In the digital age, businesses collect and leverage massive amounts of consumer data to power their operations. For years, they did so with little in the way of oversight or regulatory restraints. In 2018, however, the passage of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) signaled a change in how businesses had to approach data.
Although similar legislation still hasn’t come into effect throughout the US and other major nations, consumers everywhere took note of the GPRR. Since its introduction, consumers everywhere have increasingly held businesses responsible for protecting their data — punishing them when they fall short.
That means even businesses not subject to specific data protection regulations like the GDPR have every reason to take their data protection measures seriously. To not do so risks the ire of their customers and could have a meaningful negative effect on the customers’ experience. Fortunately, it’s not very difficult for businesses to create a comprehensive data protection regime. Here are the five most important tenets to base one upon.
Embrace Data Minimization
The most important thing a business can do to help them safeguard customer data is to minimize how much of it they collect in the first place. That’s a practice collectively known as data minimization. It’s one of the key requirements of the GDPR and is a standard that every business should strive toward. In short, data minimization means collecting only the data required for a specific and defined business use case and nothing more. Doing so reduces risk and the potential for consumer damage in the event of a breach. Measures like data curation, selective deletion, and affirmative consent all fall under a data minimization effort and make an excellent starting point for a data protection regime.
Make Encryption Everywhere Standard
In all cases, data encryption serves as a business’s best defense against a data breach. For it to be effective, however, it must exist at every stage of the data lifecycle. This means all consumer data — from the moment of its collection — needs encryption. It should remain so as it passes through any internal business systems and gets accessed by authorized employees. On top of that, businesses should commit to investing in the latest advanced encryption technology to remain at least one step ahead of any would-be data thief.
Use Multi-factor Authentication and Limit Access
Any business attempting to secure consumer data must come to grips with an uncomfortable fact. It’s that the vast majority of data breaches happen because of the actions — intentional or otherwise — of insiders. That makes limiting access to consumer data within an organization a critical part of any data protection regime. Businesses should enforce a policy of needs-based data access, with regular reviews of employee access privilege levels. Plus, they should deploy authentication technology that relies on multi-factor technology — or better still — physical encrypted security keys.
Commit to Regular Penetration Testing
One of the principal challenges associated with data protection is that the systems businesses use to store and access data aren’t static. They undergo updates, configuration changes, and other modifications over time that might compromise their ability to remain secure. Worse still, new vulnerabilities don’t often come to light until it’s too late and someone finds a way to exploit them. To maintain data security in such an ever-changing environment, it helps to employ experts who can think like would-be threats to data systems.
Those experts can conduct penetration testing to identify technological flaws and security loopholes that might enable a data breach. That gives the affected business time to address them before anyone has the chance to exploit them. That’s why a commitment to regular, professional penetration testing is an essential part of an effective data protection regime.
Develop a Breach Response Plan
Although the goal of a data protection regime is to prevent any possible breaches that would expose consumer data, there’s no such thing as foolproof security. That’s why the final necessary component is a comprehensive action plan to respond to a breach if one occurs. The plan should aim to minimize the impact of a breach on affected customers and prevent further access to the data by unauthorized parties.
To re-establish data security in the wake of an incident, the response plan needs to enumerate the technical steps required to find the threat, stop it, and assess the damage. There are multiple frameworks available to guide those efforts. Regardless of the one chosen, the business should conduct a complete response simulation to make certain every needed employee understands their role in the aftermath of a data security incident.
Living up to Customers’ Expectations
At the end of the day, it seems inevitable that every business that collects, stores, and uses consumer data will be subject to a GDPR-like data regulation eventually — if they aren’t already. The truth is, though, that consumers now regard businesses’ responsibility to protect their data as absolute. That makes creating and enacting a comprehensive data protection regime a mission-critical task for any business without one. As long as they include the five core data protection tenets outlined above in their plans, living up to consumers’ lofty expectations should pose far less of a challenge.