Data protection is essential for all businesses, but it’s especially important for small enterprises. Larger corporations have wide client networks and considerable resources, which make it easier for them to recover from any unfortunate breaches. For a small business, the fallout can be catastrophic and may even cause operations to close.

The damage can cause immediate loss of revenue as well as a tarnished reputation that can affect your earnings for years to come. The best course of action is to ensure adequate privacy so that you never have to deal with the consequences of a breach at all. This applies to both company and customer information, defined as business and client data respectively.

While it’s true that every organization will place a greater or lesser priority on the following practices depending on their scope of operations, all six of the points below will be important and should be noted by all small business owners and managers. Taking these issues seriously now can save plenty of time and money in the future:

1.Ensure Password Security
2.Use a Virtual Private Network and Secure Sockets Layer Encryption
3.Encrypt Data on Devices
4.Make Two-Factor Authentication Mandatory
5.Enforce the Creation of System Audit Logs
6.Write and Publicize a Clear Privacy Policy

We’ve unpacked each of these principles in more detail for you.

1. Ensure Password Security

Strong passwords are the first line of defense when it comes to data protection. Each password should contain letters, numbers and symbols, and be a minimum of eight letters long. Make these requirements, along with regular resets, mandatory for all employees. Password managers, which create, store and retrieve hack-resistant passwords, are also strongly recommended.

2. Use a Virtual Private Network and Secure Socket Layer Encryption

The best definition of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a closed network that is superimposed over a public virtual network – which is almost always the Internet. Think of the VPN as a channel that runs through the World Wide Web. Only those with access to the VPN can see the files that it contains. Employees around the globe can access information as securely as if they were all on a local intranet.

That makes VPNs especially essential if your staff members often travel for work, and during crises such as the recent worldwide novel coronavirus pandemic. With so many workers out of the office for extended periods of time, remote file access and secure email communications became even more of a priority than usual.

Secure Sockets Layer encryption is usually simply known by its acronym, SSL. When this is in place all communications that leave your website are encrypted and can only be decoded with a private key held by the software at their intended destination. If anyone else gets their hands on the information, they won’t be able to understand it.

Your website should use the HTTPS protocol and should have an SSL certificate to ensure proper encryption. Some people might question whether they need to use SSL encryptions if they are already on a VPN, but the answer is a resounding yes. The overall effects are similar and create privacy policy redundancy. This way, if one system is compromised, the effects won’t be too serious.

3. Encrypt Data on Devices

Encrypting sensitive data on employees’ devices takes the redundancy in your privacy protection policy a step further. Small businesses often utilize BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies, and staffers might keep personal and work information on the same laptop, tablet or smartphone. That makes this kind of encryption especially important for smaller enterprises.

Activating data encryption on any machine is quite simple, although the specific steps depend on the make, model and operating system that you’re using. You’ll be able to find and carry out the instructions within a matter of moments. We also advise implementing a Mobile Device Management (MDM) system to remotely wipe data or locate a device if it goes missing.

4. Make Two-Factor Authentication Mandatory

No single method of data protection is infallible, which is why you should also make Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) mandatory within your company. Since it requires a little time and effort to set up, 2FA is often ignored unless employers make it obligatory. Essentially, a 2FA system works in the same way that a lock and an alarm system on a building do.

The individual trying to access files that are 2FA protected has to provide two proofs of identification, instead of one. While unauthorized individuals might be able to get hold of one proof, it’s highly unlikely they’ll be able to access both. A good example would be entering a password and a One Time Pin (OTP) sent to your mobile number when logging into a website.

We suggest instituting 2FA onto customer-facing sites and within your organization. This will ensure that your company doesn’t inadvertently share client data with hackers and that internal information transfers aren’t intercepted. Any of the 2FA apps that are currently available should allow you to set this up effectively.

5. Enforce the Creation of System Audit Logs

Login data must be carefully recorded and tracked, and the easiest way to do this is with audit logs. All systems within your organization should create these logs, so that if any security breaches do occur, they can be properly investigated and dealt with. The information could also prove invaluable in showing liability.

6. Write and Publicize a Clear Privacy Policy

Your company’s privacy policy explains how your business will collect, store, use and share your client data. All data protection regulations stipulate that this policy should be easily accessible and understandable and should be kept up to date. That means the document should be written in simple language, with explanations on the way that updates will be announced.

If you are engaging with your visitors you will also need to ask them for their consent for any action you might have over their data, like sending marketing campaigns or newsletters.

Data Privacy Must Be a Priority

Your privacy protection practices must be strict, effective and completely transparent. Today’s consumers are sophisticated, and likely to mistrust a site that is bogged down in legalese or bureaucracy. No matter how busy you are with other operations, make sure you take the time to put proper procedures in place.

Bear in mind that securing your systems and your data is just half of your obligations towards your customers. You are also obligated to properly handle, process, store, and use personal information and respect their rights granted under the privacy regulations.

Data is a precious commodity – so treat it that way. These guidelines are the best practice for maintaining online privacy in the small business environment.