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Small Business Tips

Essential Tips for Protecting Customer Data

Justine Rabideau

With the number of data breaches increasing, it's essential now more than ever that all businesses take steps to protect customer data. The proactive approach is always preferable to reacting to a preventable disaster, which could cost a firm its reputation, customers, and money.

Learn how to protect customer information with a few solid tips to keep your customers happy and your business secure.

Know what you have and where it is

One of the first things you want to do is take stock. What kind of consumer data do you have? Credit card numbers? Social Security numbers?

Additionally, know where all this sensitive and personal data is stored as well as how it's stored. It could be on mobile phones, flash drives, tablets, computers or servers. Organize everything by type and location, making sure you update everything accordingly.

Don't forget the basics

Before investing a lot of time and money on security software, start with the fundamentals. Install antivirus and security software on all company computers and devices – and ensure it's always current.

Because you likely get email messages from new people every day, use caution before opening them. Just as you might keep up with the Kardashians, you should also keep up with the latest security risks, viruses and malware trends.

Involve your employees

Learning how to protect customer data won't do you much good if your employees become liabilities themselves. Pass on what you learn to your workforce, so they can do their part and help you keep sensitive information safe.

Have regular meetings to discuss steps everyone can take, the newest security measures you're putting into place and how to use them. All it takes is a single weak link for a breach to occur.

Only keep what you need

During the lifetime of operating your business, you'll likely gather a lot of information from your customers. Go through everything to determine what is essential data and what is superfluous. Don't keep anything you don't need, and don't continue collecting it either.

Remember, you have an obligation to protect all sensitive and private data you have. Additionally, make sure you only use information like Social Security numbers and credit card numbers for lawful and required purposes.

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Limit employee data access

Don't make your company a scene from a horror movie where the call is coming from inside the house. Translation: your employees should only have access to customer data they need to do their jobs. If you have a small company with just a few employees, this is an especially important tip.

Review employee job duties and compare them with consumer information they need to carry out those duties. You don't want to find out that one of your employees is the very criminal you're trying to keep away from your business.

Consider using a dedicated server

If you're a small business owner, you might use a shared server to save money. While this is understandable, it's also a risk. You don't know who all has access to that server or the type of information stored and viewable on the server.

Above all, don't let someone else's liability or security risk become yours. A dedicated server lowers your risk and increases your peace of mind. Know that it's worth the added expense.

Destroy sensitive physical documents

You might not know it, but you're required by law to properly dispose of all customer and employee information used for commercial reasons. Taking action means you need to either burn or shred sensitive physical documents. Know how long you should retain necessary business documents – and be sure to destroy them once they are no longer needed.

On a related note, this applies to digital files as well. Be aware that just because you hit "Delete" doesn't wholly purge files from your computer. In addition to the practice of emptying the recycle bin (Windows) or trash folder (Mac), there are software wiping programs that digitally shred sensitive files from your business computers and hard drives. Be sure you put them to good use.

Don't forget about physical security

Imagine the embarrassment of buying the most sophisticated digital security program only to have a thief walk in through an unlocked door and steal a computer or hard drive. Even if the criminal isn't able to access the information, still, the fact remains that the data is in the wrong hands. And there's no telling if or when someone will be able to access that stored information eventually.

Tend to physical security, such as buying quality cables and locks, storing sensitive files and documents in a locked room, and making sure employees log off their computers. Additionally, set up access controls for your physical premises, so you know who accesses certain places and information. Even if you work from home, extra security for your business is never a bad idea.

Ideally, you want to chop your liabilities down to size by learning how to protect customer information.

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