Back in May on The Broker Bros, we asked you to think about what would happen if right now, your biggest customer shut down or stopped doing business with you. It’s not a pleasant exercise, but it’s one you definitely want to play out in your head before it plays out in real life. We’re going to do another one of those right now. Stop and think what would happen, right now, if a person or program gained access to your work computer, potentially even locking you out of it.
If you’re a broker who is employed by a large company, you call IT and they handle it. Worst case scenario, you may get a talking to about network security protocols and lose a few hours of productivity. For freight agents though, you probably don’t have an IT department, you almost certainly don’t have a detailed plan for how to deal with a successful hack or malware attack, and how you would handle customer calls to get freight booked while you’re shut down is probably not ideal. We’ll circle back to that last part, because it’s probably the biggest difference in how to handle a computer problem for most people compared to how to handle it as a business owner.
There are a lot of very basic steps for protecting your computer and network. The SBA has a great list for small businesses to help you make sure you have your basics covered. The biggest things to know for a sole proprietor are the basics: have unique, difficult to guess passwords, don’t use unsecured Wi-Fi, install your software updates, and don’t fall for phishing emails. As much as we picture hackers as computer geniuses with super-secret tricks for getting your passwords, the vast majority of hackers get passwords by getting someone to tell them what that password is. Those are phishing emails and phone calls. Most of the rest use “exploits,” flaws in computer security that you can probably find via Google and that are regularly patched in software updates – if you run them.
The added step for small businesses is to have a plan. Major corporations have huge, complex disaster recovery plans that help them respond to a disruption and business continuity plans that help them operate during the disruption. A freight broker agency, especially one that only has one agent, can have a much simpler plan. While you’ll have to think about your own circumstances, some questions you’ll want to answer are:
- Which passwords do I need to reset? Make sure to get your personal ones too.
- Do I have any proprietary customer information? If so, you’ll need to disclose the security breach to them. It won’t be your favorite conversation you’ve ever had, but your customer is trusting you with that information and could be at risk if you don’t take this step.
- How do I get my computer or network fixed? This might be as simple as resetting a Wi-Fi password or running antivirus software, but you may need to take the computer to a qualified IT professional in your area.
- How do I operate in the meantime? Again, this might be incredibly simple – a borrowed laptop or a personal computer might suffice. Think about whether there’s someone you can call to help you with operations in the meantime, whether that’s someone at your 3PL if you work with one or even another broker you trust. Careful with that last one though, of course. This plan also may be good to have if your internet connection goes down or your computer just isn’t working.
These are pretty easy questions to answer, but they can be hard to figure out in the heat of the moment. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to write out a quick checklist, look up a local computer repair shop, and have a conversation with the person you’d call for support. Write it up, store it someplace safe, and hope this plan is the best thing your business never uses.