Companies shouldn’t skimp on data security

Posted on Wednesday, August 20, 2014 at 10:49 am

Target ousted its CEO in wake of last year’s computer security breaches, which reinforces the importance of companies protecting customer information stored digitally.

Gregg Steinhafel became the company’s chief corporate executive in 2008 and seemed to have achieved more good than harm. That is, until just before Christmas 2013. As the holiday shopping season approached, hackers got through Target’s digital security systems and made off with approximately 40 million credit and debit card numbers. One month later, a different cyberattack resulted in hackers obtaining names, phone numbers, emails and mailing addresses of about 70 million customers. Multiple security breaches of such sizes, and in such a short time frame, indicate failure by top executives to pursue and enact appropriate safeguards. Steinhafel had to go.

While few people may feel badly for the dethroned CEO (his severance payout reportedly topped $55 million), Steinhafel’s downfall is an important lesson for business professionals. In the digital age, computer systems that store consumer data must be tightly guarded against cyber intrusion. When stolen, personal information such as bank account numbers can cause substantial challenges and headaches for customers. It can be quite the frustrating endeavor to cancel credit cards, square off with insurance companies and change numerous passwords.

Companies whose security shortcomings result in customers undergoing those trials should not count on forgiveness from affected clientele — or even from those who just heard of the breach. Security failures of the last holiday season badly damaged Target’s reputation and profits. People wondered: Why shop at a store that has inadequate defense against hackers when you can buy from a business with a better record of protecting consumer information?

Target received criticism in years past for its reluctance to expand into online shopping and mobile platforms. Now it seems that the company was also lax in building up digital security systems capable of resisting today’s technologically advanced hackers. Other stores and companies should take note, and not fall behind the advance of cyber technology.

If financially feasible, it is well worth the investment to shore up the security of whatever programs collect and store digital data. Otherwise, businesses risk an irreconcilable loss of private info that could lead them, like Target, to face a clientele base suddenly short on trust and looking to shop somewhere else better protected against ever-evolving threats.

-The Record Journal of Meriden (Conn.)

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