where Rynearson shows off his experience in using social media to market and monitor a business online.

"As a small business owner, it's amazing how many other people don't use the internet and social media to get the word out for free or for very little money," Rynearson says. "We're just going around trying to get the word out."

Rynearson's talents have been donated to the Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Development and Cops & Doughnuts has simultaneously become one of the top tourist locations in Michigan.

"We're right in line with the Mackinac Bridge, Greenfield Village and the Grand Hotel," he says.

What MFP, Cops & Doughnuts and several other successful businesses in Michigan share is an ability to adapt and share with others. In a world where technology is constantly improving, the latest online efforts should be a mainstay in any small business plan, Betten says. Along with that, data and confidential materials must be handled appropriately.

"Prior to today’s modern and technologically-advanced world, we had locks on doors and file cabinets; now that nearly all information is accessible online 24/7, having elements of cyber security is critical in maintaining best business practices," he says. "Our data is not the only information we are concerned with, but rather, we pride ourselves on respecting and securing all customer and order data as well. The more secure we can make our customers feel, the better we’ve done our job. This emphasis on customer service is ultimately the lifeblood of small businesses."

This story is a part of a statewide series about cyber security and small businesses edited by Lauren Fay Carlson. Support for this series is provided by the Small Business Development Center, which has just launched a free online security assessment tool and resources at www.SmallBusinessBigThreat.com to help small businesses measure their cyber security preparedness.
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