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In this internet-saturated age, our personal data is part of ourselves. Your customers understand this, so you should too. The justified outrage at the countless major data breaches represents another piece of eroding consumer confidence, and no matter what size of business you run, the dangers of such a leak are real. With a growing business, capturing the trust of your customers is paramount. In any stage of existence, the risk of a data breach carries huge, potentially fatal consequences for your company.

Would you put your money into a bank that you knew was due to get robbed? Then why would your customers give you their personal info (which happens every time they sign up for emails from you, or pay with a credit card) if they don’t think you can be trusted with it? It’s turning out to be one of the 21st century’s most pressing business issues, and one that entrepreneurs at all levels must address and deal with emphatically.

This is why what’s happening to Facebook right now should be a wakeup call. You might not be a social media provider, but as long as you’re connected to it (as the vast majority of businesses are) or online in any fashion, your customers’ information is vulnerable. If their data is vulnerable, that means you are as well. 

With Cambridge Analytica going from obscurity to pariah in a matter of days, and further scandals developing seemingly by the hour, information security is on the minds of all consumers, and rightly so. With the life of your business at stake, now is clearly not the time to say “it couldn’t happen to us.”

You don’t have to be a tech megacorporation to heed this warning. In fact, 61% of data breaches in 2016 were aimed at small businesses, with estimated losses into the six figures. For a growing business, such a breach can amount to a death knell. 

Customer data isn’t just another piece of company property. Namely, you shouldn’t be shocked to know that it’s still not covered by most property insurance policies. This means if you end up stuck with a hefty settlement after losing consumer’s information, it’s all yours to pay. In the case of Yahoo! and the hack that targeted over 1 billion user accounts, that court judgement left them with a bill totaling $80 million

While your company likely doesn’t have this much customer data in your servers, no matter what your size, the potential loss of consumer confidence can drain your business coffers in a less direct fashion. Today’s consumer demands security for their data, and those businesses who don’t make it a priority will be left behind by those who do.

Protecting data means sealing up all your info gaps. Contrary to popular belief, more than half of data breaches happen as a result of stolen or guessed passwords rather than sophisticated hacking techniques. Such attacks often come from a crafty use of social engineering, not software manipulation, and can be prevented through a strong company-wide emphasis on security.

That’s not to say that culture alone will keep data safe. Major breaches on secure systems, like the Sony Pictures hack of 2014, are often executed through the use of complex malware tools, the kind that need a more robust strategy to fend off. The more attractive your data is, expect greater interest from hackers looking for fame or riches off the backs of your customers. That means every company dealing in data needs to have it’s own proportional prevention strategy. 

Stronger data security measures can be expensive, but the alternative is much more so. The price of customer trust makes such services well worth paying for. Business owners can’t afford to get complacent when it comes to keeping information safe and secure. Once their data has been stolen, it’s no breach of trust when they take their business elsewhere.