One of the cold, hard realities of running a business is that when customers entrust you with their personal and private data, you open up you and your business to lawsuits if you do not protect it properly and someone steals it. This is true of both on and offline data.
With 71 percent of the U.S. population online, data protection is crucial. However, these same Internet users often forget that physical data is just as vulnerable as digital data.
Offline data is just as important today as it was 20 years ago – before “surfing the net” and online shopping became the norm. For this reason, business owners and consumers must protect on and offline data the same ways.
The sheer volume of customer data available both off and online is extraordinary, which means protecting it isn’t easy – especially customer and sales data. Case in point, the U.S. Census Bureau states:
“¢Â Â As of June 2013, gross business sales totaled $1.26 trillion
“¢Â Â The 71 percent of Internet surfers make up $289 billion of those sales receipts online
“¢Â Â Brick and mortar locations generate just over $700 billion of the $1.26 trillion in sales.
“¢Â Â Just over half of all business owners operate brick and mortar locations in the home
Can you imagine how many customers paid for those purchases using a debit or credit card? Or a check or money order?
Information Consumers Generate
Each shopper generated at least a name, and probably a phone number. Most also generated a social security number, address, and a checking or card account number.
That’s not to imply that cash paying consumers are absolutely safe. Though safer than those paying by other means, cash-paying consumer data is also retained. Often, the businesses that are paid in cash capture their images on security cameras.
While cameras prevent theft, unknowingly to business owners, cameras can facilitate theft if on the same network as the business’ Internet connection. The business itself can also facilitate theft, as one third of all employees steal from employers, and this includes data and video feed theft, though the latter is much less common an attack vector.
Protecting Consumer DataÂ
The U.S. hasn’t passed specific data protection laws yet, but other laws cover data to some extent. Unless another law is broken, though, leaving data unprotected has no consequences. Because of this, some business owners without the resources can’t–and some business owners without the will to do so won’t–secure data properly. This leaves customer data vulnerable to theft.
Stealing physical data is as prevalent as hacking, though consumers don’t think about securing their offline data, nor do they think to ensure the data they give businesses is secure. This is especially true of those paying cash.
Who thinks about hackers stealing video feeds when they’re at a fast food joint? No one, that’s who.
However, consumers have become more aware of their risk when it comes to shopping at online eCommerce sites, as they should be. Eventually some shoppers may start to fear their privacy at all types of businesses, and you don’t want them to ever hesitate on making purchases because they don’t feel their information is safe. So how can you ensure that they feel protected by your business?
The Physical Structure: Data protection starts with protecting the physical structure from physical theft with a security system. For home based businesses, this means installing a home security system, or upgrading an already installed one.
A security system that offers multiple points of monitoring using different components such as heat detection, motion detection, and easy to use access points. Click here to learn about how you can protect the physical structure of your data warehouse, which can be just as important as securing it from online attacks.
If you have a store front, simple things like changing your computer system to automatically log you out of any POS systems (and also training your employees to do it themselves), will ensure that a customer’s data is protected. Even cash paying customers will often sign up for mailing offers, and give you information like their address or email, which can be abused.
Online Security: Businesses operating offline in place of or in addition to online often store information on their computers, leaving data vulnerable if the Internet is connected. That’s why the next step is to make sure every computer connected to the Internet is secure, especially if that computer houses customer data.
If you’re online, one way to do this is setting up different password protocols for your employees and for your customers. It’s called split authentication, and it will provide customers with the ability to use your system freely, without making you worry that the whole system could be compromised by one access point.
The only real solution is for business owners to do the responsible thing – protect the data their customers entrusted to them, including that of cash paying customers. Data is, at times, more valuable than gold so it is extremely important to be careful when protecting it. Follow these steps and you will already be on the right track to successful data protection. Customers may not always think about these things, but you can bet they’ll notice if it’s lacking.
About the Author
Rachel Matthews is a recent graduate turned student of life and freelance writer. She currently resides in Northern California, and you can find her onÂ Google+.