8 ways businesses can protect customer data

Business must develop robust policies, procedures and IT security measures to protect customer data. Exactly what's necessary varies between businesses according to what's achievable and the data they need to protect.

Why is it important to protect customer information?

Rules and regulations about protecting customer data are in place to prevent unauthorised access, modification and disclosure, as well as information being stolen and misused by third parties for fraud. With access to someone's personal details, criminals can commit identity fraud, while data misuse can also cause financial loss to an individual or affect their reputation.

In Australia the Privacy Act 1988 regulates how businesses should manage, store, change and access their customers' data. Businesses with a turnover of more than AU$3 million must comply, though many types of smaller companies also have responsibilities under the Act. Even for businesses who do not have to comply with the Act, properly protecting customers is good practice and something that clients expect.

Criminals can commit identify fraud and data misuse can also cause financial loss to an individual or affect their reputation.

The Australian Government defines a customer's personal information as data that can identify or reasonably identify an individual. Personal information includes details like but not limited to:

  • Their name.
  • Their physical address.
  • Personal email addresses.
  • Mobile or landline telephone numbers.
  • Their date of birth.

They also define sensitive information, which is personal data about an individual's religion, race, political opinions, sexual orientation and more. These details should also be adequately protected. 

For businesses that do have to comply with the Act, the government provide a number of guidelines called the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs). They aim to help businesses understand their responsibilities and comply. The APPs include that businesses must implement practices and procedures to ensure compliance, take reasonable steps to protect personal information and only collect such data where it is absolutely necessary.

Take steps to protect customer data.Businesses are expected to take reasonable steps to protect their customers' data.

How can businesses protect client information?

1) Develop solid policies

You should develop policies that make clear your company's approach to customer data security. Not only do these policies inform staff, you can also send them to your customers or prospects to show that you're a reliable and trustworthy organisation to work with. Your policy should deal with what type of information you record and the steps you'll take to protect it. 

2) Ensure procedures are in place to help staff adhere to policies

To ensure your staff understand how to implement your policies, and to make sure they all use the same methods, develop procedures that everyone can follow when entering or updating customer data.

You can also include mandatory training sessions to help build a culture of data security, and ensure your team is equipped to identify potential issues, such as malicious emails. Automatically prompting staff to change their passwords on a regular basis, blocking access if they enter the incorrect details several times or requiring a mixture of characters are other ways you could choose to implement your policy promises. 

3) Employ anti-phishing and anti virus programs

As well as training your staff to identify malicious emails, use appropriate protection programs to stop them getting through to your staff in the first place. Also consider what email validation and authentication systems you have in place, and whether dividing your network in multiple segments could make it harder for a cyber criminal to access all of your data.

4) Network firewalls

With the right network protection in place, you can prevent and detect attacks. Firewalls control network traffic by filtering and monitoring activity. However, you must keep updating your firewall protection, and ensure someone is analysing and monitoring reported behaviour. Would you notice if someone within your organisation started accessing or transferring data against your policy?

Blacklisting and whitelisting access to certain types of sites, activity or network communication is another level of protection.

Protect your network to secure customer data.Protect your network to prevent criminals accessing your customer data.

5) Software security

Whether you use cloud-based software or not, you need to ensure that your software is kept up to date to prevent potential privacy breaches. Software companies continually update their privacy and protection features and you should ensure you're always using the latest versions as well as deploying patches and updates as they become available.

6) Encrypt sensitive data

Encryption is a method of ensuring sensitive data cannot be understood if it is accessed without authorisation. Consider how you encrypt your data, whether this needs updating and if all your information is covered – especially personal devices or third-party software.

7) Secure remote connections

Remote working is becoming more common, and so your staff may access your customer data via a number of different devices, locations and apps. Reduce risk here by ensuring staff can access servers securely with their mobile devices, such as by using a VPN. 

8) Protect removable storage devices

Your staff may use USB storage or external hard drives as ways to move information or access it on-the-go. However, these types of devices are both easy for thieves to target and can get accidently misplaced or lost. It's crucial you protect these types of devices with encryption and passwords to mitigate the risk.

Preventing data security issues is essential. Make sure you do it properly by speaking to the IT experts at Biztech. Get in touch today.