IN the age of information and hacking, small businesses are being warned by North-East IT experts that basic cybersecurity is no longer "a nice-to-have" but essential.

An SSL – which stands for Secure Sockets Layer – certificate, is a bit of code that provides security for online communications, such a log in or payment details, by encrypting data when it travelling between machines.

Many browsers indicate whether a website has an SSL certificate, showing 'secure' or 'not secure' by the URL.

IT experts across the North-East are urging small businesses to check their website, from both a cyber security and business perspective, especially as small businesses and traders have gone digital for the first time during the pandemic.

Ian Gemski, founder and director of NET Park-based cybersecurity company Tekgem, said: “Securing your website with an SSL certificate provides the obvious benefits of protecting all traffic to and from the site.

"This means that any personal data such as contact forms, website logins and e-commerce sites that take online payments are fully secured by ensuring data is unreadable by hackers that may try and intercept that traffic.

"There are also less obvious benefits. Securing your website means that you have verified it as belonging to a legitimate company or entity, providing extra reassurance to site visitors.

"We would never recommend entering sensitive data on a website that isn’t protected with an SSL certificate and that you always check to make sure there is a padlock icon in the website address."

Mr Gemski however, believes multi-factor authentication “really is the future” of security.

Andrew Gill, northern regional head of IT consultancy Watersons urges small business is to consider the Government-backed Cyber Essentials and Cyber Essentials Plus certification schemes, which provide “simple but effective advice and controls”.

He said: “From my perspective it’s quite simple, it’s no longer a nice-to-have, but a small part of demonstrating the minimum standard.

“From the smallest of hobby businesses to the largest global enterprise – it’s only a start in how you can begin to demonstrate that you take the security and privacy of your customers’ data seriously, or undermine it significantly when it expires or you fail to put it in place.

“Just because you live in a small house, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t lock the door.”

Some small businesses, however, may opt not to have an SSL certificate because of the associated costs and technical knowledge.

Contract-based developer Aidan Garnish said: “It used to cost hundreds for a 12-month SSL certificate and then the time of someone who knew how to install it. Now, with Cloudflare, it is free for the SSL but you still need someone who knows a little bit about DNS configuration to get it set up.

“With the pandemic there has been an acceleration in businesses moving online. Most seem to have done a really good job of setting up ordering systems for takeaways, and so on, but there are some who may be struggling or not sure where to start.

“SSL certificates are something that people may overlook if they are coming to the internet for the first time. Now that browsers are highlighting it, it just looks unprofessional. If you are selling things online, then it is going to drive customers away.”