In the wake of Facebook’s headline-grabbing data scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, the security of customer information is top-of-mind for many businesses – and, more importantly, for customers themselves.
Consumers are increasingly wary of giving up their personal information and have growing concerns about how it’s used and how securely it’s stored. And if your business operates online – and these days, almost all do, to some extent – then this customer skepticism and fear could impact your bottom line.
The Importance of Security
About 10 million small businesses have Facebook pages in the US alone, and some 6 million companies advertise on the network. The Facebook data scandal laid bare a lot of frightening information about how mobile apps interact with our smartphones’ contact lists, which can result in Facebook having personal information about people who don’t have an account; or, as was the case with Cambridge Analytica, a third party “scraping” personal data from people’s accounts without their authorization, again through lists of friends and contacts.
Reassuring Your Customers
The importance of making your customers feel safe in trusting your company with their data can’t be overstated. Many people are already cynical about how safe their information is: according to Statista, only 12% of American adults were “very confident” in the ability of the US government to safeguard their data in 2016. When it comes to inspiring confidence among your customers, that’s an admittedly low bar, but there isn’t as much pessimism when it comes to private businesses – a 2015 Deloitte study found that 37% of Americans believed that most consumer product companies adequately protect customer information.
The High Cost of Unsecured Data
Unfortunately, many small businesses still haven’t done enough to protect themselves and their customers. A recent survey conducted for Moneris found that 67% of small and medium-sized businesses hadn’t conducted a data security audit, and 70% don’t have data security protocols in place. Such oversights can be costly, if not outright disastrous. According to Kapersky Labs, the average cost of a data breach for a small business is around $38,000 out of pocket, with indirect costs of such a breach averaging another $8,000.
Online Business Done Right
So how can you protect your data, as well as that of your customers? There are some things you can do to bolster your data security, like using popular e-commerce platforms including Magento or WordPress WooCommerce for online transactions, utilizing SSL certificates (the little padlock icon in your web browser’s address bar signifying a secure connection), two-factor authentication (2FA), or a VPN service. Additionally, using consumer-facing apparatuses like two-factor authentication and SSL certification means that your customers will be aware of – and reassured by – your efforts to keep their data safe. List any business accreditation or trade bodies you belong to on your site and include easy-to-find contact information for your company with a mailing address and phone number to reassure potential customers that yours is a real business with nothing to hide.
But there’s more to security than installing technology or updating programs. One employee being careless with a company laptop or mobile device can expose far more customer data than a cyber-attack aimed at your business’ system. Opening the wrong email attachment or visiting dicey websites can also compromise your business’ security, and these all come down to the same core problem: human error.
If you run a small business, it’s crucial that your staff is properly trained on data security. Educate your employees about creating unique and strong passwords, and make sure that they know what areas of the internet aren’t safe to be accessed via their work computers and what kinds of email attachments shouldn’t be opened. Balance is still important, however; your security rules must still provide your staff with the freedom to properly do their jobs, and they shouldn’t be made to feel as if they’re constantly being monitored, or that they’re not trustworthy.
The WiFi setup at your business can be a quick and easy way for an outsider to access your data. Secure your WiFi connection so to ensure that only your employees have access to it, ideally so your staff don’t know the password themselves but can still log in. That way you don’t have to worry about an absent-minded employee writing it down and misplacing it or letting an unauthorized user access it. If allowing customers or visitors access to WiFi is beneficial to your business, set up a distinct public network separate from the one used by your business.
It’s a good idea to have copies of all data. If it goes missing or is stolen, you should have a backup version. Regularly backup your data, whether it’s on an external hard drive or in the cloud – both secured, preferably with encryption and passwords.
Consider Hiring an Expert
A data security specialist with experience working with small businesses could be a huge advantage, especially if you’re in a sector prone to data breaches or hacking. An expert with a solid track record is an investment that could reap major dividends as your company grows.
The Customer Comes First
If you’re a small business operating in the digital space, then protecting your customers’ data and privacy should be among your primary concerns. If you don’t prove yourself worthy of your customers’ trust, you’ll soon find yourself with no customers. Respect your customers’ privacy and reassure them that you take the responsibility of protecting their information seriously. In our increasingly connected world, the success of your business depends on it.
Justin Anderson | Staff Writer