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Securing Self-Storage Customer Data: Protecting Personal and Financial Information

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By Jonathan Fesmire

The self-storage industry is all about security. Tenant units remain locked, gates require access codes, facilities are surrounded by high walls or fences, and camera systems and personnel help keep an eye on the grounds. But just as we keep our properties safe, we need to protect our customer and facility data as well.

Your customers desire the ability to access and manage their accounts online; however, this access also makes it possible for crooks to hack in and steal their sensitive information. You could say there’s an ongoing war between software developers and criminal hackers. Developers come out with a new operating system, Web browser, firewall or other software, and crooks look for vulnerabilities to exploit. Developers work to discover these exploits, but sometimes hackers find them first. Then developers provide users with patch software to close the weaknesses, and the cycle continues.

Many companies have been hacked for personal customer data. In 2015, compromised organizations included electronics manufacturer VTech, the U.S. prison system, the FBI, seven of Donald Trump’s hotels, crowdfunding platform Patreon and others. Nearly every American has had his data stolen at least once.

When tenants rent a self-storage unit, they expect the company to keep their personal and financial information safe. Here’s how to ensure it is.

Firewalls

For your first line of defense, set up a firewall. A firewall consists of software that keeps outsiders from getting into your computer network, much like the wall around your facility keeps people from entering the property. Employees are able to get into the system with passwords, and customers are able to access their records, pay their bill and so on; but the firewall will cover vulnerable points.

Make sure any company laptops that will be used to access the system have firewall protection, too. Otherwise, hackers could piggyback on that connection.

Data thieves don’t want just one person’s information; they want whole databases of users. In addition, they may be after corporate secrets and other intellectual property. Once a hacker gets through your firewall, he may be able to access all of it. To combat this, set up internal firewalls. In other words, each system should have a firewall of its own. Your information-technology (IT) team can set it up so employees can access what they need, but crooks who manage to make it past one firewall will get stuck at the next. Even if they steal important data, they won’t get everything.

E-Mail Filters

Incoming e-mails can also cause problems, so put spam filters in place and scan for malware on the e-mail server side. Malware can directly infect company computers and leave open back doors for hackers. Internet scammers also design clever spam messages to get employees to reveal sensitive information. If you can prevent these from getting to your employees, that will keep your system safer.

Encryption

Encrypted data is extremely difficult to read, so use encryption for all your sensitive information. Make doubly certain that data moving over the Internet—whether an employee accesses it remotely or you e-mail a file—gets encrypted, and the right person on the receiving end can decrypt it.

Software Updates and Patches

Unfortunately, software often comes with vulnerabilities. Companies like Microsoft want to keep their software secure, but hackers often find bugs in a program that allow them into a computer system. When Microsoft discovers a security exploit in Windows or Office, it puts out a patch as soon as possible to fix it, and other software companies do the same for their programs.

Keep the software up-to-date on all your systems. Security patches and updates are especially important. It can be disastrous when a hacker learns of an exploit and gets through your security simply because you didn’t yet apply a patch.

Mobile Devices and Removable Storage

Smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices need protection, too. Hackers can sometimes read data coming from them and have used this to access people’s passwords and more. Make sure each mobile device is password-protected. Put a data-encryption solution in place for all devices, and invest in security apps for any employee devices used to access company servers and databases.

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