In any conversation about online economics, there is a dread that lurks in the background. It isn’t always mentioned, but its effects are always in the back of people’s minds. This fear has a name, and you are probably familiar with how scary it is to see that name in the news, especially when it’s connected to a brand you associate with. That name is data breach, and there is nothing worse than finding out that your personal information has leaked into the dark web, all thanks to a company’s lapse in cybersecurity.
The fact of the matter is that there is a constant war between hackers and security specialists, each trying to hold an edge over the other. As an online retailer, the safety of your data, and the data of your customers, is always a few steps away from being out in the public market. Security analysts know this, but more importantly, customers know it too. Whenever they buy something online, there is always that element of risk. If you want to keep your customer base, you need to take steps to protect them. Just as importantly, they need to know that you are taking these steps, so that they will continue trusting you with their personal information.
There is no way to 100% guarantee that your data will never be hacked. If you’re a small business owner, that possibility is all the more dire, because you don’t have a team of white hat hackers on your side, constantly tightening up your security in the event of cyber attacks. Fortunately, while you can’t make your security air tight, you can make it as close to it as possible. By taking a few precautions, you can make sure that you’re not an easy target for phishing and hacking.
Limit Customer Data
One step you can take is to simply limit what kind of customer data you store to the essentials. Doing so will make you a less appetizing target for hackers, and will limit the damage in case you are hit. When a customer makes an account, only store information that you absolutely need. If you don’t require things like address, birthdate, or other identifying information, don’t ask for it. The less personal information you have, the safer everybody involved will be, so don’t save the extras.
This includes credit card information, believe it or not. While saving a customer’s card information does make checkout more convenient, it is also one of the worst things that can get leaked in case of a data breach. Although PCI standards require you to never save a card’s PIN or security code, many vendors save the rest of the information. Even without the security code, this is not data you want getting out! Therefore, try not to store any of that information online. One way to balance security with convenience is to integrate third-party online wallets, like PayPal or Stripe, so that they can save that data for the users more securely.
An important tool that no e-commerce site should do without is an SSL (Security Sockets Layer) certificate. SSL Encryption acts as an additional layer of security between your server and a shopper’s browser, ensuring that the data that gets transmitted back and forth can’t be intercepted by hackers. If your server’s firewall is a bank vault, then think of SSL Encryption as an armored car, safely transporting data to and from your customers.
Getting SSL certified is relatively simple. You do have to have to buy and install the certificate, and update your website, but once it’s done then you don’t need to do it again. Just remember to begin all of your URL redirects https instead of http. Whenever you visit a site that has https in front, that means the site has a SSL certificate, so you know that any data transmitted will be private. For tech-savvy customers, having seeing that https is a sure sign that the site they’re using is trustworthy. SSL encryption is so common now that many browsers make a point of warning users if they’re visiting a site without it. You do not want to be the online store that shoppers visit, only to see that warning; it’s a sure way to scare customers off.
No matter how strong the security, there is a simple thing that can compromise the entire system: a user whose password is “password”. If a hacker can guess somebody’s password, then they have access to all of the data that user has stored with you, and potentially much more. One tactic that many e-commerce stores and other secure sites have taken to using is requiring strong passwords of their users. A strong password usually consists of 6 or more characters, with a mix of letters, numbers, and other characters. These passwords might be harder to remember than, say, your own birthday, but they’re much harder to guess or crack.
Taking these steps don’t just make your site more secure, but it also shows that you are taking demonstrable steps towards improving your security for them. Improving trust in your brand and your site will bring in more customers, and make sure that the customers you do have stick around. Don’t be shy about how much you’re doing to protect your customers. Wear it as a badge of honor from now on.