How to Improve the Security of Your Customer Data

Most businesses these days collect at least some customer data. It might be a simple collection, like a name, address, email address, and phone number, or you may have more complex data, like purchasing habits, credit card information, or social security numbers (SSNs) on file. Whatever the case, it’s vital that you invest in the privacy and security of those customer data.

If your company is the victim of a data breach or other cyberattack, it could cost you millions of dollars as you try to restore the damages, pay fines, and improve your system to prevent a similar breach in the future. In fact, the average cost of a data breach in 2018 was $3.86 million. Fortunately, the simple preventative measures that can prevent most cyberattacks are much less expensive. In fact, some of them can be implemented for free.

Collect and Store Only the Necessary Data

First, minimize what you collect and store on your local systems. If you don’t need to collect a piece of personal information for business purposes, simply don’t collect it; hackers can’t steal what isn’t there. For example, most businesses have no real need to collect a customer’s social security number (SSN), so don’t collect it unless you do. It’s also not a good idea to store a customer’s credit card information or other sensitive data on your own; rely on third-party platforms with added security to reduce the chances of this information being stolen.

Choose Trustworthy Partners

You’ll be relying on many third-party platforms to help you collect, store, and access customer data, from CRM platforms to ACH payment processing providers. When searching for potential options, make sure you only consider options you can trust. It can be hard to evaluate the trustworthiness of different providers, so talk to account representatives about each company’s security standards, encryption methods, and track record; it’s also helpful to look at online reviews.

Back Everything Up

Sometimes, the security risk to customer data isn’t theft; it’s destruction. If there’s a natural disaster, or a deliberate attempt to compromise your data, your customer data could be lost. You can easily prevent this outcome by keeping everything backed up. Many third-party service providers offer automatic backups no matter what, but investigate to be sure.

Control Access to Customer Data

Next, carefully control who has access to your customer data. A surprising number of cyberattacks and data breaches originate from within the company; if a rogue employee wants to take malicious action, or if they’re targeted by a phishing scheme, they could create an exploitable vulnerability. You can prevent this dangerous outcome by establishing specific administrative roles, with different levels of access. Only grant access to customer data that your employees truly need.

Keep All Devices and Software Up-to-Date

Device manufacturers and software programmers are constantly looking for new vulnerabilities in their creations. When they find a potential vulnerability that could be exploited, they issue a patch. If you download these patches and update your hardware and software regularly, you’ll be protected against these newfound vulnerabilities. If not, you’ll remain exposed. Make sure all your employees are updating their devices on a consistent basis, opting for automatic updates when possible.

Educate Employees on Best Practices

It’s also important to educate your employees on best practices for cybersecurity. Make sure they understand that they should never give out their password, for any reason, nor should they plug unfamiliar drives and devices into their work computer. These basic security measures may seem obvious, but their absence is responsible for a disproportionate number of breaches.

Mandate Good Customer Data Habits

Sometimes, customers are responsible for their own lack of protection. You can increase their security by forcing them to maintain good data protection habits. For example, if you have a system that requires a customer login, mandate them to have a strong password, meeting criteria for length and mix of symbols, then prompt them to change that password regularly.

Establish a Crisis Management Plan (CMP)

Even with all these policies and strategies in place, it’s possible that your company will be the victim of a cyberattack. If and when that happens, a crisis management plan (CMP) can direct your leaders how to act, and what to do. It should contain instructions on how to stop the bleeding, how to designate resources in a way that expedites response, how to publicly communicate the situation, and how to make improvements to protect against future incidents.

It’s not possible to protect your business against every conceivable threat, but since most hacking and cyberattack attempts are opportunistic, even these basic tenets can help you avoid the worst.

Prevention is much less expensive and much easier than recovery, so don’t neglect it.

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