You know that when you log in and use your personal accounts you’re leaving a trail of information across the internet. This makes it easier to personalize your experience online and see information relevant to you. And you know to pay attention to security and privacy while you’re at it.
With your business accounts, your security responsibilities grow. As an owner, you capture and send information about your employees and customers, plus confidential business data and intellectual property. You need to know how to manage and protect the information you have.
What is a Digital Footprint?
A digital footprint is a trail of information on the internet about a particular person or organization as the result of online activity. For a business, that includes websites you and your employees visit, emails you and your team send, company transactions made online and everything you post to social media or business websites. You leave an active digital footprint when you take an obvious action, like posting an update on your company’s Facebook page, sending an email to a customer or paying a vendor through a service like PayPal.
A passive digital footprint is more subtle: it builds without your express participation. If you or someone in your company opens an email offer or automatically connects to a nearby Wi-Fi signal, you leave a passive trail, even if you don’t buy anything or visit any websites.
Why Does Your Digital Footprint Matter?
Your digital footprint—both active and passive—is useful to advertisers and other contacts who can use data in your footprint to show you products or other information you might be interested in. It’s also attractive for criminals who can use the information you’ve inadvertently shared to access your corporate data or sensitive intellectual property.
If you run a business, you may also be inadvertently sharing information about your employees, business partners or customers. When you pay a vendor online or use a search engine to look up information about a customer request or a job applicant, you’re sharing some information about your business and the people with whom you do business. Since the digital footprint people create while on the job is intertwined with your company’s, you’re also exposed to reputational risk to your brand if your employees make inappropriate comments online, fall for phishing scams or even access embarrassing content.
By taking a few precautions, you can reduce some of the data exposure and cyber attack risk your digital footprint creates for your company while still keeping the digital presence you need to get work done.
To reduce your risk, evaluate what kind of footprint your business has. Here are tips for two categories. No matter which best fits you, take some time to think about cyber security related to your company’s data exposure online.
For the Digital-First Business
Does your company make the bulk of its sales online? Do your employees frequently log in to company email and other accounts from home or the road? Do you use online versions of office software like word processors and spreadsheets? Your company probably leaves a big digital footprint, but you can take some steps to stay safe.
- Make sure you understand the privacy settings of the cloud services, email accounts and other tools your company use online. Disable any settings that might make your business data too accessible to the world.
- Set policies for your employees about how they conduct themselves online, including whether they can use personal equipment and accounts for company businesses, how they communicate with customers and what information they can upload where.
- Make sure that your employees are trained in dodging phishing and spotting scammers who try to trick them into sharing information or even sending money to unscrupulous places.
- Install trusted security software including firewalls and antivirus tools on your company machines, keep your operating system software up to date and research whether vendors you work with for web hosting and other online services are doing the same. If your employees use their own equipment with company data, talk to them about the importance of keeping it secure. Consider using virtual private network software to let them connect to your network more securely.
For the Social Media Marketer
Do you post offers and corporate updates on Facebook and Instagram? Do you frequently talk to customers on social media and messaging apps? Think about what information you’re sharing and the tone you’re using to communicate with the outside world.
- If you’re posting videos or photos to social media, make sure there’s nothing confidential in the image, whether that’s employee paperwork or a confidential client’s face.
- Talk to your employees about the tone you use for communicating with customers and what type of content is appropriate for corporate social accounts. Remember that anything that appears on your accounts can be screen-shotted and shared around the web, even if you quickly delete it.
- As with other communication channels, watch for scammers who might reach out to you on social media or messaging apps.
Be a Privacy Pro
If privacy is a top priority for your business, consider taking extra steps to keep your valuable data safe.
- Have employees strictly limit their access to personal sites and accounts on company computers to reduce malware threats.
- Carefully consider the privacy and security stance of any new online service you’re considering using for your business.
- Remove any unnecessary software from company computers, and consider regularly restoring them to baseline settings to keep them clean from unwanted risks.
You can’t compromise being competitive in your business by avoiding the internet. But you can be smart about it. Be transparent about online activity. Know the information your business is sharing online and how to keep that data safe. Talk to your employees to make sure they understand the risks and share your privacy priorities.