Find your customer data valuable? Others do too

Vast volumes of data, combined with analytics and intelligent automation, are making it possible to deliver responsive, personalised customer service like never before. The potential benefits for businesses and customers alike are huge… but there’s a risk that needs paying attention to as well.

Information that’s valuable to you as a business is also valuable to others. In recent years, we’ve seen the number of large-scale data breaches skyrocket at organisations of all kinds: banks, hospitals, retailers, social networking sites and many more. Government surveillance and law-enforcement agencies are also eyeing business user data as an information source for investigations and legal actions.

This means any enterprise that values its customers must also value its customer data, and take as much precaution as possible to safeguard it.

Just last month, vast databases of user information were found for sale on the so-called “dark Web.” They included more than 640 million passwords taken via “mega breaches” of sites that included LinkedIn, Fling, Tumblr and even MySpace.

“[I]f this indeed is a trend, where does it end?” information security expert Troy Hunt asked in a recent blog post. “What more is in store that we haven’t already seen? And for that matter, even if these events don’t all correlate to the same source and we’re merely looking at coincidental timing of releases, how many more are there in the ‘mega’ category that are simply sitting there in the clutches of various unknown parties?”

Earlier this year, Apple found itself facing a different challenge concerning user data. It landed in a head-to-head battle with the U.S. Justice Department, which wanted the company to create a new operating system so it could access protected data on an iPhone confiscated in connection with a mass shooting in California last year. Apple was fighting a court order to do, and narrowly escaped only after the Federal Bureau of Investigation found a third-party group that was able to break into the phone without Apple’s help.

In an open letter to customers, Apple CEO Tim Cook noted that the wealth of information people have on their smartphones “needs to be protected from hackers and criminals who want to access it, steal it, and use it without our knowledge or permission … Compromising the security of our personal information can ultimately put our personal safety at risk. That is why encryption has become so important to all of us.”

Meanwhile, threats from ransomware — which locks organisations out of their own data until they pay the hacker group responsible — have reached levels some are calling an “epidemic.” A new report from Citrix and Censuswide on the phenomenon found that 20 percent of mid-sized to large businesses in the UK don’t have any plans for dealing with a ransomware attack, and that 48 percent of businesses don’t back up their data daily.

“Today’s threat landscape is more advanced, more determined and better equipped than ever before to exploit the weaknesses of organisations — many of which house a potential data goldmine,” said Chris Mayers, Citrix’s chief security architect.

For enterprises with large volumes of important and often sensitive customer data, the lesson should be clear: if information is important enough to hold onto, it’s important enough to protect… and any business that wants to keep the customers it has had better value and keep safe their information.

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