Data has fast become one of the most pressing issues thanks to the exponential growth of digital technology and worldwide connectivity. Data leaks and breaches have been the cause of global controversy and debate. Every aspect of running a business involves data, from information about how its financial projections are looking to how its social media performs with customers and non-customers. Digital presences leave footprints which can be traced, processed, used and sold. Since the spotlight on data misuse is still highly focused on the issue, it is essential that businesses pay attention to even the smallest ways that data can be stolen or unintentionally leaked. These are some of the most prevalent ways that sensitive information escapes the confines of a business and how they can be fixed.
First, What is Data?
Data is any information in any form. Some types of data are more sensitive than others. For example, the name of a company is not sensitive or private information if it is displayed on their own building, stationery or signage, but it is sensitive when it relates to private information about the company, such as details regarding its employees or customers. Data is exceptionally useful for businesses to improve systems, react to trends and create desirable services or products. However, storing, sharing, destroying or manipulating data incorrectly can lead to severe consequences.
Why is Data Misuse So Dangerous?
Since data is so precious, it makes sense that the misuse of it could cause a lot of harm. Although many people consider data to be intangible and therefore not worth worrying about, data in the wrong hands can be dangerous. If, for example, someone’s personally identifiable information was stolen, leaked or otherwise made available against that person’s wishes, this could lead to all kinds of fraudulent or threatening actions against them. Businesses come into contact with personally identifiable information on a regular basis, whether that’s regarding their own employees, their business contacts, their clients or their customers.
Depending on your business and the industry it’s in, there will be different kinds of potentially sensitive data. Speaking about information that could be considered protected data to an unauthorized person can be a breach, so make sure that you and your employees are well aware of the policies around which information is protected and who precisely is permitted access to it. For example, if you work in the healthcare industry, then you will most likely be exposed to highly personal information about patients and their medical histories as a matter of course throughout your duties. Returning home and discussing these details with loved ones, even if you don’t personally know the patients you are talking about, is a verbal breach of data security.
How physical copies of documents are handled within your business needs to be a formalized and strict process that adheres to the guidelines in your area. Some paperwork is not allowed to be stored for more than a certain number of years, such as student records at a school. Some paperwork needs to be shredded in-house, while some require professional disposal by certified document destruction companies. On the other hand, destroying documents that are later found to be necessary for litigation purposes can lead to further legal problems. Make sure that you only destroy what you have to and store the rest securely for the permitted length of time.
Since communication is no longer only verbal or written but also digital, this is another way that data can be leaked. Even private emails between two people cannot be expected to safely contain sensitive data unless specific encryption measures are taken. Use company-owned devices and make sure that employees regularly update their login passwords for each program they use so that any attempts to break into their accounts are avoided.
If customers must provide their name, address, contact information or bank details to you in the process of their interaction with your business, this data must be kept secure and only stored for the appropriate length of time. Although users of your site may consent to sharing this information for the purposes of a transaction, this doesn’t mean your business can hold onto it indefinitely. When someone requests that you inform them about what personal data you have about them, you must acknowledge the request and comply according to the laws in your location and theirs.
If you are a business owner, it is your duty to not only adhere to data laws and regulations but also to ensure that your business and all of its employees understand the necessary methods of handling sensitive information. It is much easier to follow best practices than neglect your responsibilities and end up in serious legal trouble, so stay informed and take reasonable precautions.