Protect Your Digital House

Ad specialty firms need to become more schooled in how to protect their data and that of their clients.

Some sobering studies have been released recently. One from Experian Data Breach Resolution and the Ponemon Institute reported that 43% of all companies have suffered a data breach within the past year. That’s a tremendous amount of companies that have left their own data – as well as that of their customers – at risk of being stolen.

Even further, the list of major corporations that have had their information systems hacked into is a who’s who of the retail and business world in the past year: Target, J.P. Morgan Chase, Supervalu, Neiman Marcus, Home Depot, ACME Supermarkets, Albertsons, Michael’s. The list is sure to grow as the holiday shopping season – a popular time for cyber criminals to do their thing – ramps up this month.

The good news is that many companies are recognizing the threat and are beginning to implement data breach protection plans. The Experian study found that nearly three-quarters of businesses currently have data breach response plans and teams in place, a 12% increase from last year.

The bad news? A full 68% of respondents still said they felt unprepared to respond to a data breach, and 78% admitted they don’t regularly update their data breach response plans to deal with changing threats.

“While more organizations have data breach preparedness on their radar and have developed a response plan, a majority of companies are not putting the support and resources behind having it truly be effective,” said Michael Bruemmer, vice president of Experian Data Breach Resolution. “A checklist response plan alone doesn’t mean you’re prepared. There should be an incident response team in place that practices the plan and ongoing investment from the C-suite to ensure technologies are up-to-date, external breach experts are secured, and selection of an identity protection product for affected customers is determined prior to an incident to ensure a quick and smooth response.”

Ultimately, companies in the ad specialty market need to pay attention and adjust their approaches to a new world in which cyber criminals can lurk around any and every website or cloud-based program.

“I think we should all be concerned about the recent data breaches,” says Jim Martin, vice president of supplier firm Numo (asi/74710). “We don’t keep any credit card information on our servers locally in our building. All of the information is kept with a third party that encrypts the card numbers. The reality, however, is that we are all vulnerable. As we see more and more customers use credit cards collectively in the industry, we’ll see the target get bigger and bigger on our back. Not having physical swipe terminals definitely helps, but black hats are typically one step ahead of the white hats here.”

Are you prepared to overcome those proverbial black hats? You should be. Protecting your company’s information today is as important as generating new business. After all, if your clients’ data is compromised, they could be looking for new vendors pretty quickly. The initial key to overcoming a data breach could be a rapid response and communication plan, say experts.

“What customers want is open communication about what is going on,” said software provider and digital consulting firm Customer Expressions, in a recent report. “Let them know right away if there has been a data breach, so they can begin to cover themselves and keep tabs on their accounts. This gives them some power to help protect themselves. Waiting months or withholding the information about the breach will have negative consequences. Also, let your customers know what you are doing to help ensure their information is safe in the future.”

It’s difficult, though, to clearly communicate to customers when you don’t have a response plan implemented in advance. Don’t have one? It’s long past time to get it done.

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