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Protecting Your Customer Data Online

If you do business online in any capacity, then you’re likely dealing with customer data. It could be something as simple as collecting their email address for a newsletter or something more advanced, like their credit card information. No matter how little or how much information you collect from your customers, it’s essential that you protect it. Below we’ll explain why it is important and some steps you can take to protect your customer’s data online.

Importance of Data Privacy

There are two main reasons that you should take consumer data privacy seriously. The first is that it will help you establish trust with your consumers. Most people do not like sharing sensitive information online. They want to know that when they do, the business they are sending it to is the only one who will see it. 

By letting your consumers know exactly how you plan on handling their information, and what you plan on doing with it, you can establish a level of trust. It’s then essential that you follow through with those promises. Otherwise, trust will be broken.

The other major reason is to protect your business. If you track consumer data improperly and expose it to the outside world, your business could be held legally responsible. Many companies have had to pay hefty fines due to data breaches within their company. Look no further than Equifax, which had to pay up to $700 million in fines.

To protect your business’s long-term interests, you need to have a data protection plan in place. For a helpful guide on the importance of data privacy, you can check out this one from Prolifics.

Only Collect What You Need

The first thing to think about is what information you actually need from your customers. The more data you collect on them, the more security you will need in place. Therefore, you should only collect the information that you need and nothing else.

For example, if your business does not ship any products to its customers, then you likely don’t need a customer’s mailing address. You also typically don’t need to collect things like passwords, bank account information, or social security numbers. These pieces of information are highly sensitive, so you should only collect them from your consumers if there is a specific reason.

Go through your business’s entire operation and make a list of the information you actually need from your customers. You can then use that list to either set up your data protection plan or modify your current data collection processes.

Limit Access

Next, you should limit who within your company can access specific information. It’s unlikely that every single person within your business needs to have access to every piece of customer information. The more people you grant access to, the higher chance there is for a security breach. 

An example of this is Twitter. An investigation found that Twitter had granted administrative access to all of their employees, meaning they had control over member accounts. With so many people granted access, it would have been all too easy for a breach to occur. All it would have taken is one employee having a poor password or having their computer stolen for all of Twitter’s membership information to be compromised.

Use Strong Encryption and Passwords

Use Strong Encryption and Passwords
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Some of the most important aspects of any data protection system are the encryption you use and the passwords. Both play a vital role in protecting information, whether you’re an individual or a business. 

Encryption is used when you are storing and transferring data so that only the correct people can see the information. There are encryption standards in place that you should follow to ensure maximum security. You can learn more about these encryption standards here.

For passwords, you’ll want to make sure you are choosing strong ones. Strong passwords typically include both uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and a symbol. You should avoid using anything related to you as a password, such as your birthdate or name. Within your business, you should have guidelines for what is considered an acceptable password and let all of your employees know. By having these password standards in place, you’ll improve security throughout your business.

Monitor Your Network Use

Monitor Your Network Use
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A common way that data is compromised is when someone sneaks into your internet connection. If your business’s network isn’t secure, someone could gain entry and capture all the information that is being sent and received. So, even if you have customer data stored in a password-protected area of your computer, hackers could still gain access to it by looking at it before it even enters into the secure area.

To prevent this, you’ll want to monitor your network. You should be able to see at all times who is on your network and what they are doing. Then, if anything unauthorized happens, you’ll know right away and can take action. A good thing to have running is an Intrusion Detection System, which will alert you when someone breaks in.

Vet Your Service Providers

Finally, you need to vet everyone your company does business with. Your data protection plans are only as strong as your weakest link. If you work with a third-party provider for some service and give them access to your customer data, you need to make sure that it remains secure. 

For example, let’s say you hire a company to produce a smartphone app for your business. To create the app, the developers need access to your current customer database. Before you grant them this permission, you should talk to the developers about what steps they take to protect their data, because if something goes wrong, it will still be your company that takes the brunt of the blame with your customers. 

Put a Data Protection Plan into Place

The longer you wait to establish a data protection plan for your customers, the more likely it is that a data breach will occur. Protecting your customers’ data is an essential part of building trust with your brand and preventing legal action against your business. Set aside some time to analyze your current customer data protection efforts and look for ways to improve. 

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