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by Christopher Walljasper
There have been almost 200 business data breaches in the United States this year, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. While the only cases that make it to the general public's awareness happen at national retail chains like Target and Neiman Marcus, data security is something that should concern businesses of all sizes.
Data breaches are dangerous for customers and could cost a business thousands of dollars -- and the trust of their clients.
Here are a few inexpensive things every small business can do to keep customer information secure.
Understand Your Risk
The Better Business Bureau says the first step to protecting customers is assessing the risk. Determine what type of sensitive customer information is kept on file, how it is stored -- both in physical form and on computers -- and determine a clear expectation of who within the company has access to customer information.
When storing private customer data, in password protections and in your emergency backup, redundancy is key. Laptops and backup hard drives should be regularly inventoried and secured. Even large companies like Apple have had employees lose devices, leaving proprietary information available to the world. Planning to stick to a rigid password policy that requires at least 12 characters and changes periodically also reduces the chances that hackers will be able to access your data.
Backing up Information
Backing up company information doesn't just protect the company; it also allows the continued servicing of its clients. The U.S. Small Business Administration says physical and cloud-based backup should happen regularly, and can be automated. Again, keeping both types of backup secure is important, and utilizing a trusted data security company to assist with regular and efficient backups is a good idea.
Building a Wall
Especially when employees are using laptops, tablets and phones to access company information, requiring a firewall is key. As draconian as it sounds, consider whitelisting websites that are approved for use, and blacklisting sites known to attract spam and data breaches. This will further protect against data being stolen and resold by online profiteers.
Keeping data secure online is a constant game of cat and mouse, and requires businesses to frequently revisit their policies and protection strategy, and to work in collaboration with their employees. It can seem like an overwhelming process, and it's easy to put off getting protection by saying, "It will never happen to us." It only takes one data breach, however, for a small business to go bust. Trust is hard to gain, and easy to lose. Don't let data be the reason.
Christopher Walljasper is a Chicago-based freelance writer. He has experience in the mobile technology world and enjoys exploring the ever-changing tech landscape. When he's not writing, he enjoys spending time with his wife, Annie, daughter, Lucy, and basset hound, Ellie.