The following is a guest post by Jessica Thiefels.
How you conduct business online signifies how credible your organization is as a whole. This is known as digital integrity, and it’s the practice of treating customer information with the utmost sensitivity, affording them confidence in your business and launching a positive brand reputation.
Despite the importance of maintaining website security, 2,216 small business cyber-attacks have occurred in 2018 alone, based on the Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report. This vulnerability can make consumers skeptical of purchasing online with small businesses or lesser-known brands, which could hurt your revenue stream. If you operate solely through e-commerce, this becomes even more of an issue.
Conversely, when people associate an organization with digital integrity, their devotion to that brand increases. In the Consumer Thermometer survey, 57 percent of Americans said “trust” was the reason for feeling connected to a brand.
It’s more important now than ever before, to give your customers a reason to trust your brand and your e-commerce purchasing experience. Here are five ways to improve your digital integrity, allowing you to protect your business and keep customer data safe.
Collect Data Only When Necessary
While some businesses prompt customers to divulge an excess of information when making a purchase, you have to remember: you have to store all the data you’re collecting.
The FTC explains that the first step in protecting this data is figuring out how it flows in and through your business: “You can’t keep information secure unless you have a clear picture of what you have and where you have it. One preliminary step is knowing how sensitive data enters your company, moves through it, and exits. Once you have a handle on its journey through your system, it’s easier to keep your guard up at every stop along the way.”
The same FTC Stick With Security series explains that you can mitigate the challenges of managing customer data by re-thinking what information you truly need to collect. They share the example of a recipe website that wants to collect information on a registration page. To determine which data to collect, they narrow down by business needs. The FTC continues:
“The company considers asking for the user’s date of birth to tailor the site to recipes that might appeal to people of that demographic, but then decides to let consumers pick age ranges instead. By thinking through its need for the information and collecting a less sensitive kind of data, the company has made a more secure choice that will still allow it to tailor the user experience.”
Keep All Sensitive Files Encrypted
Once you’ve collected the data points your business needs, the next course of action is to keep them secure and protected on the backend. Customers are entrusting you with personal information, in many cases, their credit card information. The most efficient method of doing this is through data encryption.
Digital Guardian explains how this works: “Data, or plaintext, is encrypted with an encryption algorithm and an encryption key. The process results in ciphertext, which only can be viewed in its original form if it is decrypted with the correct key.”
Encryption is necessary if you want to maintain your digital integrity and can be implemented by installing encryption software. This program should be able to integrate with mobile or cloud-based storage applications like DropBox, Google Drive or Mega. Some reputable encryption softwares include BitLocker for Microsoft users, FileVault for Apple users and VeraCrypt for both interfaces.
Make Sure Your Website Is Verified
Even just browsing the Internet can pose a security threat for consumers, as they dodge popup windows and ads that are malicious. You want customers to know that your site is safe and one way to do that is to get verified and then add the corresponding badges to your site—in the footer and on the check out page.
The online seller resource, 5 Secrets to Selling Products Online, suggests, “Show that your site is secure and verified by trusted third parties like Symantec or McAfee. If you are planning to handle credit card information, your website or blog needs to be on a secure server and PCI compliant.” This change adds to your digital integrity, which can lead to more sales and revenue down the road.
In fact, 61 percent of consumers abandon their e-commerce shopping carts if the website does not have a trustmark, and 76 percent walk away from a purchase if they don’t recognize the trustmark logo, according to Actual Insights. In other words, the noticeable display of a verified trustmark can boost engagement and promote sales exponentially.
Choose Strong, Obscure Passwords
The login credentials used by you and your staff can mean the difference between an impenetrable network and a hacker’s “playground.” For this reason, it’s critical that you use robust passwords that are unpredictable.
While you’ve likely been told this dozens of times, a recent leak found that 86 percent of passwords were the same as those found in other leaks—meaning people are still using the passwords they shouldn’t, like “123456” or “password1.”
When choosing passwords, think length over “alphanumeric gibberish,” advises Mark Burnett, author of Perfect Passwords, but don’t be too simplistic. Keep the password obscure and long, like a sentence.
Use 2FA Whenever Possible
An important way to protect your business, and therefore your customer data, is to use 2FA, which stands for Two-Factor Authentication. This technology requires two passcodes to log in.
The first is usually a password and the second requires you to retrieve a second code. Paul Makowski, CTO for cybersecurity company, PolySwarm, suggests that the best 2FA options are as follows, in order from most to least secure:
- Hardware dongle, see: Advanced Protection from Google
- An app on your phone that doesn’t sync anywhere else (e.g. Google Authenticator)
- An app on your phone that does sync (e.g. Authy)
- Email based
- SMS based
Enable 2FA on every platform that you or employees log into, from email providers to e-commerce software. This option is available with most programs, all you have to do is click “enable” in your settings.
Keep Your Business and Customers Safe
Digital security continues to be a concern for businesses and consumers alike, but there are precautions you can implement to minimize the risk factors keep customer data safe. The defense measures discussed here help you maintain your digital integrity, from being picky about what data you collect to creating smarter passwords. The safer you can be the more customers will realize your business is one they can trust with their personal data.
Want to learn more about in-store security? Discover how becoming EMV compliant can bring your retail security to the next level.
BIO: Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than 10 years and is a small business owner. Before starting her business, she was VP of Community Management for a cybersecurity startup, where she learned about the importance and intricacies of cybersecurity for businesses. She’s been featured in Forbes and Business Insider and has written for Virgin, StartupNation and more. Follow her on Twitter @JThiefels and connect on LinkedIn.
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