Small companies often put customer data at risk

When many New Jersey consumers think of data breaches, the recent attack involving Target may come to mind. However, large retailers are not the only ones who are infiltrated by hackers. Even small companies can be putting their customers' personal information at risk, resulting in identity theft.

In fact, small businesses often don't have state-of-the-art security systems in place, making them vulnerable to data breaches. Fortunately, according to a recent article from Bloomberg Businessweek, there are several ways in which business owners can protect their customers' information and safeguard it from hackers.

Companies should only keep the information they need. Customer names and mailing addresses may be necessary, but what about their email addresses, birth dates and Social Security numbers? If it's not required for business purposes, delete it immediately. This will help protect customers from possible identity theft. It's also a good idea to keep this information encrypted and password-protected.

If employees use mobile devices, such as cell phones and tablets, they should be outfitted with the latest anti-virus software. Firewalls should also be installed to prevent hackers from entering company databases and stealing all this information.

It's important to not only protect online information, but offline data as well. Many small companies enter credit card information manually, so they may have credit card numbers written on random pieces of paper. If these papers are thrown away, someone can easily use this information. Companies need to review their security policies and prevent these types of practices.

A data breach can negatively affect a company. It can lead to customer mistrust and even a costly lawsuit. That's why companies big and small need to regularly evaluate their customer data and properly dispose of information they no longer need. If a breach were to occur, there needs to be a plan in place to effectively manage the situation. Working with experienced business attorneys may help companies understand their liabilities and better protect themselves moving forward.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, " Five Ways That Small Businesses Risk Customer Data," Karen E. Klein, March 14, 2014

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