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(ARA) – Small or large, domestic or international, modern businesses run (or fail) on data. If you’re a small-business owner, data – from customer email addresses to your bank account numbers – is vital to your company’s success. Protecting data is as important as generating sales.

Many small-business owners already know this; in fact, in a recent survey by Carbonite Inc., a provider of online backup solutions, 81 percent of small-business owners said they consider data their company’s most valuable asset.

Yet the same survey found that more than half (57 percent) have no plan in place if something disastrous happens to their data. And nearly half (48 percent) of small businesses with two to 20 employees have already experienced data loss, according to a separate Carbonite survey. A third of those never recover their lost data.

“The Federal Emergency Management Agency has said that 40 to 60 percent of small businesses never re-open after a data disaster,” says Peter Lamson, a small business expert for Carbonite. “Small businesses that plan ahead and take key steps such as protecting their valuable business data will be in a much better position to get their businesses back up and running when disaster strikes.”

So how can you protect your company from some of the most common causes of data loss?

“The single most important thing small businesses can do to protect their data is to back it up every day,” Lamson says. “We know from our research, however, that while some small businesses perform daily backups, many don’t. And of those that do, many are using antiquated methods or are only partially backing up primarily due to the time or costs associated with business backup.”

Most small businesses that back up their data rely on physical devices, like external hard drives, USB/flash memory sticks or CDs/DVDs. Physical devices require business owners to keep track of them, manage the backup process, and assign an employee to this task. Furthermore, backup copies are often stored on-site and exposed to the same risks as the original data.

Many small businesses are turning to online backup services to safeguard their data and streamline the backup process. Services such as Carbonite Business provide online backup that meets the ease-of-use and budget needs of small businesses. Not only does online backup add a layer of security by storing valuable data off-site, it also allows for automatic and real time backup. If a business’ computers are connected to the Internet, then its data is backed up automatically.

Here are some common causes of data loss and how you can help protect your company from them, in addition to backing up:

Cause: Hardware/software failure (54 percent)

Protection: Do regular maintenance tasks for hardware and software. Most operating systems now come with built-in disk clean up and diagnostic functions. Run them regularly to help keep your software in good shape. Keep an eye on hardware too, with simple steps such as checking power cords periodically to ensure they’re OK.

Cause: Accidental deletion (54 percent)

Protection: Accidents happen and sometimes data that you mean to preserve gets lost or deleted. This is when having an instantly accessible backup is vital. Ready access is another advantage of online backup. Rather than having to go track down an external hard drive or call your IT person, online backup allows you to access your preserved data in real time, so that you can be back up and running quickly.

Cause: Computer viruses (33 percent)

Protection: Software to protect your PCs and system from viruses and malware is essential. Keep your virus protection software up to date to help ensure you maximize your ability to block viruses. Make sure employees know never to attempt turning the software off, and direct them to avoid opening email attachments unless they are confident of the source of the email.

Cause: Theft (10 percent)

Protection: Thieves don’t only target big companies. In fact, small businesses can be particularly appealing targets for data thieves since they often have fewer safeguards in place than do larger companies. In addition to a firewall and secure Internet connection, your prevention measures should include steps to keep thieves from stealing hardware such as flash drives, external drives, data tapes and even the PCs themselves.

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