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How to safeguard your small company’s data without distrusting staff

(TECHNOLOGY) Even a tiny company has valuable data that can be stolen from inside – without adopting a policy of distrust, you can take preventative action

Multiple computers set up at home representing data breaches.

Data breaches are scarily common in today’s digital world, and even gargantuan businesses can easily be brought to their knees should a wayward phishing attempt (or a disgruntled former employee) succeed in making off with valuable information.

While your small business probably doesn’t have all of the same calibre of worries as your more monolithic counterparts, don’t make the mistake of thinking that your data can’t be stolen to devastating effect, even if you think the data you have is irrelevant and not worthy of being stolen (you’re wrong).

Cloud storage and increased collaborative tool use means that things like sensitive documents and files are at increased risk of theft. Small businesses are especially susceptible to this due to a lower likelihood of advanced security usage, so it pays to know what kinds of things you might be at risk of losing.

According to MUO, employees are most likely to steal collaborative documents, consumer databases, and any resources devoted to research and development.

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Safeguarding these items can be tricky due to their relatively high-traffic use, so a preventive strategy is your best defense.

It should be noted that trust in your employees is crucial, and treating them like they’re poised to steal from you at any moment is not a particularly effective management strategy.

However, it’s important to be aware of the following reasons – and possible preventive measures – for employee theft of data.

Firstly, corporate espionage (as dramatic as it sounds) is still something you have to worry about as a small business owner. It isn’t uncommon for competitors to bribe (or even simply persuade) current employees to share data, even if your competitors are relatively small themselves.

Your employees should know that data is sacred (and confidential), but employing things like intrusion systems and holding trainings for recognition of espionage can help prevent this problem.

Those competitors might also try to snag some of your employees, and not just for their work ethic. Employees may save their own copies of documents that they think will be helpful in their new workspace; in doing so, they can unwittingly aid your competitor with much more than their skillset. Again, reminding your employees that all work documents are both confidential and property of your brand can cut down on accidental data theft in this category.

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Non-Compete agreements and NDAs can also prevent this kind of theft, intentional or otherwise; if an employee chooses to leave your business, making sure they are aware of their contractual obligations is key. Perhaps the worst competitor you can have is a former employee who launches their own business in your field, though, and this is a situation in which data theft can be intellectual. Once again, Non-Competes and NDAs are helpful in mitigating damage in this context.

Finally, angry employees can find themselves doing a myriad of dumb (and harmful) things, up to and including data theft.

As mentioned earlier, early prevention is the best way to keep your data on your servers and out of your departing employees’ hands. Restricting employee access to files and folders can limit the number of possible breaches, and the aforementioned Non-Compete and Nondisclosure agreements are absolutely crucial in any business that deals in data–just make sure you’re discussing the terms of those agreements with employees as they come and go.

Jack Lloyd has a BA in Creative Writing from Forest Grove's Pacific University; he spends his writing days using his degree to pursue semicolons, freelance writing and editing, oxford commas, and enough coffee to kill a bear. His infatuation with rain is matched only by his dry sense of humor.

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