Names, SSNs, credit card numbers, and other sensitive information can be found in the files of most businesses, as can the names of current and former employees. This data is often required for order fulfilment, payroll, and other administrative tasks.
However, fraud, identity theft, and other damages can result if sensitive information gets into the wrong hands. Protecting users’ sensitive data is smart business because a data breach can result in lost customers and legal fees.
Evaluate the current state of your company’s procedures and identify areas needing improvement. There are five essential tips upon which a solid data security strategy is built:
Keep Your Sensitive Information and Private Records Safe
How can you ensure the safety of the private data you’re required to store? Information type and storage format are two key factors. Physical security, electronic security, employee training, and the security policies of contractors and service providers are the four pillars of suitable data security measures.
Implement Employee Training and Education
Even if you have a foolproof plan for protecting sensitive information, its efficacy depends on the people who will be putting it into action. Please spend some time with your employees explaining the regulations and teaching them how to identify potential security risks. Incorporating regular training into your data security strategy shows how seriously you take the issue. A well-trained staff is the most vigorous defence against data breaches and identity theft.
- Get all your new hires to sign a document promising to uphold the company’s privacy and security policies regarding sensitive information. Ensure they know their job requires them to follow the company’s data security policy. Regularly reiterate your company’s policy and any legal requirement to staff that they must maintain consumer information privacy.
- Find out which workers can see the private data of your customers. Numbers like Social Security and account numbers require extra precaution. It would help if you only let employees who have a “need to know” access to sensitive data accesses that data.
- Staff members should be taught to spot potential security breaches. Teach children to report anything that seems odd, and recognise them publically if they do.
- Employees should be warned about phishing attempts that use the phone. Instruct them to be wary of calls that request personal information or pretend they require account details to complete a transaction. Standardise calling the company from a verified number to confirm any important information.
- Communicate the company’s expectations for employee privacy and confidentiality. Put up signs in common areas, as well as any other places where employees may have access to sensitive information. Employees who work remotely or who access confidential information from a remote location should be protected by your policies.
- Develop a “security culture” by providing regular training for all staff members. If you learn of new threats, make sure to inform your staff. Training should also extend to remote workers, seasonal employees, and temps. If workers don’t show up, consider cutting off their Internet access.
- Prompt Communication. Staff must promptly alert you of a possible security breach, such as a lost or stolen laptop.
- Implement Exit or Transfer Protocol. Ensure employees who leave the organisation or are transferred to another department are not given access to confidential information. As part of the check-out process, disable their accounts and get their keys and IDs.
- Implement References and Background Checks. Only hire someone with access to private information after checking their references or background checks.
Storage and Protection of Passwords
Limit access to confidential data by mandating “strong” passwords. When it comes to password security, more characters are always better. Employees should be required to use complicated passwords that include letters, numbers, and special characters to avoid being easily guessed. Employees should be required to use unique user names and passwords and to change their passwords regularly.
Here are some other guidelines regarding passwords:
- Users who make several incorrect password tries will be locked out.
- Use screen savers that require a password to lock employees’ computers after a set amount of time of inactivity.
- Discuss the importance of the business policy prohibiting discussions or posting passwords in a public area, whether physical or online.
- Always use a strong password instead of the default one provided by the product’s manufacturer when installing new software.
- Employees should be warned about sending personal information such as Social Security numbers, passwords, and account details over email. Data sent over unencrypted email is not safe.
- Tell workers that identity thieves may contact and pretend to be from IT to trick them into giving over their passwords. Make it clear to your staff that any contact requesting sensitive information is bogus and that they should never give out their password over the phone.
- Install a Firewall. Protect your computer from malicious Internet traffic by installing a firewall. A firewall is an electronic or software barrier that prevents intruders from gaining access to a system. If your firewall is set up correctly, it will be much more difficult for hackers to track down your system and access your data.
- Better yet, Reinforce the Firewall. See if you should set up a “border” firewall at the point where your network enters the Internet. If you have a border firewall set up, an attacker won’t be able to access your network or any of the computers on it, protecting your data from prying eyes. Only authorised workers with a genuine business need to access the network by configuring “access controls” (the settings that define who gets through the firewall and what they will be allowed to see). It’s essential to check the firewall’s access limits regularly to provide the best possible level of security.
- It would help if you used firewalls to separate computers that store sensitive information from those that do not.
Security Measures for Electronic Systems
If you think your IT department is the only one who should be concerned about computer security, think again. Learn as much as possible about the security holes in your computer system and implement the recommendations of professionals.
Physical Security Measures
For the most part, information is still compromised in an old-fashioned manner through the loss or theft of paper documents. It’s common for a secured door or an alert worker to be the most effective line of defence.
- Utilise Encryption. Use encryption and a detailed inventory when sending sensitive data with third-party carriers or contractors. Use a tracking-enabled overnight delivery service to ensure the safe arrival of your documents.
- Set up secure entryways in your establishment. Instruct your staff on who to contact and what to do if they encounter a stranger on the grounds.
- Keep tabs on who and when enters the company. Only allow employees with a genuine business requirement to utilise offsite storage facilities.
- Keep and Lock Sensitive Information. Files holding sensitive information should be locked away especially when they are not being actively worked on. When staff are absent from their desks, they should not leave papers that could be considered confidential.
- Secure Sensitive Files. Keep all paper and digital files (including CDs, floppy disks, zip drives, tapes, and backups) in a secure location. Only workers with a genuine business need should be granted access. Please limit the number of keys available and the number of people who have them.
- Implement End-of-Workday Protocol. Instruct workers to put away paperwork, shut down their laptops, and lock the office before leaving for the day.
Safety Measures for the General Network
- Safeguard Your Web Applications. Web applications are the software used to interact with website users and collect data from them. Thus it’s essential to keep them safe. As a result of their online nature, web apps may be susceptible to many forms of hacking. An injection attack is a sort of attack in which malicious commands are hidden within a seemingly innocent request for data. Once hackers get access, they steal private data from your system and store it on their machines. Fortunately, there are several sources where you may learn fundamental countermeasures to these attacks.
- Encrypt Data Before Sending Out. You should encrypt data sent to outside parties over the Internet, and you should also think about encrypting data stored on your internal network or disks or portable storage devices used by your staff. Encryption is a good idea if sensitive material is sent via company email.
- Pinpoint Priority Devices Early On. Locate any machines or servers that may be storing private information. Map out who has access to your computers with sensitive data. Internet, ECRs, branch office PCs, service provider PCs needed to maintain the network, and wireless devices like RF inventory scanners and cell phones are all examples.
- Test the Stability of the Connection. See how susceptible each link is to standard or reasonably expected attacks. Depending on the specifics of your situation, you may need anything from a simple security software scan to a full-scale security audit performed by an outside expert.
- Test the Network. Conduct a network scan to discover and categorise the software installed and running on each computer in your network. Disabling unused services can protect your computer from intrusion attempts and other threats. As an illustration, if a particular computer doesn’t need email or Internet connectivity, you can disable those services by blocking their respective ports.
- Use Threat Protection Software. Utilise anti-malware and anti-spyware software that is up-to-date and installed on all PCs and servers in your network. If you are looking for threat protection software, Bitdefender Family Pack can keep your entire family safe from all online threats. If you are using a Mac device, check out the Mac version.
- Do Not Store Sensitive Information on Internet-enabled Devices. Unless necessary for commercial purposes, avoid storing private customer information on any device that can connect to the Internet.
- Use Secure Connection. Use Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or any similarly reliable secure connection to send and receive credit card numbers and other private financial data.
Security Measures for Wireless and Remote Access
Find out if you connect wireless devices, such as inventory scanners or cell phones, to your network or send private data.
Then you should restrict access to your computer network via wireless connections. Restricting the kind of wireless devices that can connect to your network makes it more difficult for an intruder to gain access.
Better yet, think about encrypting the content to make it even more challenging for an intruder to read. It is possible that an intruder could obtain access to your computer network by “spoofing” or pretending to be one of your computers, but encrypting the data sent from wireless devices could prevent this.
If your business allows remote computer access, you should consider investing in encryption.
Contractor and Service Provider Security Measures
The contractors and service providers you hire will play a crucial role in the security practices of your firm.
Visit their offices. Investigate the company’s data security processes and compare them to your own before outsourcing any of your business’s tasks, including payroll, web hosting, customer call centre operations, data processing, and the like.
When negotiating contracts with service providers, include clauses that address data security concerns relevant to the data they will be handling. And it is essential to require your service providers to inform you of any security problems they encounter, even if they do not directly affect your data.
Security Measures for Laptops
In a nutshell, keep laptop usage to a minimum and only allow those who truly require them to do their tasks to use them. Here are some additional tips to guide you:
First, you should decide if there is an absolute necessity to keep private data on a laptop. If not, use a laptop data-erasing application to “wipe” the device clean. Standard keyboard commands for deleting files may not be effective since some copies of the files may still exist on the laptop’s hard disk. Most places that sell office equipment will also sell wiping software.
If confidential information is stored on a laptop, it should be encrypted, and the user should be denied access to the computer’s software and settings unless authorised by IT. Think about implementing an “auto-destroy” function that deletes all information from a reported stolen computer the next time the thief tries to access the Internet.
It might be prudent to restrict laptop users’ storage capabilities, meaning they can only access and view sensitive information. In this setup, all data is kept in a single, protected server, while laptops are merely terminals that display data sent from the server. A token, “smart card,” thumbprint, or other biometric—in addition to a password—could be used to access the main computer, further bolstering security.
You must store employee laptops in a safe location. Keep computers locked and corded to workers’ desks at all times, even while in use.
Instruct workers to stay vigilant while travelling. Unless instructed by airport security personnel, they should never leave a laptop evident in a vehicle, on a hotel luggage stand, or in their checked luggage. You should secure a laptop computer in the trunk if it were left in a vehicle. When checking your laptop at airport security, keep an eye on the conveyor belt.
Identification of Security Vulnerabilities and Breaches
The use of an intrusion detection system is recommended to discover network intrusions as soon as they occur. If you want it to be effective, you’ll need to keep updating it to counteract the latest hacking techniques.
To monitor network activity and respond to assaults, it is essential to keep central log files of security-related information. The log can help determine which computers were compromised during a network assault.
Keep an eye on incoming data for any indications of an attempted breach. Watch for anything out of the ordinary, such as increased traffic at odd hours, frequent failed login attempts from people or computers you aren’t familiar with, or new users joining the system.
Monitor outbound traffic for any suspicious activity that could indicate a data leak. Pay attention to any significant data transfers destined for an unidentified user on your system.
It’s essential to check that any data leaving your network has been permitted to leave.
Keep the Essentials for Your Business and Scale it Down.
Here are some helpful reminders:
- Only store private information if you need it for your business. Please don’t bother to collect it at all. If you need the data for business purposes, store it for as long as is required.
- Only save credit card details if there’s a legitimate business reason to do so. Only save sensitive information like the account number and expiration date if necessary. The potential for fraud or identity theft increases if this information is kept or kept for longer than necessary.
- Only use employee Social Security numbers, such as tax reporting, for legitimate business. Don’t use people’s Social Security numbers as an employee or customer ID just because that’s how things have always been done.
- Create a records retention policy outlining what information must be retained, how it will be protected, for how long, and how it will be disposed of safely once it is no longer needed, whether for business or legal reasons.
- Verify that the defaults on your credit card processing software are correct. It may be necessary to store data indefinitely in some cases. To avoid keeping unnecessary data, you should alter the default option.
Do a Quick Inventory and Be Aware of the Stored Sensitive Information
Knowing what kind of sensitive information you’ve stored in your electronic documents and devices is essential.
Understanding what data you have and who has access to it is the first step toward securing it effectively.
Identifying security risks requires an in-depth knowledge of the flow of personal data into, within, and out of your organisation and the identities of those with access to this data. Understanding the information’s movement can help you decide how best to protect it.
The best way to discover the locations of confidential company data is to conduct a complete inventory of all company computers, laptops, flash drives, disks, and home PCs. Identify the various forms and locations of the data you have.
Remember that your company receives personal information through various channels, including websites, contractors, contact centres, etc. Protecting this data is ongoing, not just limited to your file cabinets and computer systems.
What about data stored on portable media like laptops, desktops, thumb drives, and mobile phones? You have yet to do a proper inventory until you’ve looked anywhere you could store private information.
Please communicate with the company’s sales team, IT department, HR department, accounting department, and any third-party service providers to trace the flow of sensitive customer data.
Find out who is sending highly personal data to your company. You must know whether your clients supply you with it. Include in your search financial institutions, collection agencies, and other companies.
Next, determine how your company handles the receipt of sensitive personal data. It may be done online, through email, or through physical postage. Find out the role of retail registers in transmitting information and data.
You must familiarise yourself with the process of data collection and determine where you collect data and what kind of data is collected. Also, find out your retention policy with your accounting department.
Determine the location(s) where the data that has been collected is stored. From here, determine whether access is through a centralised database, kept in personal computers, satellite locations, or the cloud and whether remote access is allowed.
Next, determine how many people and the identity of each person authorised to handle or view this information. Analyse and take time to find out if there is a chance other people may get their hands on this data. Look into your relationship with the companies that maintain the software and programs that handle credit card payments.
The dangers associated with various forms of data differ. Take extra precautions with sensitive information, including bank account details, Social Security numbers, and other personal identifiers.
Dispose of Files and Items in an Appropriate and Secure Manner
It may look like garbage to you, but to a criminal, it may be worth a fortune. Fraud is made more accessible when people throw away credit card receipts, personal papers, or CDs containing personal identifying information. It is imperative to destroy confidential documents to prevent them from being reassembled.
Take a look at some helpful tips:
- Use a wipe utility before throwing away your old computer or portable storage device. They’re cheap and effective, making it possible to overwrite a hard drive and render the data unrecoverable completely. The files may remain on the hard disk and be quickly recovered even after you delete them using the keyboard and mouse.
- Shredding, burning or crushing paper records before disposal is recommended. Put shredders in convenient locations, such as next to photocopiers, so employees may securely dispose of sensitive documents.
- Adopt safe, responsible methods of discarding old data to stop identity theft. Consider the sensitivity of the data, the costs and benefits of various disposal options, and the state of art to come up with a reasonable plan for your business.
- Instruct remote workers to destroy confidential paperwork and any outdated laptops or mobile storage devices in the same manner as onsite workers.
- The FTC’s Disposal Rule may govern you if you use consumer credit records for commercial purposes. See Disposing of Consumer Report Information for more details. At www.ftc.gov/privacy, a new rule explains the process (click on Credit Reporting, Business Guidance).
Make Preparations for How to Handle Security Breaches.
Preventing a security breach can be significantly aided by taking precautions to safeguard sensitive information in your hands. However, compromises are possible. Here are some ways to lessen the blow to your company, your staff, and your clientele:
- In a security breach, a quick investigation must be launched, and you must take measures to seal any holes that may have been exploited.
- Think about the internal and external parties that need to be informed in the event of an incident. Notify anybody who might be affected by the breach, including customers, police enforcement, credit bureaus, and the general public. Federal banking institutions and states also have legislation or standards in place to deal with data breaches. Please seek the advice of counsel.
- Appoint a senior employee to oversee the response plan’s implementation. A compromised machine should have its Internet connection cut immediately.
To assess the current state of your business, use the following five essential tips. Evaluate your current security setup and procedures to see whether there is room for improvement. Ensure the safety of your users, clients, and staff’ personal information by implementing appropriate security measures.