The Internet has forever changed the ways companies conduct business. Many of these changes make it easier for small businesses to function, providing advertising opportunities and allowing for more efficient, streamlined operations.

There are downsides to conducting so much business on a digital platform, however. According to a report released by the Ponemon Institute and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, cybercrime cost the average American firm more than $15 million in 2015.

Anyone with a computer is vulnerable to cyberattacks. The consequences that a hacker or virus may have on a small business's operations could be devastating. It's important for small businesses to take steps to protect their companies in an affordable and easily manageable way.

Upgrading equipment to prevent cyberattacks
There are many ways a business's important information can be made susceptible to cyberattacks. The increasing prevalence of cloud storage is fantastic for small businesses because it allows data to be easily transferred to different devices without taking up any physical space. Advances in data hacking, however, could leave cloud storage vulnerable to security breaches.

The Federal Communications Commission states that in order to properly protect small business networks and information storage, business owners must upgrade to the latest software and technological equipment. The latest security software, web browsers and operating systems are listed as the best forms of defense against malware and viruses.

The latest firewall software is also critical for protecting important company information. Keeping Internet connections secure with these firewalls, as well as with password protections, encryption and hidden locations will make getting online a safer process for small businesses. Only known, trusted networks should ever be used with company equipment.

Company devices should only log on to secure networks that are protected with the latest firewall software and encryptions to prevent data breaches. Company devices should only log on to secure networks that are protected with the latest firewall software and encryption to prevent data breaches.

Working with staff to prevent cyberattacks
It's also important for small business owners to set procedures for employees to reduce data breaches in the digital age. Employees should only have access to equipment or information that is necessary for their specific roles. Those who need to use computers and access company networks should each have their own password and logins. All computers, tablets and mobile phones should have passwords and should lock automatically when left unattended for more than a few minutes.

Passwords should also be changed every few months to help maintain security. Keep all employees aware of the business's security policies and strictly enforce rules about data sharing. Workers should not share passwords or allow other people to use their accounts or logins.

Equipment and business industry piece brought to you by Marlin Equipment Finance, a nationwide provider of commercial lending solutions for small and mid-size businesses. Marlin's equipment financing and loan products are offered directly to businesses, and through third party vendor programs, which include manufacturers, distributors, independent dealers and brokers in the security, food services, healthcare, information technology, office technology and telecommunications sectors.