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Strategies for Businesses to Enhance Online Safety: Safeguarding Employee and Customer Data

Updated: Dec 26, 2023




The prevalence of digital interactions in the business world has made online safety a crucial concern. The latest statistics reveal a concerning picture of cybercrime in the United States. In 2022, data breaches resulted in an average loss of $4.35 million for businesses, a significant rise from the previous year. This trend is further emphasized by the fact that 493.33 million ransomware attempts were detected globally in 2022. 


As these statistics highlight, businesses must prioritize and strengthen their online security measures. Protecting employee and customer data is not only a matter of regulatory compliance. It is fundamental to maintaining trust and integrity in the digital era. This blog aims to help businesses enhance their online safety by providing a roadmap for a comprehensive approach to safeguarding against constantly evolving cyber threats.

Safeguarding Your Employee and Customer Data

Some companies may have the necessary knowledge and skills to execute a suitable strategy effectively, but many SMBs do not. Therefore, SMBs can benefit from enlisting the services of a professional IT Services provider.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, a sound data security plan for businesses is built on five fundamental principles. 1. Take Stock. Understand what data you have in your files and on your computers.

For data safety, it is vital to take inventory of all equipment and personal information, including computers, laptops, mobile devices, and digital copiers. Keep track of personal information as it moves through various departments such as sales, IT, HR, and accounting to understand who is sending, receiving, and collecting it. Determine the type of information being collected at each entry point and where it is being stored. Ensure employees have permission to access the information and be mindful of potential access from vendors and contractors. It is crucial to pay attention to how personal identifying information, such as Social Security numbers and financial information, is stored, as thieves often target it for fraud or identity theft.

2. Scale Down. Retain only the essentials for your business.

Businesses should control the scope of their data security efforts by limiting and keeping sensitive information required only for legitimate business needs. When it comes to mobile apps, they should only collect personal information that is essential to the product or service. As for customers, credit card information should only be kept if necessary, and access should be limited to specific privilege levels that require access.

3. Lock It. Ensure the safety of the information you have.

To ensure the safety of sensitive personal information, a comprehensive data security plan should cover physical, electronic, and employee training and contractor/service provider security measures.

  • Physical Security

Data compromises can occur through lost or stolen paper documents. To protect against this, store sensitive documents and files in locked rooms or cabinets and limit access to employees with legitimate business needs. Enforce proper file storage, the computer log-off, and lock office doors. Implement access controls, limit offsite storage access, encrypt sensitive information, and use overnight shipping services. Secure devices like PIN pads and inventory them to prevent tampering and ensure data security.

  • Electronic Security

It's not only up to your IT team to ensure computer security. Take the initiative to learn about the weaknesses of your computer system and network, and heed the guidance of professionals in the industry.


  • General Network Security

To safeguard personal information, it is crucial to take specific measures. First, identify all computers and connections to these devices and evaluate their susceptibility to attacks. Additionally, storing sensitive data on computers with an internet connection for business purposes is advisable only if necessary. Another critical step is to encrypt any sensitive information sent to third parties or stored on devices used by employees. It is also recommended to regularly run anti-malware programs and stay updated on expert websites to be aware of any vulnerabilities. Restricting employees' ability to download unauthorized software is essential, but this will be difficult to enforce for staff who use their own devices.


Furthermore, scanning computers on your network to identify and profile operating systems and open network services can be beneficial. Turning off unnecessary services is crucial to prevent potential hacks or security issues. Lastly, paying attention to web application security is vital as they can be susceptible to hack attacks.


  • Authentication

Employees must ensure the security of sensitive information by creating strong passwords that include a combination of letters, numbers, and characters. Additionally, they should use multi-factor authentication and be aware of the company's policy against password sharing. To prevent unauthorized access, employee computers should be locked with password-activated screensavers after a period of inactivity. Educating employees about identity theft calls and changing default passwords when installing new software is also essential. Lastly, sensitive information should not be transmitted via email as unencrypted emails are not secure.


  • Laptop Security

To safeguard confidential data on company-issued laptops, limit their usage to essential personnel, evaluate the requirements for storing data, and utilize wiping software to erase information. Keep laptops in a secure location using cables and locks. Consider allowing staff to view sensitive data but not save it on their laptops. There are also ways to implement an auto-destruct feature to erase stolen data. Educate staff about security while traveling. If your team uses their laptop devices, businesses must carefully consider how these devices interact with internal business systems.


  • Firewalls

Safeguard your computer from potential hacker attacks while connected to the internet using a firewall. A firewall is designed to prevent hackers from accessing your computer in either software or hardware form. To further enhance your security, consider installing a border firewall to create a barrier between your network and the internet. Additionally, it's crucial to set access controls that only allow trusted devices to access your network and to review these controls regularly.


  • Wireless and Remote Access

To secure your computer network, it's advisable to limit the number of wireless devices connected to it and encrypt any sensitive information. For remote access, use encryption and multi-factor authentication for added security. Additionally, limit the number of devices that can connect to your network.


  • Digital Copiers

Including digital copiers in your information security plan is crucial since they can store sensitive document data. To ensure the protection of this data, IT staff should be involved in the decision-making process and consider the data security features provided by copier manufacturers, like encryption and overwriting. It's also suggested to overwrite the hard drive at least once a month and set the number of times data is overwritten. To prevent any harm to the copier, it's advisable to consult with a proficient technician about removing and destroying the drive or overwriting the data before disposing of it.


  • Detecting Breaches

It is vital to have an intrusion detection system in place to ensure network security. Regular updates are necessary to address new hacking techniques. Central log files can assist in identifying compromised computers. It is also recommended to monitor incoming and outgoing traffic for any indications of hacking or data breaches. Lastly, a breach response plan is crucial to address security concerns quickly.

  • Employee Training

A robust data security plan protects against identity theft and data breaches. To ensure this, educating employees on the rules and training them to identify security vulnerabilities is essential. Regular training should be conducted, including checking references and background checks before hiring employees with sensitive data access. Limiting access to personal information and having procedures in place for removing sensitive information from employees who leave or transfer is crucial. A "culture of security" should be created by regularly updating employees on new risks and vulnerabilities. Employees should be trained to recognize security threats, report suspicious activity, and publicly reward diligent people. Policies should be communicated to employees about keeping information secure and confidential, and employees should be warned about spear phishing and phone phishing.

  • Security Practices of Contractors and Service Providers

Contractors and service providers are crucial in maintaining strong security practices. Companies must ensure that any outsourced business functions align with their security standards. 


To defend against cyber threats effectively, companies should clearly outline their security expectations in contracts, covering data handling, access controls, and incident reporting. It is also vital to encourage service providers to report any security incidents promptly. This way, a comprehensive overview of the security situation can be obtained, and potential threats can be addressed promptly.

4. Pitch It. Get rid of the things you don't need anymore.

It's crucial to dispose of sensitive information correctly to avoid identity theft. Proper disposal methods involve shredding paper documents and securely using software to erase data on old computers and storage devices. Having shredders at the workplace is essential, and employees who work from home should follow the same procedures. Ensuring employees follow these procedures safeguards sensitive information and prevents unauthorized access.

5. Plan Ahead. Develop a strategy to handle security incidents effectively.

Even with the best security measures, it is possible to experience a breach. Therefore, it is essential to have a plan to respond to such incidents, which includes disconnecting compromised computers from networks, conducting thorough investigations of security incidents, and identifying who should be informed, such as consumers, law enforcement, customers, and credit bureaus. It may be necessary to consult a lawyer and follow the regulations and guidelines set by regulatory agencies. Businesses may also consider looking into cybersecurity insurance. 


Conclusion

The rise of cyber threats aimed at businesses has made protecting sensitive data a top priority. To ensure compliance with regulations and maintain trust, businesses must establish a robust cybersecurity framework that includes responsibly managing the data they collect, enhancing security practices where possible, responsibly disposing of data and hardware, and planning incident response. 


Everleap's Managed IT and Managed Cybersecurity Services provide small- and medium-sized businesses with consulting, planning, implementation, and managing IT systems and strengthening their cybersecurity posture. By partnering with Everleap, companies can focus on their core business, knowing they have a partner looking after their infrastructure.



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