Why your bank could be your best source of security advice

Small business owners need better help keeping their organisations safe and financial institutions are stepping in to help out

Businessmen giving and receiving advice

Last week I went to a breakfast meeting. You might not think this is odd, but this was an event put on by Barclays, my business bankers, for local businesses. And it was titled "Fraud Prevention Event for Businesses".

I wasn't expecting to learn anything new from this. After all, security of networks and business processes is what we do. However, I was intrigued to see just how good the advice was going to be. How relevant, how up to date, and how appropriately pitched. So I trundled along to the golf club at Pidley, along with 60 or so other small business owners.

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After the obligatory bacon buns and coffee, the presentations started. The morning's agenda immediately revealed that this wasn't a wobbly pitch from the local bank branch's IT guy, filled with umms and ahhs and dubious out-of-date advice. To kick off, we had the deputy police and crime commissioner for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough; he was followed by Joe Cooksey from Barclays, of which more in a moment. Then we heard from Cambridgeshire Constabulary's fraud and cybersecurity advisor, followed by a representative from CAPASP (Cambridge and Peterborough Against Scams Partnership), and closing remarks from a Peterborough City Council councillor. The whole event took about two hours.

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The meat of the presentation was by Joe Cooksey, vertical head of digital for Specialist Client Solutions at Barclays. He took the room through a coherent, ground-up guide to small business security, via scams, passwords, security best practices and all the dos and don'ts that those of us in the know have all learnt the hard way. It was clear from the somewhat panicked looks on many attendees' faces that far too many are using the same password for all their logins -- and that they hadn't heard of password managers. Some appeared all too happy to click on most any old link that might arrive in their inbox.

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By the end, and after talking to a number of the attendees, it was clear that the information was quite a wake-up call. Several were itching to get away and do some significant password resetting, while many more realised their backups were more grounded in wishful thinking than any serious likelihood of working.

It would be easy to snigger at the lack of knowledge of these attendees, but that would be both unfair and inappropriate. Frankly, this stuff is too complicated: business owners have a hard enough time keeping the doors open while far too much IT equipment is barely of merchantable quality. However, it's important that the general level of understanding is improved, because there is a significant business risk to those who get caught up in a scam or data attack or loss.

If I had any criticism of the event, I'd have liked to see more explanation given to password managers, maybe with a demo of how they worked. Likewise a deeper and more hardcore view about data backup, recovery, the tools available and your responsibility as a company director.

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Still, it clearly showed that there can be huge value in such two-hour long breakfast meetings, working at various levels from the beginner through to the more hands-on demonstrations. It is beyond doubt that this sort of presentation brought a critical eye-opening opportunity to many attendees.

I suggest searching out one of these events and going along. No, I don't necessarily expect you to learn anything new. But attendance brings credibility to such an event, and allows you to confidently recommend it to your friends and colleagues, who might be in need of such information. There is only so much finger waving you can do at the bar in your pub, or in the golf club or gym. Being able to recommend such an event from a position of experience is the least that those of us in the know can and should be doing.

So what should you do? First, talk to your bank it has a vested interest in reducing fraud in businesses. See if it's doing any presentations. Find the name of the local fraud and cybersecurity advisor at your local constabulary, and find out what is happening and where. Go along and see if you're happy to recommend it to friends.

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Being good neighbours means we all have a responsibility to help educate our friends. But a focussed event such as the one I attended could be just the ticket to help raise general awareness. And that is to the benefit of everyone, yourself included. The bacon buns weren't bad either.

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