6 Ways to Protect Customer Data

09/28/2017 03:59 pm ET

We’ve all seen the headlines about the cost of cybercrime. According to one estimate from IBM, the average out-of-pocket cost of security breaches has now climbed to $4 million per incident—up nearly 30 percent in only a few short years.

But protecting such data—specifically, personal consumer information—is more costly than just dollars and cents. A recent report from the TRUSTe/National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) Consumer Privacy Index found that more Americans are worried about their data privacy than they are about losing their primary source of income.

Just as significant, fewer than a third of those people who are concerned about data privacy reported that they understood how companies can share their personal information. That makes protecting customer data a business imperative that customers increasingly demand.

Here are six ways to get started:

  1. Stay Current on Encryption Practices. Encryption technologies and processes are evolving at an exponentially rapid rate. Organizations that haven’t reviewed and, if necessary, updated their encryption practices are often vulnerable to attacks. Establish a regular schedule to see if your current encryption technology and practices are as up-to-date as possible. The same holds true with any security-related technology—outdated legacy systems can have hackers licking their chops.
  2. Limit Access to Customer Information. Not everyone in an organization needs to see customers’ personal information. The fewer the people with a genuine need for access, the fewer the opportunities for hackers to strike at a weak point.
  3. Collect Only What’s Necessary. Collecting unnecessary customer data means not only wasted energy and resources, but also provides a larger cache for cyber hackers to target—not to mention makes some customers nervous about why you need all this information in the first place. Collect only what you need for business purposes. As a further step, offer customers the option of whether they wish to share personal information with you or not.
  4. Consider Destroying Data after You’ve Used It. Rather than making the most of customers’ data after your business with them is complete, give some thought to getting rid of it entirely. That sort of concern reinforces customers’ confidence about your privacy measures and transparency.
  5. Make Customer Privacy Everyone’s Business. Customer security is far too critical to be the purview of a select few. Once you have a comprehensive security program and policy in place, make sure everyone in your organization understands it and, more importantly, adheres to it. For instance, this can relate to employees’ use of outside computers and other equipment.
  6. Let Customers Know Their Information is Safe. One final step in making certain that data is as safe as possible is letting customers know exactly what you’re doing to make that happen. Be straight and to the point, rather than burying details in a long-winded privacy statement that few, if any, customers take the time to read.
  7. Further, treat your privacy discussion as more than just a form of mandated disclosure. Instead, look at it as a marketing tool. The greater the effort you expend to protect customer information and the more people know about it, the greater the overall level of consumer comfort. And that can benefit your bottom line.

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