Data security should never be an afterthought when growing a business. Whether it’s customer data or client lists, or proprietary business information, the importance and careful handling of data must be primary. This security evaluation includes special measures above and beyond general IT security, and this emphasis on protection must be communicated to employees.
The backbone of a business’s profitability and reputation is its data handling. Breaches are more than mere annoyances. They may trigger financial penalties from the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council and the Federal Trade Commission. Fines alone have caused some companies to declare bankruptcy.
Worse than fines, you may lose important clients and partners if the breach was particularly damaging or if the cause of the breach was something as elementary as poor password security. Getting all employees to use a random password generator is the first step. Read below for more tips.
The Importance of a Data Security Policy
Spell out your company’s data security policy to clients and employees to clarify that all stakeholders must take data security seriously. Clients should not be permitted to cut corners on security, nor should employees. A concise policy that is reinforced and repeated will help your business as it takes the pressure off employees when asked by a client to download data or to share a password.
Business partners and clients will appreciate a no-excuses approach to data security because they will understand that your company’s security is critical to their security. Breaches by sophisticated hackers may begin with one flaw. By hacking an unsecured business, they can gain access through vulnerable connections to attack related companies, including customer data, client applications, and partners.
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Set Restrictive Permissions
Restrictive permissions are like vault doors guarding data. Only those employees with specific jobs and a need to access data are given the passwords to these areas. When a data security policy is clear and well known, sharing passwords or access with an unauthorized person is unthinkable, immediately reducing the potential of breaches.
Even the largest, well-regarded companies have issues with data breaches. Among the 60 most significant data breach events are well-known companies like Facebook, Twitter, and American Financial. However, those companies may be able to absorb the reputational and financial impact of a breach better than a small company.
As cloud computing and storage services expand to involve smaller businesses, phishing attacks increase, making restrictive permissions of primary importance.
Self-hosting vs. Cloud Hosting
Cloud computing enables businesses to expand services and access by customers and employees. Self-hosting is more restrictive as hardware and systems are maintained on-site, requiring a considerable investment in employees and IT infrastructure. Businesses must integrate an iron-clad VPN to encrypt and route data accessed remotely.
While on-site hosting sounds more secure, small companies are somewhat more vulnerable to attacks and breaches. Small companies rarely invest adequate time and money in security systems, procedures, and policies. Cloud computing firms stake their businesses on security and accessibility, leaning on harder-to-penetrate Linux and Unix systems. At the same time, read the fine print of any cloud computing contract. Cloud computing companies may be sold or go out of business, leaving business clients vulnerable to new policies or to foot unexpected costs of finding a new host.
Frequent Audits and Reporting
A data security policy is only as good as its ongoing testing and improvement. Security specialists must explore systems and data storage for vulnerabilities periodically. Scheduled audits likewise must be performed and followed up with immediate patches or necessary changes to reduce the likelihood of a breach. Most systems and software have weak areas. These weak points may include software vulnerabilities discovered after the installation of the product. Such vulnerabilities should be patched and periodically revisited by on-site IT specialists responsible for monitoring security. In addition, employee procedures and interaction with data should be updated regularly, adjusting access policies and procedures as necessary.
Steps to a thorough security audit include:
- Testing all hardware and software as well as patches already implemented.
- Ensuring end-to-end security of data transmitted among employees and clients.
- Examining employee access to and handling of data to ensure optimal protection.
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Ensure Strong Password Generator
A recent report about data breaches concluded that more than 60 percent are related to credentials or passwords and access. Requiring a strong password generator eliminates lazy habits such as re-using passwords or employees setting their names as passwords. A more random password, including the use of special characters and numbers in place of letters, ensures higher security.
Current Data Backup
Automate systems rather than relying on manual data backups. That eliminates introducing human error, even forgetting to run the backup. Experts recommend backing up passwords and data by periodically generating a .csv file from your password vault.