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smb data security compliance

What does data security compliance mean for today’s small business?

by ​Daniel Dern
 
Whether you're a large enterprise or a small business, ensuring your data is secure isn't important just for its own sake, it's likely to also be required by compliance regulations.

If you’re a large, established enterprise or organization, your IT department likely has the staff, time and expertise to keep on top of compliance concerns, including any new requirements as they arise (which they will).

​Data security means that your company’s sensitive data is secure from being read, copied, changed, or deleted by snoopers, thieves and other cybercriminals.

But if you’re a local retail store with primarily Point-of-Sale (POS) and inventory management plus a website and email newsletter, or a mid-sized start-up with a somewhat more built-out or cloud-based IT infrastructure, you’re probably still somewhere on the learning curve.

Here’s a summary overview of what your company should know, be asking about, looking for, and doing in terms of ensuring your data security is compliant.
 

What does data security mean?

In a nutshell, data security means that your company’s sensitive data is secure from being read, copied, changed, or deleted by snoopers, thieves and other cybercriminals.

This includes data “at rest” — on computers, mobile devices, storage systems, and removable storage media (flash drives, CD/DVDs, external hard drives, SD cards, etc.), and “in motion” — as data traverses local, wide-area, wireless and cellular networks.

Securing data is likely to be a mix of securing the data proper — through encryption, possibly in some cases through redaction (blocking/blanking specific fields or parts of a record or file), and securing the device or network.
 

What does “data security compliance” mean?

How much and what type of data security do you need? One answer is: enough to keep your data secure. But that’s too vague an answer to be useful.

One place to start is, “What will satisfy my company’s legal obligations?”

This means: What rules and regulations, whether from government(s) or your industry, must your data security comply with, and what do these regulations identify as the minimum necessary protection(s)?

These rules reflect the current state of technology — what type of tools are required or recommended, e.g., 256-bit AES encryption — and legal requirements, fines and penalties.

There are good financial reasons to secure your data as tightly as possible. It can be expensive to leverage state-of-the-art data encryption and other security measures, but it’s far less expensive than paying the price of a data breach. HIPAA fines alone can run up to millions of dollars; other costs can include having to pay for a year or more of identity theft protection for every member impacted by such a breach.

There are many compliance regulations, at the national, state, and industry levels. Ones you’re likely to have read about in the news include FERPA, FINRA, HIPAA, PCI DSS, Sarbanes-Oxley, and Gramm-Leach-Bliley.

And there’s lots of others, like C-TPAT, a worldwide supply chain security initiative established in 2004, and state regulations like Massachusetts 201 CMR 17 (aka Mass Data Protection Law).

And you can’t ignore regulations from states or countries that your business isn’t located in — if you have customers or supplies there, you may have to add these to your comply-with list.
 

How do I ensure my small business is compliant?

One good place to start is by looking at your competitors’ and suppliers’ web sites, to see what they say about their own compliance.
 

Then, unless your company has the expertise in-house, engage one or more security consultants to help you:


  • Identify relevant laws and industry policies your company must be compliant with.
  • Determine what of your existing IT infrastructure, applications, activities, and data currently are in compliance.
  • Select replacement or additional security products and services to meet compliance requirements.
  • Obtain any required certifications for these products and services, and for your company’s IT compliance status.

Lastly, be sure to educate all your employees regarding what they have to do — and not do — as part of compliance. For example: Don’t take sensitive company, customer or patient data records off-site unless they are properly encrypted.

Is your small business doing everything it should to stay secure and compliant?

Unless your company has the expertise in-house, engage security consultants to help you.
 
Daniel Dern
Daniel P. Dern is an independent Boston-based technology, business and marketing writer whose articles have appeared in sites and publications that include the Boston Globe/BetaBoston.com, ComputerWorld, IEEE Spectrum, ITWorld.com, and TechTarget.