5 tips to protect customer data for home based professionals

5 tips to protect customer data for home based professionals

Protecting your customers' data is as important for home-based professionals as it is for multi-million pound companies.

When considered, the chances are your computer has a significant amount of confidential customer data on it. Business plans, financial accounts and even payment details stored on your devices could cause serious problems for your client if they fell into the wrong hands.

Data breaches are becoming increasingly common and regardless of the size of your business, you need to keep confidential customer data secure and protected not only for the sake of your image and reputation, but also to avoid costly fines and court cases. With some straightforward steps, however, you can minimise the chances of a data breach and secure sensitive information to industry-recognised standards. Here are 5 tips for home-based professionals on how to protect customer data.

1. Safe payment

If you allow customers to pay their bill online, or are considering implementing it, it is vital to use an established payment platform to securely handle the entire transaction, as well as the storage of credit card details. Failure to meet the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) can result in a data breach, which not only leaves your customers vulnerable to fraud, but can lead to eye-wateringly high fines for your company. More and more businesses are choosing to use solutions that are hosted on secure third party servers (PayPal being a prime example of this) that already comply with PCI DSS standards. This takes away many of the concerns about storing customer card details, as they are stored on the third party's servers and your organisation does not have direct access to them.

2. Encrypt

Although password protecting certain files affords some degree of security, this can often be bypassed by widely-available password cracking software. A more secure alternative is to encrypt data; and although many believe that only large companies need their files encrypted, you can never be too safe when it comes to protecting sensitive customer information. Consider re-evaluating your data encryption process; the encryption standards today are a lot higher than they were five years ago. Try using a free encryption service, such as TrueCrypt, that can be used on all operating systems. It works by automatically encrypting your data in 'real time' to stop any unauthorised access.

3. Lock down

Securing your data is vital; you do not want to be caught out by a virus or malware infecting your PC and gaining access to everything you own. Make sure your computer has up-to-date anti-virus and firewall protection. Some anti-virus software systems may seem expensive, but it is really a small price to pay and a must-have for any home-based professional who is serious about protecting sensitive information about customers. At the very least, a free anti-virus program (such as AVG) should be used to ensure you have at least some level of protection. Also ensure that your home WiFi connection is secured using WPA2/PSK encryption and uses a strong password. Although most routers already have this enabled, some older routers may use the inferior WPA or WEP standards which can leave your network vulnerable. Check your broadband provider's website to find out what security standard your router uses, and how to change it.

4. Back up

As well as customer data being stolen, you must also think about how to avoid losing it. Lost customer data can cripple a business, so ensure you back up regularly - either to an external hard drive or by using cloud-based software. There are endless options out there, including free and 'pro' versions – read our article on 3 data back up options for professionals to find an option that is best-suited to your home-based business.

5. People-proof

Once you have your PC secure with updated programs, encryption and back ups, the final thing to think about is protecting it from other people. Set a strong password that has to be entered each time your computer comes out of sleep mode, and consider adding an application that allows your to remote-lock (or even remote-wipe) your laptop in the event it is stolen.

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