Losing or mishandling customers’ personal information can cause huge damage to a company’s reputation, and a resulting downturn in its sales figures.

Nobody wants to be the next business in the headlines because of a data breach. The coming update to data protection regulations makes it even more important that you store and share information securely. See our article on getting ready for the General Data Protection Regulation 2018 for more details.

Check our tips for protecting your business from cyber attack, or read on for more about keeping information secure.

Store information securely

  • The first stage in securing your business and customer data is to know what you’ve got. Keep track of the data you hold, whether it’s business-sensitive information, colleagues’ personal details, or customer data such as addresses, information about their homes or credit-card details. Destroy or delete records you no longer need to keep.
  • Restrict access to personal and sensitive information. Share the data only with colleagues or members of staff who need it, and protect it with passwords and encryption if possible.
  • Use secure passwords – and don’t use the same password for every device. It’s particularly important to have separate passwords for your company email, social media account and online banking, as these are particularly useful to hackers – this applies to personal accounts too.
  • If you can’t keep track of your passwords, try using a password-managing tool, such as Lastpass, which remembers your passwords for you.
  • Ensure any sensitive information is stored securely – ideally in an encrypted format, to avoid identifying individuals.

Keep your software up to date

It might be annoying to have to stop what you’re doing to apply software updates, but it’s important to keep up to date with current patches and protection.

The Information Commissioners Office (ICO), which helps business stay up to date with data protection, says attackers see outdated software as a soft target. Hackers run automated scans across a range of online services, specifically searching for out-of-date software as a route into your network. Don’t forget to apply any updates to all the devices on your network, including laptops, mobiles and tablets.

Share information securely

Sensitive and personal information is particularly vulnerable when you share it with others. But sometimes you need to share documents that prove your identity, or contain sensitive business or customer information. If you’re working with other traders on a project, you’ll need to share the customer’s contact details, for example.

It’s not a good idea to share sensitive information by email, as it’s relatively straightforward for hackers to intercept it. Web applications such as Sharefile allow you to share private URLs or grant specific users access to individual files or folders. This provides a secure way to share information. This is the method we use at Which? Trusted Traders when you send in your documents as part of the assessment process.

We send you a secure URL (or web address) and you upload your documents there. This means any information on your documentation that could be used to steal your identity is transmitted securely to us. Also, at our end, we give access only to team members who need that information as part of their job, which helps keep your documentation secure.

Cybercrime on the rise

In 2015, the crime rate rose sharply for the first time in decades thanks to the inclusion of online offences, such as fraud and identity theft. Figures from the Crime Survey of England and Wales (to the end of March 2017) show approximately 5.1 million fraud and computer-misuse offences in the previous 12 months[1]. That’s just under half the approximately 11 million offences recorded in total. Crime hasn’t so much gone underground as gone online.

Whatever else is going on with the economy, cybercrime appears to be a growth area, so protecting your own and your customers’ data is more important than ever.

More on this…

[1] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/crimeinenglandandwales/yearendingmar2017