For businesses, keeping things like passwords, personal information, financial records, etc. safe is a top concern. In addition to keeping this sensitive information safe from outsiders, it is also important to take steps to ensure that employees aren’t accidentally (or intentionally) sharing it with others. Regardless of what industry you are in, you undoubtedly have information that you do not want to leave your office. Here are a few tips for keeping sensitive information safe.
UNDERSTANDING THE RISK
You cannot adequately secure documents and other types of sensitive information if you are not fully aware of the potential security risks. In general, there are four types of risk that you need to be aware of in order to evaluate private documents and information with respect to their specific security types.
Operational risk refers to risks that could impact the operation of your office if sensitive information were to be misplaced or lost. This type of risk has a direct impact on your workplace’s efficiency and can impact other parts of your business as well.
Your office probably deals with a lot of documents that are financial in nature. Invoices, bills, etc. are extremely important and, if they are lost or misplaced, they could cost your business money. When failure to keep information secure could cost your business money, it is a financial risk.
In some instances, sensitive information could pose a risk to your reputation. Losing or having private information stolen damages your business’s reputation and makes it seem less trustworthy. Your reputation could also be damaged if things like financial records, controversial business transactions, etc. are made public.
While you may not be dealing with documents or information that could pose a major security threat, it’s still important to minimize your security risk as much as possible. This includes things like taking steps to ensure that personal information of your employees and customers is kept safe to help prevent identity theft.
While all of these types of risk may not apply to your business, it is important to understand them so that you can evaluate your situation and pinpoint risks that are relevant to you. Understanding the types of risk you are dealing with enables you to create a reliable security plan to prevent sensitive information from leaving your office and potentially falling into the wrong hands.
CREATING A SECURITY PLAN FOR PHYSICAL DOCUMENTS
Your security plan for physical documents encompasses everything you do to ensure that hardcopy documents are protected. Unfortunately, many office managers find it difficult to get all employees on board with security protocols for physical documents. Even though they may not have ill intent, employees are sometimes careless with printed documents.
For starters, be mindful of the physical copies you create. In addition to reducing your consumption of ink cartridges, being selective about what you print can help keep sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands. It tends to be much easier to secure digital documents than physical ones, so save your printer ink for the situations that really require a hard copy.
Documents containing sensitive information should be tagged and labeled so they do not get mixed up with other paperwork. They should be stored in files that are kept in locked storage cabinets or storerooms. Access to these documents should be restricted to just a few trusted employees.
When other people visit your office, make sure they are supervised while in areas where sensitive information is stored. This ensures that they do not deliberately or accidentally breach your company’s document security measures.
Do not keep your physical documents any longer than necessary. When you no longer need them, shred them and dispose of them properly. The less sensitive information you have lying around, the less likely you are to experience a breach of security.
ENCRYPT YOUR DATA
In many offices, file cabinets have largely been replaced by hard drives. Business owners are increasingly using digital documents instead of physical documents for several reasons. Storing files digitally makes them easier to organize and easier to protect. Digital files also require much less storage space than thousands of sheets of paper.
Encrypting your data is one of the best ways to keep sensitive information in digital files safe. Modern tools have made it easier than ever to encrypt emails and files to prevent the sensitive information they contain from falling into the wrong hands.
BACKUP IMPORTANT INFORMATION
When you are trying to protect sensitive information, creating backup copies of your documents may seem counterintuitive. After all, keeping track of one file is hard enough. Creating a duplicate only makes it more difficult, right?
Not exactly. While creating a backup does mean that you need to worry about securing your files in multiple locations, doing so ensures that you still have a copy of important info if a drive is damaged, lost, or stolen. Your backup should be on a separate device, such as an external hard drive, that is kept in a secure location.
The Cloud is another option for backing up your files. Since storing data in the cloud means that you do not have to keep track of a local device, it eliminates some of the risk. If you choose to go this route, just make sure to use sound security practices and familiarize yourself with how the storage provider keeps your stored data safe.
INVEST IN ANTI-MALWARE PROTECTION
Malware, or malicious software, is designed to damage or infiltrate a computer without your consent. It includes things like worms, spyware, scareware, viruses, and more, and it is popping up just about everywhere. It can be found in emails and on some websites or hidden in downloadable files, shareware, and freeware. If your computer or network is infected with it, the results can be devastating.
Hackers commonly use malware to gain access to sensitive information. It is also used to damage computers and destroy files. Because of the potential implications of an infection, it is extremely important to invest in good anti-malware protection. Install a good anti-virus program, and schedule regular scans. You also need to periodically scan your system for spyware. Beware of suspicious websites and email links.
Be sure to use a firewall, too. A firewall helps block dangerous programs and malware from infiltrating your system. Firewall protection is available through various software companies, but hardware-based firewalls offer a better level of security.
DON’T IGNORE OPERATING SYSTEM UPDATES
When you are in the middle of a task and you are notified of a pending operating system update, ignoring it is tempting. Operating system updates are undeniably annoying, but they are a necessary evil. They often contain critical security updates that will protect your computer from threats that have been recently discovered. If you ignore operating system updates and refuse to install them as quickly as possible, your sensitive information is at risk.
Windows operating systems are usually updated at least once a month. Other operating systems, however, may not receive updates as often. This is because most malware is aimed at Windows-based systems. No matter what operating system you are using, it is best to enable automatic updates.
While you are at it, enable automatic updates for your software, too. When set to do so, many programs update to defend themselves against known risks. Automatic updates are annoying, but turning them on is the best way to ensure that your sensitive information is protected against the latest threats.
SECURE YOUR WIRELESS NETWORK
Whether you run a large corporation or a small home-based business, securing your wireless network is a must. Securing it with a strong password prevents unauthorized people from hijacking your network. While many people connect to open wireless connections for the sole purpose of trying to score free Wi-Fi, leaving your network unsecured could result in sensitive information inadvertently being shared.
Your office’s Wi-Fi network should be password protected, encrypted, and hidden. By hiding your network, you can prevent it from showing up in other peoples’ lists of available networks. You can hide it by setting up your router or wireless access point, so it does not broadcast your Service Set Identifier (SSID) or network name.
BE CAREFUL WITH PASSWORDS
Writing down a password on a sticky note and affixing it to the side of your computer makes about as much sense as leaving your car’s keys in the ignition. Passwords must be managed carefully, and they should never be stored in a place that would allow the wrong person to gain access to sensitive information. Ideally, they should not be written down at all.
If you need to keep track of a lot of passwords, a program like LastPass is a great option. With this program, you can store multiple passwords in one convenient location. You will only need one password to access the LastPass vault where your other passwords and usernames are stored. When using a program like this, though, be sure to select a really secure password for your account.
When coming up with any passwords, avoid making them too simple. Consider using passphrases as opposed to single passwords. Phrases are more difficult for hackers to guess, but they may be easier for you to remember. Use different passwords for everything. This ensures that even if one account is breached, a hacker will not instantly gain access to all of your company’s private information. Never use the same passwords for both your personal and business accounts.
PROTECT SENSITIVE INFORMATION WHEN EMPLOYEES LEAVE YOUR ORGANIZATION
When an employee is leaving your organization, there should be a process in place to ensure that they do not take any sensitive information with them. Work with your HR department to develop an offboarding process that protects your company’s sensitive information. Having such a process in place is especially important when dealing with former employees who are not leaving your business on good terms.
Immediately restrict access to sensitive files on your network. Also, make sure that the employee’s access to physical documents in file cabinets and storerooms is revoked. Take the time to double check permissions to ensure that someone who is leaving your organization no longer has access to your network or secure locations. If necessary, change passwords to be certain that your former employee will be unable to gain access to sensitive information.
No matter what type of business you run, you probably have sensitive information that you do not want to leave the office. From documents containing personal information about your employees and clients to financial records and proprietary information that is vital to the operation of your business, there are several things that need to be kept secure. Fortunately, you do not need to be a tech genius to improve security in your office.
Implement plans for securing both digital and physical documents, and make sure all of your employees are following them. It may take some time and effort to get everyone on board, but, in the end, you will be able to greatly reduce the risk of having sensitive information leave your office and fall into the wrong hands.