If you’re like most businesses, you collect at least some customer data (whether you realize it or not). That might be an intensive process, drawing data from the apps your customers use in an effort to better understand them, or it might be fundamental, like collecting names, credit card information, and more. Similarly, you might handle this using digital platforms exclusively, or you might store some of these data points on paper.
Whatever your situation is, you need to be taking proactive measures to keep your customers’ data safe.
The Importance of Data Security
Why is this such an important issue?
- Sheer vulnerability. Most businesses are more vulnerable to hacking attempts and data theft than they believe. Customer data is highly valuable; if credit card numbers, social security numbers, or other pieces of private information are obtained, they can easily be used for nefarious purposes, or sold for hundreds of dollars per record.
- Direct costs. The global average cost of a data breach has climbed to $3.86 million. Though small businesses likely won’t face costs quite that high, the costs of dealing with the fallout of a data breach are still prohibitive—and could jeopardize your entire business.
- Reputation. If you mishandle customer data and that information goes public, your customers may not be willing to trust you again. All it takes is one major breach to disrupt decades of consumer trust.
Key Points of Your Security Strategy
So how can you tell if you’re keeping your customers’ data safe?
These are some high points to check:
- Collection practices. First, consider how, when, and why you’re collecting customer data. If there’s no point in you having your customers’ social security numbers, you probably shouldn’t be collecting them arbitrarily.
- Paper storage and disposal. If you’re still using paper processes, as many businesses are, you’ll need to be prudent with your storage and disposal methods. If storing files with sensitive customer information, make sure you keep them locked up in a secure location. When it comes time to dispose of those files, make sure you’re shredding any and all files with confidential information; otherwise, the information contained within becomes vulnerable to theft and misuse.
- Platform security. If you’re relying on online storage, or if you’re relying on your own data servers, you’ll need to do some extra work to make sure those platforms are secure. Research the cloud companies you partner with to determine what type of encryption they’re using, and see if there have been any data breaches with this company in the past.
You’ll also want to read up on customer reviews to see what other people think of their security standards; ultimately, you’ll want to choose the most secure option in your budget range. If you choose to host and store your own data, you’ll want to design and enforce your own security protocols, which can be more demanding and more complex.
- Network security. It doesn’t matter if your cloud storage provider has tight security measures if someone with ill intent gains access to your network. If your company uses Wi-Fi, make sure you’re using high-grade encryption with a complex password, and don’t allow the general public to share a network with you. You’ll also want to make sure the devices on your network are secure; while it’s typical to have some kind of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy for your office, you may want to impose some restrictions that keep your network safe.
- Accessibility. Who in your organization has access to customer data? They may be collecting it over the phone, entering it in a system, or accessing it for analytical purposes. In any case, each additional person with access to customer data is another point of vulnerability for your business; even if they have good intentions, if their login credentials are compromised, it could lead to a full-scale breach. Accordingly, it’s best to restrict customer data access to only the people in your organization who truly need it.
- Employee habits. Finally, consider the habits of your employees, and make sure they remain up-to-date with best practices. If even one of your employees chooses a weak password that’s easy to guess, or if they voluntarily hand over their password to someone masquerading as an administrator, it could compromise your entire system. Mandate complex passwords (changed on a regular basis), and keep employees aware of potential schemes.
It’s impossible to truly hack-proof your business. No matter how careful or secure you are, there’s always the chance that someone skilled enough could breach your systems. However, most data thieves are opportunistic, and will exclusively target the easiest or most convenient marks. Simply adopting these best practices should be enough to protect you from the majority of data-related crimes.