Security and privacy are hot topics in the data world. These words may sound like they mean the same thing, but they actually address slightly different areas with respect to data protection. Although some people may be aware of the distinction, just to be clear, security relates to how data is protected whereas privacy relates to the appropriate use of data. So, data security is focused on things like firewalls, authentication procedures, and encryption, but it is these security measures that enhance data privacy, meaning private information does not fall into the hands of someone who should not have access to it. Thus, it is clear that you cannot really have one without the other.
Of course, data security and privacy are becoming increasingly important, as theft and fraud are rampant, with healthcare records, client data, and employee information being some of the most popular targets. Contracts are particularly vulnerable given that they address some of these matters and tend to contain a trove of private information. Although utilizing sophisticated technology for security’s sake is an integral facet of contract data protection, it requires more than fancy software. Here is how to ensure that your company’s contract security goes beyond reliance on technology:
Identify Information that Matters
It is not possible to protect private information if such information has not been identified as data that requires protecting. One of the first steps to take to craft a coherent contract security plan is to determine which company contracts, if any, contain information that must remain confidential. Companies that contract with clients to deliver certain services, especially in the healthcare and finance sectors, likely have access to sensitive client data. And, for companies with a sizable workforce, there are likely quite a few employment contracts in need of safeguarding.
Even though all contracts may seem like important documents that should remain confidential, there are some that may be standard form agreements that do not contain much beyond the names and signatures of each party. Provided that these sort of boilerplate service agreements do not include social security numbers, dates of birth, or bank account details, these may not need the same level of attention. For companies with limited resources that may not be able to afford an enterprise solution, it is particularly important to distinguish which items absolutely must be handled with caution and which might be okay to keep in a file cabinet or on the company hard drive. The primary objective should be to identify a company’s access to sensitive data to determine how best to keep it secure.
Assess the Risk of Exposure
In addition to identifying the type and amount of sensitive data that a company’s contracts contain, it is crucial to assess the risk of that data becoming exposed. This is not an easy analysis, as there are likely both internal and external risks. Obviously, a large concern is whether there are hackers that deliberately target the type of data that the company possesses. Companies should spend some time looking at recent data theft trends to ascertain whether they may be at risk. There have been alarming reports relating to healthcare breaches in the last few years, so companies with contracts related to the provision of healthcare services must be particularly cautious.
In addition, there is the unfortunate possibility that internal employees may seek to capitalize on the data that a company has contained within its contracts. Thus, it is important to figure out who on the team really needs to be able access certain items, and then take measures to limit the others’ access.
Implement Multiple Security Measures
Once sensitive data has been identified and the risks of its exposure assessed, it is important to put together a security plan with diverse measures. Clearly, finding suitable technology will be one aspect of this plan. However, companies should also consider drafting a written document that outlines contract security measures. For example, this should explain how contracts are to be circulated, saved, and shared within the company and with any external consultants or services providers. Of course, this must also include ways in which those contracts should not be handled, such as forbidding items from being accessed on mobile devices or personal laptops.
There should also be a plan with respect to the retention of contract data once performance has been completed and/or the the time period during which the contract was in effect has terminated. Ultimately, companies need to plan in advance how they intend to store, share, and shred contracts that contain sensitive data to increase the likelihood that any private information contained within them is not leaked.
Inform Employees About the Importance of Data Security
Even if the contract security plan is not formally written out, employees must be notified when a company has expectations with regard to the handling of confidential contract data. This may require the use of confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements, access restrictions, and periodic trainings to instill the importance of data security. The most sophisticated technology in the world does not exclude the possibility that the people using that technology will make a mistake or act negligently. Thus, a comprehensive security plan and robust training are musts.
Technology will always be a necessary component when it comes to protecting contract data, but it cannot be the sole means. Companies must employ a variety of security methods to ensure a well-rounded approach.