Smart Ways Small Businesses Keep Customer Data Secure

Protecting customer data is crucial for any business, but it can be especially challenging for small businesses with limited resources. Nevertheless, with thoughtful planning and strategic investments, small businesses can implement robust cybersecurity measures to keep data secure. 

Implement Access Controls

One of the simplest ways for small businesses to enhance data security is by implementing access controls. This means restricting access to sensitive customer data only to employees that need it to do their jobs. For example, customer service representatives may need access to order history and contact information, while warehouse staff do not. 

Small businesses can set up access controls by creating user roles and permission groups. For instance, “accounting staff” and “sales staff” groups can be created, with each having access only to necessary data. The experts at Hillstone Networks say that strictly controlling data access through micro-segmentation helps prevent breaches or misuse.

Use Encryption

Encryption scrambles data using algorithms so only authorized parties can access it. Encrypting customer data like payment card information and Social Security numbers is a must for small businesses. 

There are affordable software tools small companies can use to encrypt data both when it’s stored and in transit. For example, virtual private network (VPN) tools and encrypted email services keep data secure as it is moving.

Enable Multi-Factor Authentication

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) requires users to provide two or more verification methods to access accounts and data. This prevents criminals from getting access with only a stolen password. 

Small businesses can enable MFA on devices, apps, accounts, and Wi-Fi networks their teams use to access customer information. Some popular MFA methods include text verification codes, biometrics like fingerprints, and security keys. 

Though more inconvenient than single passwords, MFA drastically boosts security against breaches.

Conduct Security Training  

Many cyberattacks exploit human error rather than technical flaws. That is why ongoing employee cybersecurity training is so important, even for small teams with limited budgets. Owners should educate staff on issues like phishing attempts, strong password practices, safe web usage, physical data protections, and reporting responsibilities. 

Update Systems and Software Regularly

Outdated software and systems frequently have vulnerabilities that hackers exploit to steal data. Small businesses should make a point to regularly update operating systems, software programs, apps, and other technology systems that store or access customer information. Signing up for automatic updates from vendors is ideal for time-strapped small companies. If some outdated legacy system absolutely cannot be updated, extra network security controls should be placed around it to prevent it from becoming an entry point. While patches and upgrades take IT effort, they crucially plug security gaps before criminals have a chance to penetrate defenses. Maintaining up-to-date systems is one of the most effective ways small businesses can proactively improve customer data protections.

Hire Outside Help

Realistically, small businesses cannot perfectly manage every cyber risk on their own. When customer data security is on the line, it makes sense to enlist outside support. 

IT consultants can audit current systems and recommend security improvements tailored to small business environments. Managed service providers can also manage tasks like vulnerability testing, firewall installations, access controls, and data encryption so that the owner can focus elsewhere. Though outsourcing cybersecurity has costs, it often saves money over dealing with breaches later. And customers appreciate businesses taking their privacy seriously, which builds trust and loyalty.

Conclusion

While data protections require some investment, the reputational damage and legal consequences of breaches make security non-negotiable for small businesses today. Prioritizing basic access controls, system encryption, staff training, and outside experts goes a long way to preventing cyber incidents down the road.

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