Maintaining personal information about your customers and employees is an important and often necessary part of business operations. The rise in online sales in the furniture industry and other areas of retail has led to the transfer of even more personal information from customers to businesses. Names, addresses, credit card numbers, and other account data are all used to fill orders and provide customers with a more efficient shopping experience. Unfortunately, this same data is a target of cybercriminals looking to profit from sensitive personal information.
While cyberattacks can affect businesses of all sizes, small businesses are especially vulnerable to this type of crime. In fact, nearly 50 percent of all cyberattacks are directed toward small business enterprises. When a hacker’s efforts are successful, businesses can lose the trust of their customers and face financial consequences serious enough to shut down their company. Fortunately, there are several relatively easy things that any business owner can do to protect their customers’ data. Here are a few strategies for implementing an effective data-security plan:
Know What Information Is on File
Even with excellent security measures in place, there is no way for a business owner to protect information that they don’t know they have. One of the first steps to take in implementing a data-protection plan involves taking stock of personal information by inventorying paper files, as well as computers, flash drives, mobile devices, and other electronic equipment.
Business owners should also work with managers and employees to identify what type of personal data is collected. Knowing where the data comes from and where it is stored is also important. Once a business identifies its data channels and storage sites, it will be much easier to track down the customer information it has on file.
Get Rid of Unneeded Data
After locating and taking stock of all your stored customer data, the next step to take is to delete any unneeded personal information. There is no reason to store—or even collect—personally identifying information that is not integral to a business’ products and/or services. It is especially important to get rid of stored credit card numbers unless there is a legitimate reason to keep them on file. In addition to making data management more complicated, storing unnecessary customer information increases a business’ risk of being the target of a cyberattack.
Provide Proper Security for Any Stored Information
Of course, the most important thing a business owner can do to keep customer data out of the hands of criminals is to ensure that proper protective measures are in place. Effective data security begins with using the latest software to protect against viruses, malware, and spyware. In addition, it’s important to keep computer software, web browsers, and operating systems updated to protect against the latest threats.
In addition to using updated programs and computer systems, business owners should invest in a secure server. Although a dedicated server can be costly, the benefits that it offers are well worth it. A client-server setup provides centralized storage that gives businesses the ability to back up data and perform regular security updates across an entire network of computers. Servers also protect against computer viruses and worms, which can easily spread from one computer to another in a peer-to-peer setup.
Encryption technology is another way to protect sensitive information. Financial data, customer transactions, and even company emails can be encrypted to ensure that only authorized parties can read them. Encryption software works by scrambling information using a complex algorithm that can be very difficult to crack. This type of software is particularly important for businesses that use mobile devices to scan customer credit cards.
Regardless of how many security measures are in place, they will only be effective if employees implement them properly. Business owners should take the time to educate their staff members about how to handle customer information and identify data breaches. Creating a “culture of security” also requires regular training to keep employees updated on company privacy policies and the latest cyber threats facing the company.