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8 Best Practices on Protecting Customer Data

Information security is vital in an age where cyber attacks are all too common. Businesses often have to ensure clientele that sensitive information will not be stolen by anyone, or that the business itself is at risk of cyber attacks.

Many smaller oriented businesses are not fully prepared for any of these cyber attacks and are even less prepared from the fallout that could occur if a breach of data hits your company. In reality, a smaller business can seem like a more attractive target to a cyber criminal, rather than a larger scale business. Compared to a larger company, a small business most likely does not have a full investment in cyber protection.

It’s also important to realize that a small business and its employees should be aware of what type of data a cyber criminal might try to obtain. The more sensitive information would be a more desirable target to someone who has the capability to breach this data.

With that in mind, here are eight best practices for securing your data and preventing a leak of any important data that might fall into the wrong hands.

1. Have a solid privacy policy. Customers need to know that you are protecting their information. Make sure you have a policy they can refer to, explaining how you are keeping personal information safe. Be sure you are straightforward with customers about the consumer data you collect and what you do with it.

2. Know what you are protecting. Be aware of all the personal information you have, where you are storing it, how you are using it, and who has access to it. Understand the kind of assets you have and why a hacker might pursue them.

3. Don’t underestimate any threat. It is reported that 85 percent of small business owners believe larger enterprises are more targeted than they are. In reality, there have been cases where small businesses have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to cyber attacks.

4. Don’t collect what you don’t need. The more valuable information you have, the bigger a target you might be. Avoid using social security numbers or other personal information for customer identification. Opt instead for log in identification and passwords. More layers of identification help keep attackers from being able to simulate users.

5. Keep a clean machine. Having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats. Many software programs will automatically connect and update to defend against known risks. Turn on automatic updates if that’s an available option.

6. Use multiple layers of security. Spam filters will weed out malware and phishing scams — many of which are aimed directly at businesses — keeping your email safer and easier to use. Employ a firewall to keep criminals out and sensitive data in, and always take caution with emails you do not recognize.

7. Educate employees. Employees are often the handlers of customer data. As a result, they need to be kept up-to-date on how to protect that information to make sure it does not accidentally land in the wrong hands. They should be educated about the newest fraud schemes and urged to employ best practices such as not responding to or opening attachments or clicking suspicious links in unsolicited email messages.

8. Protect against mobile device risks. Smartphones, tablets, and laptops can add to employee flexibility and productivity, but they can also be repositories of sensitive information, which if lost, can harm your customers. Impress upon employees and other partners the importance of keeping these devices secure from loss or theft. At the same time, stress that not reporting such an incident, if it happens, is worse.