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A Guide for Business – Protecting Personal Information

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A Guide for BusinessProtecting Personal Information
Most companies keep sensitive personal information in their files-names, Social Security numbers, credit card, or other account data- that identifies customers or employees.
This information ofter is necessary to fill orders, meet payroll, or perform other necessary business functions.  However, if sensitive
data falls into the wrong hands, it can loead to fraud, identity teft, or similar harms. Given the cost of a security breach – losing your customer’s trust and perhapseven defending yourself against a lawsuit – safeguarding personl information is just lain good business. 
Some businesses may have the expertise in-house to implement an appropriate plan.  Others may find it helpful to hire a contractor.  Regardless of the size – or nature – of your business, the 5 key principles in these Blogs will go a long way toward helping you keep data secure in your business.
5 Key Principles for Data Security
Principle #1.  Take Stock. Know what personal information you have in your files and on your computers.
Effective data security starts with assessing what information you have and identifying who has access to it.  Understanding how personl information moves into, through, and out of your business and who has – or could have – access to it is essential to assessing security vulnerabilities.  You can determine the best ways to secure the information only fter you’ve traced how it flows.
  • Inventory all computers, laptops, flash drives, disks, home computers, and other equipment to find out where your comapny stores sensitive data.  Also inventory the information you have by type and location.  Your file cabinets and computer systems are a start, but remember:  your business receives personal information in a number of ways – through websites, from contractors, from call centers, and the like. What about information saved on laptops, employees’ home comuters, flash drives, and cell telephones?  No inventory is complete until you check everywhere sensitive data might be stored.
  • Track personal information through your business by talking with your sales department, information technology staff,human resources office, accounting personnel, and outside service providers.  Get a complete picture of:
1.  Who sends sensitive personal information to your business. Do youget it from customers?  Credit card companies? Banks or other financial institutions?  Credit bureaus? Other businesses?
2.  How your business receives personal information.  Does it come to your business through a website?  By email?  Through the mail? Is it transmitted through cash registers in stores?
3.  What kind of information you collect at each entry point.  Do you get credit card information online?  Does your accounting department keep information about customers’ checking accounts?
4.  Where you keep the information you collect at each entrypoint.  It it in a central computer database?  On individual laptops?  On disks or tapes?  In file cabinets?  In branch offices? Do eployees have files at home?
5.  Who has – or could have – access to the information.  Which of your employees has permission to access the information?  Could anyone else get a hold of it?  What about vendors who supply and update software you use to process credit card transactions? The contractors operating your call center?
  • Different types of information present varying risks.  Pay particular attention to how you keep personally identifying information:  Social Security numbers, credit card or financial information, and other sensitive data.  That’s what thieves use most often to commit fraud or identity theft.
Your Company Security Check
QUESTION:  Are there laws that require my company to keep sensitive data secure?
ANSWERYES.  While you’re taking stock of the data in your files, take stock of the law, too.  Statutes like the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and the Federal Trade Commission Act may requie you to provide reasonable security for sensitive information. Visit www.ftc.gov/privacy.
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