We’re living in an incredible age of technology, invention and innovation. It’s hard to imagine that just a short time ago we couldn’t order groceries for delivery from our phones, or ask into the air any question, to be answered immediately by a robot sitting on a countertop. “Okay, Google — what do I have to do today?”
What once was the technology of our imagination, has materialized right before our eyes, and our fingertips. Processes have become faster and easier, particularly for the payments industry. Omnichannel payments have given customers the gift of choosing how they pay for products and services, whether it be with a good old-fashioned card-present transaction at the counter, through an eCommerce website, via peer-to-peer technology, or with a mobile app. This is certainly an impressive era, but we can’t ignore the need for operating with caution amid an ongoing battle against cyber threats and data breaches.
With the convenience of fast, easy options, we’ve been cursed with the risk of data interception and fraudulence. Information surrounds us. We’ve never had so much of it, accessible to so many. Unfortunately, that doesn’t exclude thieves. Sensitive data, including credit card holder information, is under constant attack and it is the responsibility of businesses to protect what they’re given. Customers provide payment information under the assumption that it won’t be exposed to outside parties.
It’s not just payment data businesses need to protect. In 2015, for health insurance company Anthem, a simple error left an entire network exposed and the information of millions vulnerable, which ultimately made it the worst healthcare breach in history. A system administrator, opened one infected email, which compromised nearly 90 systems and leaked more than 78 million identities, which included names, birthdays, Social Security numbers, addresses and more. At that point, it becomes an impossible feat for businesses to maintain the credibility and trust by their customers that they’ve worked so hard to establish.
It’s become a sad truth that these days attempted data breaches have become practically inevitable. The matter of “if” is now a matter of “when.” What’s most important is to remain steps ahead of criminal hackers and to take a preventive approach in protecting information. There are five crucial suggestions worth considering to help keep a system safe from harm.
Don’t keep data around
We have so much data, and we sometimes lack the courage to let it go. Businesses can collect tremendous amounts of information from their customers and staff. Year over year it can become overwhelming and even clog up systems. We shouldn’t keep it just because we can. We also shouldn’t collect it, just because we can. In some cases, over-collection of “required” upfront data may no longer be needed to maintain a customer account. For example, if it’s become unnecessary for a business to continue to collect the addresses of customers, then it’s time to stop asking for it. Needless data becomes a “sitting duck,” taking up space in a database and serving as nothing more than a target.
Over time, businesses can also lose track of information and put themselves at risk of letting criminal hackers into the database they’ve been adding to for years. Clean it out. Schedule regular periods of data dumping and remove irrelevant information from your systems.
Archive the important stuff
During data cleanses, there will be information that’s still relevant but may not need to remain online, if that’s where it’s been living. For this information, create an archive server that only two members of staff have access to. It might be reasonable to say that any information that isn’t being used in day-to-day operations could conceivably be added to an archive and retrieved only when necessary. Not only are you protecting your systems with this process, but you’re streamlining your own network.
Segment your network
Isolate your network’s data physically and add a layer of protection with firewalls. Then, spend time thinking about which functional areas of your network truly require access by other staff members. Only grant access to the network by staff when it is completely necessary. It’s important to limit the accessibility to allow for more control and less vulnerability of exposure.
Sanitize sensitive data with tokens
Any sensitive data that is held or passing through a system should be protected via tokenization. It’s an irreversible process that replaces real data with tokens that would otherwise be useless to criminal hackers. Should a system be breached by a hacker seeking information for fraudulence, a business is able to keep its system and customer information safe because the network was never home to the sensitive data in the first place.
Put someone in charge
Out of necessity, it’s become very important for businesses, particularly large enterprise companies, to appoint a manager or team of individuals to oversee the process of protecting data. This individual is responsible for leading the development and implementation of a plan for protecting business data and ensuring that plan is kept up-to-date, based on the ever-evolving malware methods and points of vulnerability of a system.
For businesses operating today, they’ve never had more options for reaching, interacting and transacting with customers. We can’t forget, however, that with those opportunities comes a great obligation to protect their customers by protecting their data. It’s a matter of preparing for the worst, so your business doesn’t become the next headline in the latest of data breaches.