It is well established that customer data is one of the most valuable assets that a business can have. At the same time, it is also an asset with one of the highest liabilities. With the increasing importance of digital customer data and the focus on protecting privacy, data security is now an issue that every company must face. Protecting your customer data from unauthorized access and sharing is essential for both compliance and business continuity. However, with the growing threat of targeted cyber-attacks, keeping data safe can be a challenge. Here are some recommendations to help your business keep your customer data secure.
This first step to data security is obvious—limit access. Most companies are surprised by how easy it is for their employees to access customer data. Many business owners think of bad actors as external players and your employees as trusted insiders, but this may not always be the case. In many circumstances, loyal employees may also inadvertently lead to data leaks or breaches due to their lack of understanding of data security. Therefore, it is best to implement stringent authorization and authentication practices across the board.
One way to do this is to install physical access controls to prevent casual access to computer systems. A strong door access control system can require users to enter a code, swipe an ID card, or undergo biometric authentication before being allowed to pass through to rooms that hold sensitive paperwork or important data machines. Companies can also regulate who has access to specific parts of the building based on the time of day. Physical access controls should be complemented by a video surveillance system to monitor staff and visitors around the building.
Aside from physical access, digital access must also be restricted through authentication processes such as multi-factor authentication (MFA). MFA increases data security by requiring more than one form of verification from users who are requesting access. For instance, employees may be required to enter a username and password as well as submit a one-time passcode generated by a security token. By providing layered levels of security for data access, companies can ensure that authorized users only have access to the data they need to perform their jobs.
Minimize Data Storage
While most companies think that the more information they can gather on their customers the better, a larger volume of data often translates to higher responsibility and a greater risk of security breaches. To avoid this, companies should limit the amount of data that they collect from their customers. You should only ask your customers for information that is essential to your business operations. For example, if your business sells shoes, it is unnecessary to ask your customers for their date of birth or social security number.
If your company truly feels the need to gather non-essential information for marketing or research purposes, be sure to use secure data-gathering practices such as progressive profiling—where you only ask for snippets of information as required instead of requiring your customers to submit large amounts of personal data from the onset. These data-gathering practices not only help your company to comply with privacy regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) but also offer a better user experience for customers. And if a breach does occur, you have an easier time handling the situation since you will have limited information to review.
Centralize and Encrypt
For companies with multiple offices or locations, centralized data storage infrastructure is highly recommended. In addition to reducing storage costs and operational overheads, it ensures that all information is stored on a single server that is much easier to protect and secure. Another option is to have all your data stored on a cloud server. However, make sure that you use a reputable cloud service with a proven track record and strong security features designed to keep data safe. Whether you choose physical or cloud data storage, be sure to back up regularly and have a data recovery plan in place that can be actioned immediately in case of a breach.
Data encryption is a critical component of data security. It protects data by encoding the data with a complex algorithm that makes it extremely difficult for users to read it without the necessary knowledge. That said, encryption and decryption technologies are both evolving at a very fast pace. An encryption cipher that was designed a year or two ago may already be obsolete today. Hence, your company must regularly assess the security vulnerabilities of your software and update it as needed to keep it up to date with the latest encryption protocols. You can also impletion multi-layer encryption mechanisms to strengthen data security.
Data security is not a one-time effort. Cybercriminals are constantly finding new ways to breach data security and take advantage of security gaps. Constant surveillance and monitoring of network activity and vulnerabilities is the key to preventing data breaches. In addition to regular updates of your software and security systems, you should also employ controls to limit physical access to areas of your business that are vulnerable to data theft.
With proper implementation and maintenance of these controls, your company will be better prepared to safeguard customer data and deter people with bad intentions. By keeping your customer information safe, you will earn customer trust and loyalty, and keep your business at the forefront of the industry.