The Online Entrepreneur’s Guide To Data Security & Privacy
When you embark upon an entrepreneurial career, the online world can seem so inviting and full of possibilities. Whatever you want to do, the resources are there: you can become a merchant, position yourself as an industry expert, build a community… the choice is yours. And that impression isn’t inaccurate — but there are negative aspects, too, particularly to do with data.
Most notably, there’s the risk inherent to the widespread sharing of rich personal data. It’s all but impossible to avoid since that data is key to the functionality of the internet — you can shy away from social media accounts and use throwaway email addresses, but it will limit your options.
And then there’s all the other data that you’ll likely need (and will probably be stored in the cloud). Any documents you’re working on, any presentations you’re making, any websites you run, and any large files you need to share: all that valuable data will be fundamentally connected to the online world, making it inherently vulnerable to attack if not secured very carefully.
To help you succeed as an online entrepreneur without falling victim to data problems, here’s a guide to navigating these data security and privacy concerns:
It’s Vital to Keep Backups of Everything Important
Using paper files may be very insecure in the sense that they can be stolen or copied by anyone who can break into the office, but they do hold one advantage over digital files: they’re a little harder to accidentally delete. With one errant click, a vast amount of essential data can be consigned to oblivion — and when your entire business exists in the digital world, that means that everything about it is vulnerable in this way.
Accordingly, you need a strong backup system in place to ensure that you always have a suitable fallback in case something goes wrong. If you accidentally delete something, or fall victim to a malicious attack, or see one of your hard drives fail unexpectedly, you’ll be able to keep going without losing much momentum.
You can achieve this manually by simply making copies of your files on a regular basis, but it’s typically easier to automate using suitable plugins and tools (search for your CMS name alongside “backup” and you should find some options). And if you use something that’s already very secure, like Google Drive, you can still create redundancies using services like Backupify.
Passwords Should be Strong and Varied
One of the classic mistakes made by computer users is relying on weak passwords, or even the same password used again and again. This might seem innocuous when you’re just using the web to browse and play games, but when you become an online entrepreneur, you put a target on your back — and you might find that criminals start to see value in attacking you.
Make a habit of choosing secure passwords and mixing them up. I suggest checking through this wiki How piece on password security and following the suggestions carefully. Even if you’ve never had problems with passwords before, you don’t want to wait until you find your site under attack before you tighten up your defenses.
One other thing to remember is that there’s little point in having strong passwords if you undermine their strength by mentioning them to people, writing them on scraps of paper in your office, or storing them in systems protected by much weaker passwords (it makes no sense to store secure passwords in LastPass but have a LastPass password 12345678, for instance).
You need to Invest in a Secure Online Platform
As an online entrepreneur, you’ll need an online platform to host your site, and which one you pick will have a significant effort on how secure your operations are. For instance, running with an open-source CMS might save you some money and allow you great creative freedom, but it will also put you under pressure to keep up with security updates: fall behind, and you might leave your site extremely vulnerable.
Because of this, unless you’re absolutely sure about what you’re doing (or have a third-party security service ready to handle everything for you), it’s going to be easiest to use a hosted platform with great security standards. This is particularly key if you’re an ecommerce seller because that demands a high-end mixture of performance, reliability, and security: you should strongly consider investing in a secure service like Shopify (it’s fully PCI DSS compliant, which is extremely important for secure payments).
If you run multiple sites (perhaps you have one for your personal brand and another for a business you’re working on), then decide based on the demands of each site. There’s no need to pay extra for top-end security for a site that doesn’t contain any sensitive data — just make sure you have backups, and you should be perfectly fine.
Reputation Damage can be Worse than Data Loss
Ever since GDPR came into effect in early 2018, the average internet user has become significantly more aware of how user data is stored and analyzed by big brands. The practical consequence of this for businesses is that they risk their reputations more than anything else when they leave data vulnerable.
Imagine that you ran an online DIY store, and someone hacked into your system and released your customer records. Your customers likely wouldn’t be too worried about having those records revealed (home improvement products are unlikely to be too embarrassing), but they would be deeply concerned about your evident lack of security.
When you ask someone for data online, they have to trust you to take care of it, and falling victim to a hack shows people that you can’t be trusted with data. If word gets out that you’re unable to protect customer information, you’ll find it difficult to pick up new customers, and you’ll even struggle to retain existing customers.
In closing, then, being an online entrepreneur is quite demanding when it comes to security. You need to backup everything on a consistent basis, take password strength extremely seriously, ensure that your platform is as secure as possible, and protect your reputation. If people don’t view you as trustworthy, they won’t want to work with you at all — so be careful.
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