Essential Tips to Protect Customer Data While Marketing

Customer data is a marketer’s most valuable resource. Companies can tell a lot about a customer from their data, informing more effective marketing strategies – but so can cybercriminals. If businesses don’t protect customer data, it could lead to massive privacy breaches.

On top of jeopardizing consumers’ privacy, data breaches can cost companies millions in legal damages, lost business, and operational disruption. As of 2021, these breaches cost $4.24 million on average, and that figure keeps climbing. Here are five essential tips to help companies protect customer data while marketing.

1. Minimize data collection

The most effective way to mitigate data breach risks is to collect less data. If companies don’t have as much information on hand, they’re a less tempting target for cybercriminals. If they do experience a breach, they won’t lose as much, reducing costs.

Marketers should only collect the information they need. That process begins with reviewing data analysis practices to see if there’s any data that companies aren’t using or doesn’t have a considerable impact. Even then, teams should rethink what information they really need and if they can still tailor marketing strategies effectively without as much data.

It’s also important to tell customers what data businesses collect and allow them to opt out. This may be a legal matter in some situations, with some companies facing more than $50 million in fines for insufficient consent practices.

2. Limit data access

After limiting data intake, businesses should limit data access. That applies to both employees within the company and any third-party partners or apps that marketing teams may use. As with data collection, follow the principle of least privilege. Every app, user, and device should only have access to what’s essential for their job.

Restricting access privileges prevents internal breaches, which are responsible for many incidents. It only takes one disgruntled employee or even an honest mistake from a trusted party to expose sensitive information. If no one party has access to all data, they can only do minimal damage.

That same principle mitigates outsider threats, too. If cybercriminals can’t access much data from one breached account or system, it’ll take a far larger attack to do substantial damage.

3. Use strong authentication controls

Breached accounts can still leak valuable data, even if it’s not as much as it could be. Consequently, marketing teams should also use strong authentication controls to ensure every user and device is who they say they are.

All employees with data access should practice strong password management using complex, unique passwords and rotate them regularly. Teams can use password manager tools to make compliance with these policies easier. These apps automatically generate strong passwords and change them according to the schedules users set.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) should be on by default to ensure that even a stolen password won’t grant access. Enterprise cloud users have just an 11% MFA adoption rate, so this step is critical.

4. Employ technical defenses

Behavioral and operational changes like stronger authentication measures and data limits are some of the most important steps. However, they don’t negate the need for technical protections, either. Almost half of all small businesses lack a cybersecurity plan and only 23% have any endpoint protection.

Companies must use single socket layer (SSL) encryption on their websites, which they can get from their hosting service. SSL encrypts data traveling between a website visitor and the web host to make it illegible to anyone who intercepts it. Since businesses often collect data about their website visitors for marketing, this step is essential.

Teams should also encrypt their data wherever they store and use it, using both in-transit and at-rest encryption. Automated network-monitoring tools can also help by highlighting potential breach attempts. Of course, up-to-date anti-malware software is crucial, too.

5. Review data and security regularly

Regardless of the other protections they implement, marketers should never become complacent in their security. Data security is a continually evolving field, requiring ongoing improvements to stay safe from the latest threats.

Businesses should start regular penetration testing, where a security expert attempts to break into their systems to reveal their weak points. Pen testing statistics show that 62% of tested businesses have at least one vulnerability. That means companies are rarely 100% safe, so they must regularly review their standards and practices.

This periodic review process should apply to the data itself, too. If there’s any information that marketers aren’t using anymore, they should delete it. All data contains some amount of risk, so there’s no need to hold on to any that’s not actively providing value.

Marketers have a duty to protect customer data

The vast amounts of available data today open a world of opportunities for marketers. However, if they don’t take the necessary precautions, these opportunities can become risks. A large data breach could easily cause enough damage to counteract any benefits businesses draw from data collection.

By following these five tips, marketing teams can ensure their data collection and use isn’t unnecessarily vulnerable. They can then fully capitalize on customer data without exposing it.

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