Data Protection: How and Why to Secure Your Customers’ Sensitive Information

As technology becomes more enmeshed in our daily lives, cyberattacks are on the rise. Hackers stole hundreds of millions of Equifax login credentials after the credit reporting agency didn’t update its software. Meanwhile, Anthem recently paid a record $115 million settlement to current and former customers after hackers stole their names, Social Security numbers, and contact information. If you run a small business, it’s your ethical and legal responsibility to prevent data breaches like these. Keep reading for some best practices to protect your customers’ data and your profit margin.

What’s a Cyberattack?

To prevent a security breach, you must understand what they are and why they’re so destructive. Consumers and companies increasingly find themselves potential targets for cyberattacks, a type of online security breach. Cisco defines cyberattacks as “malicious” and “deliberate” efforts to “breach the information system of another individual or organization.” Criminals benefit from these attacks by seeking money, disrupting business, or destroying data.

Data Protection is Good for Business

Investing time and money into data protection is good for your business because:

  1. You’ll stay legal.

    In some situations, you may be legally obligated to secure your customers’ data. In New York, for example, certain businesses must follow the NYDFS Cybersecurity Regulation, requiring local companies to implement infrastructure protecting from cybersecurity threats.

    According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 15 states have similar data security laws. Find your state’s regulations here. If you do business abroad, you’ll also need to familiarize yourself with those countries’ laws. For instance, Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the world’s strongest data protection law, dictates how businesses can handle European customer information.

  2. You’ll stay ethical.

    According to Inc.com, it’s up to businesses to “take the lead” when it comes to data protection. That includes having web developers encrypt sensitive data like credit card numbers, passwords, and Social Security numbers. Because hackers specifically target businesses that don’t have proper security measures in place, make sure your network is secure and updated, and promptly fix any security holes.

 

  1. You’ll stay profitable.

    These days, customers value transparent, trustworthy businesses — yet only 1 in 3 consumers trust businesses to do what’s right. By being upfront about the ways you’ll protect your customers’ valuable data, you’ll establish a sense of trust and reliability. However, Financial Post notes, “your words will hold no weight if your customer data falls into the wrong hands.” In addition to securing your network, train your employees on what to do in the event of a data breach. Practice makes perfect, and clearly-communicated policies and procedures will help your company swiftly recover in the event of a data breach.

Protecting Your Customers and Your Business

Although there’s no foolproof way to prevent cyber threats, these precautions will help:

  • Multi-factor authentication. Rather than relying on usernames and passwords alone, add additional levels of security. Examples include combining passwords with fingerprint scans, retina scans, employee ID cards, or smartphone access.

  • Implement data loss protection. Adding data loss prevention (DLP) software ensures sensitive data isn’t exposed to internal or external threats by unauthorized users, and DLP ensures your meeting compliance requirements

  • Data encryption. By hiding sensitive data, such as passwords or credit card numbers, behind a complex passcode, you’ll help control who can access that information, even if someone steals it.

  • Policies and procedures. Train your employees on how to document, report, and fix cybersecurity threats. Depending upon your industry and location, you may also be legally required to report such events to local authorities.

  • Stay up-to-date. Make sure your network and website are running on the latest software versions. Hire developers and engineers to help plug any security holes before they become a problem.

Data protection isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s good for your customers, and for your bottom line. By having the right frameworks in place, you’ll prevent threats and recover from worst-case scenarios. By spending a little extra time and money, you’ll increase your profits, show people they can trust you, and have peace of mind knowing your data is protected.

By Julie Morris

Julie Morris is a life and career coach. She thrives on helping others live their best lives. It’s easy for her to relate to clients who feel run over by life because she’s been there. After years in a successful (but unfulfilling) career in finance, Julie busted out of the corner office that had become her prison. Today, she is fulfilled by helping busy professionals like her past self get the clarity they need in order to live inspired lives that fill more than just their bank accounts. When Julie isn’t working with clients, she enjoys writing and is currently working on her first book. She also loves spending time outdoors and getting lost in a good book.