The Dish on Data Protection

Smart and automated technologies have revolutionized the way we live our lives. From how we consume content like television and music to the ways in which we exercise and operate kitchen appliances. But with these fresh advancements comes new complexities, including vulnerabilities around consumers’ personal data. On an individual level, vigilance around protecting sensitive information certainly plays a role. But what about the companies who act as gatekeepers of that data? What are the steps they should be taking to protect sensitive information?

Utility companies have the added responsibility of overseeing data that can impact the masses. Fortunately, maintaining excellent cybersecurity and protecting customer data is possible through a few proven tactics that keep data safe and secure. We’re going to share a few of them below.

Give data security the emphasis it deserves

Your security strategy is only as good as the time you put into it. It’s a good idea to take some time to evaluate current data infrastructure for both strong and weaker security. One idea is to review the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Despite the fact that European lawmakers drafted the GDPR for European Union use, this exercise is still worthwhile for U.S.-based companies as many consider the GDPR to be the most stringent privacy and security law in the world. The GDPR touches on a variety of data protection principles, ranging from lawfulness, fairness, and transparency to accountability.

In addition to a commitment to strict protocols around data protection, closely evaluating technology partners the utility chooses to align with will lay a strong foundation for cybersecurity. Vendors should have a history of exemplary performance and the financial stability needed to stick around for the long haul. Before selecting a vendor, explore if the company uses an industry-leading cloud provider as its data center. Unlike on-site hosts, cloud providers are more likely to offer the reliability your utility company needs and the advantage of stricter standards. Vendors should also be willing and able to provide you with verifiable evidence of how they adhere to compliance requirements.

Never stop innovating

Because of the way fraudsters are relentlessly inventing new ways to break through security systems, utility companies must remain committed to modernizing their methods. This includes staying abreast of cybersecurity trends so that any potentially vulnerable areas are corrected before there’s ever a problem. This is especially important for encryption technologies. By regularly updating encryption processes, utility companies can stay one step ahead of fraudsters and illustrate to their customers that they care about their privacy.

The technology partner you select will obviously play a role in this innovation, so make sure your vetting process includes a discussion around how they stay current on trends and what types of new technologies and training they invest in as an organization.

The best way to think of your cybersecurity strategy is as a living, breathing thing. If you want it to be successful, you must be willing to accept that it will grow, evolve and change rapidly.

Related: Smart Meters: A Boon for Utilities and their Customers

Collect only the data you need and limit who sees it

As you know, or have learned today, storing and managing data is not a simple exercise. So, why make it more complicated than it needs to be? One of the easiest ways to protect sensitive data is to only collect what’s required for your operation to run. If a customer’s social security number isn’t imperative for opening an account, you should consider avoiding asking for it. And once you do have sensitive information, restricting who has access to that data is another way that data stays safe. There are a few different ways to accomplish this, but most companies will dictate access permissions based on either function or position title/level.

Limiting both the data you collect and who has the right to view it will benefit your company (and customers). Particularly from a data protection standpoint. Since you’ll have less of it to protect. But this approach can also serve as an efficiency booster, eliminating unproductive actions and wasteful use of your employees’ time. There’s no doubt that keeping sensitive data safe is hard work. But it’s more important than ever before, and the reward of knowing your customers’ data remains protected is worth the effort.

Utility Partners of America has worked with utilities and energy co-ops since 1997, navigating challenges of all different types. If you’re interested in learning how we can help your company, contact us today.