Within the modern digital landscape, data has become one of the most valuable business assets, so it comes as no surprise that data breaches are occurring cross-industry.
Regulations such as GDPR, as well as US-based laws respectively, have been set in motion to ensure how companies collect and handle personal data, so the users and consumers are as safe as possible in terms of data breaches, thefts, and misuse, etc.
Although these regulations prioritize the protection of the individuals, they have a significant side-effect as they force companies to re-evaluate the way they treat or have treated data security and data privacy in the past.
Most companies have data privacy policies and a team of lawyers and tech experts to avoid facing fines, penalties, and unwanted attention.
However, there is more to compliance than just focusing on current regulations and meeting the bare minimum requirement to avoid legal consequences.
Proper approach to data security and data compliance also lays the groundwork for a safe work environment, improved business workflow, and the overall cost-efficiency of your business strategy.
With that being said, let’s go over some of the basic yet often overlooked steps toward reaching optimal levels of data security and compliance.
1. Educate Your Employees
Most companies spend big chunks of their security budget on legal teams and high-end firewall technologies, and while those are essential for safely running a modern company, the number of data breaches in the past few years shows that additional measures need to be taken.
The approach to data security needs to be multifaceted instead of simplistic and single-sided.
No matter how much money is being spent on this issue, all of it can go to waste if you do not bridge all the security-based gaps your organization may have. The first step toward this is educating your staff about the importance of data security and compliance.
It is impossible to fully implement your data protection policies or resolve privacy and compliance issues if your staff is not properly educated.
Every single employee needs to be aware that a single compliance failure could have a devastating domino effect on the entire company.
Without effective training and the adoption of a security and compliance-focused mindset across all your teams and departments, all your prior investment and efforts may prove futile.
2. Limit Employee Access To What Is Necessary
Naturally, having a work environment that is based upon trust and mutual respect is crucial. However, we mustn’t forget that we are human, and to err is human.
Most of the inside data breaches come from human error, and this is why it’s important to know who exactly has access to which type of data.
Always be mindful of which staff members need access to sensitive data, as well as of who should monitor and manage that access.
Your employees should only have access to data that is essential for their everyday tasks. The fewer employees have access to personal data, the lower the risk of errors and potential data breaches.
3. Be Prepared For Potential Audits
Even if you think your company is completely compliant, surprise visits from auditors could take quite a toll on a business.
This process is often time-consuming, and the amount of resources needed to pull together all the records that the auditor needs is not to be taken for granted.
Implementing some type of privacy solution can help you keep everything documented and in one place.
Such audits can cause both short and long-term disruptions to your work environment. This is why you should always be prepared for potential compliance audits.
4. Improve Your Email Security And Compliance
When we take into consideration that email is still the main source of communication within most modern businesses, it is alarming to see how many of those businesses neglect sensitive data transfer via different email platforms.
The importance of email security can not be stressed enough as these are the platforms that tend to hold data and information on personal data, sensitive business secrets, strategies, confidential client information, and so on.
Leaking any of these data sets could prove to be devastating, especially if a certain piece of extremely sensitive data gets used for malicious purposes.
This is why it is important to encrypt your emails, and by doing so you are not allowing users outside of your network to view or tamper with your emails.
An additional reason to take email security seriously is that emails can be used as evidence in legal cases and are often necessary for audits.
Using reliable email archiving solution and strong email retention policies does not only save you a lot of time while dealing with a surprise audit, but it can also help you be more compliant with current regulations, as well as help you with data storage optimization since not all email-based data needs to be stored for longer periods of time.
5. Be Prepared For Data Subject Access Requests
Some of the most important rights granted by the GDPR is the individual’s right to see what personal data about them is being used and stored and ask for the data to be deleted, rectified, or transferred.
Additionally, the individual has the right to obtain this information easily and within a short period of time.
It is expected that your company responds to these requests within a month’s time after the request has been made.
Preparing a standardized process for data access requests will help you respond within the required time frame.
Once a request is filed, you’ll need to provide data subjects with the following:
- Whether or not their personal data is being processed
- Why it is being processed
- Which types of data you’re processing
- Whether there is any automated processing in place for the data processing
- Whether anyone else is getting a copy of that data
- How long you’re planning to store their data
- What the source of the data is in case you didn’t get it from the customer
- Correct or erase the data you have on the request of the data subject
Most of the time, you will be expected to respond to these requests free of charge.
However, if the data is overly complicated or repetitive, you might be allowed to charge a fee or take longer than the usual one month, but it is not recommended unless you have documented reasons behind your decision.
It is not recommended to count on these benefits when developing your response procedure. The best approach is the automation of the data subject requests.
6. Use Compliance Automation
The rules, regulations, and laws regarding data compliance laws can be quite complicated. This is why ensuring full compliance can be rather challenging, especially if you’re doing everything manually.
Making sure you or your staff know each aspect of these convoluted laws and regulations – and paying close attention to them while working on your daily tasks, can be very inefficient and time-consuming.
It is basically impossible for every employee to have data security and compliance in mind every time he or she sends an email or uses any other communication channel. As we already mentioned, it is human nature to make mistakes.
This is where automating processes, eliminating human error, and streamlining compliance and data retrieval can alleviate a lot of stress during business communication, regardless of the channels used.
7. Make Sure To Protect Both Your Software And Your Hardware
Modern data privacy laws and regulations tend to assign almost all responsibility and the burden of protecting sensitive user data onto the companies themselves.
This leads to businesses having to tighten up their security and compliance policies and strategies in terms of both – the very process of data collection and the hardware where this data is being stored.
It is now quite clear that pretty much all businesses are susceptible to breaches, which is why all companies must ensure that the sensitive information they are storing is safe from harm and protected as much as possible.
Think strong passwords (and no password sharing or re-use), anti-malware software, encryption, firewalls, third-party security products, etc. When it comes to cybersecurity attacks, it is pretty much all hands on deck.
On the other hand, software-based protection for cyber threat prevention is not the only security layer you need to worry about. Be sure to also keep your hardware secured.
Hardware damage, power outages, physical data theft, or any type of device failure can all result in sensitive data loss.
8. Always Know Where (All) Your Data Lives
Businesses often forget that “data” accounts for both – their own, inhouse data AND the data that third-party software they are using generates.
Making sure your in-house data is safely stored is rather easy, right? You simply opt for a cloud storage solution that suits your needs and budget and you’re all good to go.
In reality, this ecosystem of data management is much more complex, especially in terms of compliance issues.
Most data compliance laws and regulations depend on where data is located, hosted, who can access it, as well as how it is transferred from one server to another – which often means going across national borders.
This is something that needs to be taken seriously while choosing your cloud provider, especially if your business handles consumer data as well as your own.
Data security and compliance are definitely not the most fun aspects of running a successful business, but these issues are never something to be taken lightly.
Regardless of how up-to-date you are with compliance and data protection trends and standards, it is always a good idea to test your system and re-evaluate your approach to these issues.
Attackers and data thieves who are trying to get to your data will always come with new and elaborate ways of breaching your security. It is your responsibility to make their job as hard as possible, and always be one step ahead.
Bio: Damian is a business consultant and a freelance blogger from New York. He writes about the latest tech solutions and marketing insights. Follow him on Twitter for more articles.