By Lisa Michaels
After many large businesses around the world became involved in data breach scandals, many other businesses of all sizes have begun paying more attention to data security and protection.
No matter what kind of business you run, protecting customer data is crucial to maintain your brand’s reputation and your bottom line. In some industries, businesses who fail to take proper measures to secure confidential information may expose themselves to fines and other penalties from regulatory authorities.
In order to prevent data leaks that carry huge financial costs and could have a huge negative impact on your reputation, you need to apply the following security tips.
Secure your devices
Every device you use as part of your business activities should have security software installed. This software will protect you from viruses and malware. Also, your company’s server should be protected with a firewall that only allows inbound connections from authorized users.
Another way to protect your computer systems is to ensure that all of the software you use is patched and updated on a regular basis. Software updates not only fix functionality issues and bring new features, but they also address security issues.
Encrypt your website
Encryption makes it difficult for hackers to access your data, even if they manage to breach your website’s security. The first step towards securing your website entirely is to obtain an SSL certificate for your domain. This lets you deploy site-wide encryption and security measures.
By using HTTPS instead of HTTP on your website, you help provide additional security for your visitors. HTTPS encrypts all of the information being transmitted between your servers and your website visitors, preventing it from being intercepted along the way by malicious individuals.
The passwords you use to access your business IT resources should be complex and difficult for anyone else to guess, especially if they let you in to systems containing customer data. Ideally, your passwords should be at least 10 characters long, plus contain a mixture of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols.
If your run a website that lets your customers create an account and sign in with a password, you should ensure that the login information is stored in encrypted format. Websites that store customer passwords in plain text are particularly vulnerable in case of a hacking attack.
You can also add an extra layer of security for your customers’ logins by enabling two-factor authentication. This security feature will require your customers to enter a code that is sent to them via text or app.
Manage employee access
If your company doesn’t have one already, you should create a clear IT security policy and make sure that every employee is aware of it. Your IT security policy should limit access to customer information only to employees that actually need it as part of their jobs.
Have procedures in place to handle what happens when an employee leaves the company. It’s important to immediately revoke access rights to all of your systems. Doing so prevents a disgruntled ex-employee from deleting or stealing sensitive information belonging to your customers.
Holding regular training sessions is an excellent way to ensure that all of your team members are up to date on the latest security threats. Your training should include best practices and tips that your employees can use right away to increase their level of security.
One important element to mention in your security training is the risks of using a public Wi-Fi network to access any corporate systems that store or handle sensitive customer information. As these networks are unencrypted, anyone connected to them can eavesdrop on the data being transmitted. If you have staff members who frequently need to connect to your IT resources while on the go, they should be advised on how to use a VPN to connect to your servers.
Limit or avoid collecting data
The simplest and cheapest way to prevent data breaches is not to store any data that is of value to hackers and cybercriminals on your systems. You should review your company’s data collection practices to see whether the data you collect on your customers is actually useful and necessary.
Ideally, you should collect only the information needed for sales, customer service, order processing and marketing. The less data you have, the less of an attractive target your business will be for cybercriminals.
High-profile data breaches have occurred numerous times in the last couple of years. Having private customer data leak out can cause serious damage to any company’s reputation. The costs of mitigating the damage of a security breach can be enormous as well. This is why it’s better to prevent a breach from happening in the first place by following the security tips listed above.
Lisa Michaels is a freelance writer, editor and a striving content marketing consultant from Portland. Connect with her on Twitter @LisaBMichaels.