September 28, 2022

Information Security Risks: An Opportunity for Small Businesses

The last few years have been fraught with challenges for businesses of all sizes. For many organizations, one of the most pressing challenges is navigating data and information security in hybrid and remote work environments. While data security is not a new challenge, small businesses often struggle to reduce their risks. Our 2022 Shred-it Data Protection Report (DPR) reveals critical insights on small business leaders' information security concerns and challenges.

According to the DPR, small business owners know that data security is a necessary foundational element in building and retaining strong relationships with their customers, employees, and partners. In fact, 91% of small business owners surveyed believe that physical and digital data protection are equally important. However, many small business owners (53%) assert that digital risks are the greatest data protection risk to their business today, and only 27% say they collect and destroy sensitive materials when no longer needed.

With the cost of data breaches rising to an average of more than $4 million, potential regulatory actions and fines, legal fees, and the loss of customers could cripple a small business. Small business owners should prioritize the protection of their company's sensitive physical materials as well as the digital safeguards they have in place. However, with less budget and fewer resources than larger organizations, small businesses may struggle to practice comprehensive data security, offer regular employee training, and understand the shifting data protection regulatory landscape.

Taking the following steps toward better data protection can benefit a small business’ bottom line and brand reputation today and in the future.

Invest in Both Physical and Digital Security Measures

Protecting sensitive data is a top priority, however, many organizations tend to prioritize digital protection over physical protection. As more businesses adopt hybrid work models where sensitive paper documents may be regularly carried from offices to homes and back, a lack of physical security measures can put your organization and its customers at risk. To help keep organizations fully protected from data breaches, an organization should consider the importance of physical data protection.

For example, small business owners should consider implementing and enforcing record retention and destruction policies in the office and remote work settings to help improve physical data security protocols. A clean desk policy can also help ensure that all sensitive physical documents are either stored or destroyed each time an employee leaves their desk, which helps prevent information theft. Additionally, businesses should collect all documents that are no longer needed in a secure, locked container to be shredded.

Provide Mandatory Data Security Education

Employees can be the first and best defense against a data breach. According to the 2022 DPR, the majority of small business owners (65%) know that their current training regimens and level of employee knowledge are not up to par and have likely worsened due to high employee turnover. If companies address these weaknesses, it could help improve data security.

Small businesses should provide regular and mandatory data security training for all employees to equip them with the skills they need to recognize and respond to data breach threats. New hires should also undergo in-depth security training as part of the onboarding process to help them identify both physical and digital data security risk factors and understand how to try to prevent a data breach in an approachable and engaging way.

Find a Trusted Third-Party Partner to Support Your Data Protection and Education Efforts

Small business owners often need to fulfill a wide range of responsibilities, from managing their organization’s finances to marketing to HR. With all these obligations, most small business owners may lack the time and skills to lead their organization’s data security protocols alone. Many small businesses reported seeing the value in data protection regulations but are also finding the shifting regulatory landscape complex, burdensome, and costly (75%).

To help protect their organizations from data breaches, small business owners should enlist the support of trusted partners to help them understand and navigate the complexities of data protection regulations. The right third-party partner will help guide small business owners through the evolving regulatory landscape and empower them to become more knowledgeable. A third-party partner can also provide effective data protection tools, services, and employee training programs to enable employees to recognize and respond to data security threats when they occur.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Is Data Protection Important?

Data is at the center of business. For many organizations, including small businesses, digital adoption drives strategy. Data is essential to meeting customer needs, responding to sudden market shifts, and unforeseen events. Businesses also collect data to conduct day-to-day business and for human resources purposes. All organizations have access to confidential data such as employee social security numbers, protected health information, or consumer account information.

Data is valuable, and as much as it is used for good, some bad actors target businesses and try to steal that data. Data breaches are increasingly common, and business leaders need to take steps to help protect the data they possess. Data protection does not only protect an individual's private information but can also help protect a business's reputation and bottom line. 

How Do Companies Protect Customer Data?

There are many things small businesses can do to help protect both digital and physical customer data. For physical data, one of the best data protection tactics is to shred all documents once they are no longer needed. If a business is required to keep a document, it should be placed in locked storage until it can be shredded. Shred-it promotes a shred it all policy to remove any confusion if a document contains confidential data.

For digital data, ensure it is password protected. If a breach occurs, change passwords, disconnect devices from the internet server, back up the information, and identify and contain potential malware. Providers like Shred-it can help companies destroy hardware via two methods: the hard drive punch and hard drive shearing.