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The Best Way to Protect Private Documents: Not Exposing Them In The First Place

    

Data theft is alive and well, and for companies that fail to institute an appropriate document retention and management strategy, becoming a victim is all too likely. Even though technology is becoming more sophisticated every year, the cost of many solutions is actually declining due to fierce competition and the basic economic principles of supply and demand. As a result, there is really no excuse for any company, large or small, to neglect this facet of running a business. In simplest terms, if companies don't want private data misappropriated, then they shouldn't expose it in the first place. All it takes to achieve this is some planning, research, and a reasonable investment in the right technology. Here are the five key steps to take:

1. Plan

Businesses regularly engage in strategic planning, financial planning, and human resource planning, but for some inexplicable reason, data planning often isn't prioritized or is overlooked altogether. The thing that just doesn't make sense about this is that company data and the handling of it inevitably affect the bottom line. As a result, the agenda for leadership meetings must include discussion of a document retention and management strategy. This is particularly important for companies that rely on confidential data or intellectual property to run their operations. If data security and management is an area with which the team is not familiar, there are IT consultants who can help get things started. Once the initial groundwork has been done, it becomes a lot easier to manage and revise, as needed.

2. Train

After recognizing that data security must be a priority, having a meeting to determine how that will be accomplished, and then putting the plan to paper, the company has to actually implement it by training employees and staff. The onboarding process for most companies involves tech trainings, so this is usually the best place to include this. If confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements are required, they should be furnished at this time as well. The goal is obviously to ensure that employees will uphold these policies and agreements, and explaining the data security rules, the importance of confidentiality, and training employees on how to use systems and applications will facilitate that aim. Of course, dedicating a few hours to this matter during orientation should also signal to the newbies that this is an area that the company takes very seriously.

3. Test

Even the most well-laid plans sometimes go awry, and this could be happening without a company even realizing it. The only way to assess the integrity of the plan and the systems that are in place is to periodically test it. This could be done with an external consultant who tries to penetrate the network and/or it could involve sending emails from external accounts to employees requesting a document to see if and how they respond. The plan essentially has to be attacked on all fronts to see how it stacks up. If a company makes and institutes a stringent data security plan but doesn't bother to evaluate its performance, it is basically worthless. These occasional integrity tests will identify weak links and allow a company to make the appropriate adjustments before a hacker is able to recognize any weaknesses.

4. Revise

There is a good chance that system stress tests will reveal an issue of some sort, no matter how trivial. Systems are routinely upgraded and employees come and go, and any such change can create a potential soft spot in the wall. As a result, companies need to designate when and how any requisite changes will need to be made. It might not be realistic to immediately revise a system the minute a gap is detected, but swift action is necessary, as technology evolves so quickly that procrastinating could be catastrophic. One thing to consider is investing in a technology solution that has already done some of the grunt work and that has the bandwidth to institute immediate changes in the event that a problem is identified. There is a whole market devoted to data storage and security because of its increasing importance and the fact that companies have been plagued by costly breaches.

5. Retrain

Of course, any time there is a change to a policy or procedure, this must be communicated to employees and hands-on training may even be warranted. Even if changes are not made or they are so minor that they do not necessitate notice to staff, it is generally advised to revisit company rules annually, at a minimum.

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