Email phishing, malware, spyware, data breaches… you’ve seen it all over the headlines this last year. It was only a few months ago that the Ashley Madison hack was dominating the news cycle for weeks, demonstrating that sensitive client data isn’t nearly as secure as many of us believed.
There are a lot of antivirus software giants out there, but when a company like Symantec goes public to talk about the inevitable flaws in their systems, it’s hard to know where to turn for cyber-security for your client data.
But security starts with you – and your own habits, data management practices, and internal systems are often to blame for data safety concerns. According to a 2015 study, approximately two-thirds of data breaches around the world are the result of internal human error and poor security practices. This leaves the proverbial door open for hackers and data skimmers.
Identify The Types of Data You Collect
Most databases separate client data by variable: names, phone numbers, addresses, credit card numbers, and in some cases even Social Security numbers. Because your business has a legal obligation to protect this client data, you should be aware of the varying degrees of importance of this information, and adjust your security systems accordingly.
For example, a blog-based business which collects names and email addresses alone won’t need the security standards of a business which collects dates of birth and social security numbers.
The more data you collect from your clients, the more attractive that information is to malicious hackers. On the sliding scale of significance, the more likely a piece of information is to being necessary to conduct a legal or financial transaction, the more secure it needs to be. When you’ve identified the level of security you need, it’s time to take the next step.
Be Aware of Industry Standard Protection Protocols
This is your due diligence: understanding what’s considered the minimum acceptable protection in your industry. Imagine the worst case scenario. Your database has been hacked, and all of the information you collect on clients has been copied and stolen. Angry clients want to take you to court for the data breach.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Prove that your company met security breach industry standards to be protected in the eyes of the law.” quote=”If you can prove that you have performed to the industry standard, you are much more likely to be protected in the eyes of the law.”]
Depending on your business, this might take many different forms. For example, online shops and stores which use shared hosting plans are much more vulnerable than those which use dedicated hosting. Firewalled internal networks, rights-management systems, and digital vaults should all be utilized by businesses which collect financial information.
While a lot of these initiatives sound expensive, they’re often far less expensive than the worst-case scenario where you have not engaged in the industry standard. And in some cases, these safety procedures are as simple as changing settings on your website or database to restrict access to specific I.P. addresses. StaySafeOnline.org publishes many of the best safety protocol recommendations for different industries.
With Whom Does Your Business Share Data?
Is your client data accessed primarily only by employees or do you share client information with another firm? Each individual who has access to your client data represents a potentially weak link in the chain of your firm’s data security. There are two specific ways to address this.
The first is to do an internal audit of the security systems your employees utilize. Any machine they access client data on should be scoured regularly with anti-virus and anti-malware software suites, and should be adequately firewalled. Ideally, access to client data should only happen on protected company networks.
You should also upgrade your firm’s login credential criteria. Longer handles and passwords which are randomly generated and include special characters are significantly more safe than short, personally-identifying logins and passwords.
If your company works alongside another firm or group which has access to your client information, ask them to do an internal audit of their data security practices. Doing so can ensure that business partners don’t make unwitting blunders with sensitive information or accidentally bypass safeguards.
Takeaway Points to Protect Your Sensitive Client Data
If more than two-thirds of data security breaches happen because of poor security management protocols, it’s up to you to build a company culture of security. Engage everyone who handles client data in the conversation, and set minimum benchmarks of quality.
Not only is this beneficial in preventing breaches; also have procedures in place to catch and address them when they happen. Stop security breaches before they cost you.
Employees and partners who are more security-aware will be more critical and thoughtful about any issues they come across, reducing the likelihood of that dreaded worst-case scenario.
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