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Windows XP will help you prevent data loss

Guard against data loss with Windows XP

The annual Information Security Breaches Survey (DTI/PriceWaterhouse Coopers, 2004) demonstrates just how important IT security is.

UK businesses suffer one security breach a month on average

A third had a security incident that involved loss of data

A quarter had a significant incident involving accidental systems failure or data corruption

The Consequences

There can be serious consequenes for the bottom line. The average cost of a serious security incident was around �10,000, according to the survey. But even a virus attack - probably the most common external problem encountered by the smaller business - will carry a price tag approaching �1,000.

This kind of incident will mean an average downtime of over seven hours while the problem is sorted out. That can translate as lost business and damage to your reputation.

This is not just a big company problem: sixty per cent of all business data is held on PCs or laptops. A quarter of laptops are either stolen or suffer hardware failure. In total, 7 out of 10 small firms go out of business within a year if they experience a major data loss, according to DTI estimates.

Where Does the Data Go?

Data loss comes in two forms - inadvertent includes hardware failures like disk crashes, laptop loss, and other examples of human or machine error. The solution here is a rigorously observed backup policy. You should also keep your software up-to-date by downloading and installing updates that are issued regularly by software manufacturers. These updates minimise the chances of the program failing and causing problems.

The risk of deliberate theft of data is equally worrying, especially as our increasingly reliance on the internet means an increasing risk of attack. Hackers may have a specific target, typically confidential information about your business. But many take a scattergun approach: they're after credit card numbers, bank details and similar data, and they are trawling the internet to see what they can pick up from any source.

Defend Yourself

Your first line of defence should be a firewall. A firewall controls communications to and from your PC, hiding your computer from the kind of programs that might be used to steal your information.

Windows XP Service Pack 2 has extended the firewall built into Windows XP, making it stronger and more configurable. Service Pack 2 also turns on the Windows Firewall by default; you can switch it off, but you shouldn't do that unless you have a good reason.

A firewall is not the complete answer. You also need an antivirus program, safe email handling, and careful web use.

For web browsing, SP2 extends Internet Explorer with a pop-up blocker and the ability to disable browser add-ons. SP2 also stops malevolent sites hijacking Internet Explorer.

On the email side, SP2 gives stronger protection against viruses spread through Outlook Express and Windows Messenger. By default, attachments that match a list of potentially dangerous file types will be blocked. These attachments won't be opened unless you insist on it.

With SP2 Automatic Updates, Windows can routinely check for the latest updates for your computer and install them automatically. That way you don't have to search for them or worry that some might be missing.

To minimise the risks:

Install Service Pack 2 and accept the default settings for security options unless you have a good reason not to. Switch on Automatic Updates

Be careful when using the internet - don't accept any email attachments unless you are sure they are safe

Always use a firewall. Make sure it is up-to-date and configured correctly. If in doubt, use the default SP2 settings

Consider using an Internet Service Provider that offers an external firewall of some kind, or virus protection on their servers

Install and use antivirus and anti-spyware utilities to complement the facilities in Windows. Keep them up-to-date

Take regular backups, and keep them safe

Make sure you have insurance cover for the cost of restoring systems and any consequential losses to your business

What next

Our fortnightly security bulletin will keep you up-to-date with the latest threats and developments. Find out more and sign up now.

Get Safe Online is an impartial security website sponsored by leading businesses and HM Government. Go there now for comprehensive security advice.

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