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How to Prepare Your Small Business for Tech Success

By Paul Mah, CIO
January 14, 2014 09:06 AM ET

CIO - With vendors and customers alike taking it easy during the holiday season, business likely won't pick up until we are a few weeks into 2014. Why not use the extra time to fine-tune your home office or small business for the year ahead?

Here are some tips for methodically upgrading every aspect of your network to help you work at your peak.

Up the Ante on Security

A good place to start is ratcheting up the security of your home office or small business. Given that prevalence of Wi-Fi wireless capabilities, be sure to secure your Wi-Fi network with WPA2 encryption and a sufficiently complex passphrase to prevent your neighbors from listening in. The strength of WPA is directly related to the length of the passphrase, so avoid a passphrase with fewer than 20 characters.

Though commonly found in older Wi-Fi access points, Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) is universally considered to be broken - hackers can guess passcodes through repeated attempts over a few hours - and should be avoided at all costs. Disable WPS support on any Wi-Fi access point (AP) that comes with it, if you can. (The ability to disable WPS may not be available on some Wi-Fi APs.)

[ More: How to Secure USB Drives and Other Portable Storage Devices ]

Unless you don't care at all about privacy, enable BitLocker or similar full-disk encryption protection on your Windows PCs.

BitLocker is offered in the Ultimate and Enterprise editions of Windows 7, and the Pro and Enterprise editions of Windows 8. Full-disk encryption essentially scrambles the data saved in the storage drive so that it remains inaccessible even if the disk is removed and accessed from another computer.

Though BitLocker is a mature and well-established product, one often-missed point is that it checks for unauthorized changes to the pre-boot environment (BIOS, MBR) before booting up. This means a system malfunction could result in BitLocker requiring a recovery key data. Keep it handy and store it on a USB device.

BitLocker Drive Encryption prevents unauthorized users from using your files.

Finally, nothing beats good physical security. Use a Kensington lock to secure expensive equipment. It won't stop a well-prepared burglar armed with heavy cutting equipment, but it should slow down someone less prepared and hopefully eliminate opportunistic equipment theft. Finally, while IP cameras don't actually stop burglaries, they can serve as a strong deterrent to miscreants and are affordable even for home offices.

Upgrade Your Network for Lightning-Fast Work

Constantly frustrated by slow network access speeds in your office? Even if you have no complaints, productivity will benefit from a speed boost from an upgraded network. Unless your network has been upgraded in the last couple of years, chances are you're at least one generation behind what is now available as affordable mainstream equipment.

If you still use 802.11g, or you have slower access points or routers, do yourself a favor and buy a faster one with at least 802.11n capabilities. Better yet, ensure that the new APs supports simultaneous operation on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands; in environments with a mix of 2.4 and 5GHz Wi-Fi devices, as it effectively offers twice as much bandwidth. Larger offices should consider deploying additional APs for better coverage.

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