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  • Best practices: Data security and access management for small businesses

Best practices: Data security and access management for small businesses

  • Last Updated : June 12, 2023
  • 7 Min Read
an image of a toy Stormtrooper (from the Star Wars franchise) standing on a desk guarding a computer

For many of us, having passwords are the extent of our data security. When you run a business, however, you'll need something stronger than just extra-long combinations with a number and an exclamation mark at the end.

Businesses handle large data sets every day, from customers' personal information and their buying preferences to the company's budget and overall financial status. With so much data floating around, you want to make sure that they don't fall into the wrong hands. If you end up losing customer data due to a breach, that can have serious long-term implications for your brand's credibility and even in people's lives, depending on how severe the breach is.

Data security is not a small thing, even if you're a small business. Though verifying logins is an essential part of securing your data, that's not the only or even the most important one. Here are a few other data types of security measures.

Permission-based access

This means only those you explicitly allow can access certain information. For example, if you're a tech startup with a small team of developers and one sales rep, you can set restrictions so that only your sales rep can access revenue and payment details. The information could be essential for help them to do their job well, but it's unnecessary for the development team.

Data access authorisation

Imagine that one of those developers requests access to a specific customer's data and purchasing history. Before the developer gets access, you'll have to authorise their identity and why they need access to that specific piece of data. This involves verifying their request to make sure they only get the information they need to do their job. For example, if the developer is fixing an issue with a product the customer bought, then it's important for them to know which model it is so they can handle the issue correctly. Even then, the developer will only need access for a limited time and won't need the customer's contact details.

Preventing access

Security systems aren't just designed to verify and provide access, but also to prevent breaches and unauthorised entry. To do this, the system maintains a constantly-updated database of authorised personnel, the permissions for each set of data they access, and the various credentials and devices they use to gain access to that data. When anyone outside of this authorised list tries to gain access, the system will automatically prevent them from doing so. Based on the type of data, some systems can also alert authorities of attempted breaches and can even shut down the system to ensure that there are no additional attacks. This is what your iPhone does when you've consecutively entered the wrong passcode to unlock your phone. The system detects forced entry, and as a precaution temporarily blocks entry or deletes all data on the phone.

Enforcing app-specific access

Let's go back to the tech startup example. Say the business uses a CRM, an accounting system, and a data reporting tool. They hire a marketing intern who needs access to all three apps, but at varying degrees. They can set up a security system that allows the intern to access all three apps with a single verified log in, but set up restrictive access within each app. For instance, while the intern needs the contact details of customers, they won't need to access suppliers' invoices. While they need to know the company's annual profit, they don't necessarily need to know the specifics of day-to-day transactions. Your software systems should offer built-in solutions to facilitate such granular permission and data access measures.

Data security measures aren't for convenience. They're essential.


Establishing strict regulations around who gets access to what information and how they can see it can help track down what went wrong in case you have a breach. It also helps users be accountable to the data they have access to, making sure they treat the data with the confidentiality it deserves.

Data safety

Security protocols keep your data secure and away from prying hands. Your customers share personally identifiable information (PII) and sensitive contact details with you in trust. In turn, as a business, you must do everything you can to uphold their faith, and ensure their identity isn't compromised. The best data thieves today only need a single email address to hack into multiple accounts that use the same email.


All businesses should comply with privacy and security regulations set by governments across the globe. Every region has specific laws enforcing the collection and use of personal data of its citizens. Setting up appropriate security measures allows you to continue to do business in these countries legally. Even if you're a tech startup in Bungandore, if you have customers in Europe or South Africa, you have to comply with the GDPR and Protection of Personal Information Act respectively.

Identity Access Management software

IAM tools are purpose-built to help you manage access permissions and establish strong security protocols around your data systems. They perform many functions including:

• Managing a database of your employees and any consultants or contractors who might temporarily access your business data.

• Constantly verifying access controls to make sure the technology is up-to-date and free from attacks.

• Monitoring every access point at all times to identify anomalies and threats.

• Serving as the sole source of access to all stakeholders, making it easy to optimise the process (Single Sign On).

• Enabling and monitoring additional secure access methods such as Two/Multi Factor Authentication, biometrics authentication, device authorisation, and more.

IAM is not only for enterprises

Sure, if you're a tech startup building an app that instantly identifies the many kinds of mushrooms on the Takanya trail, you likely don't need biometric authorisation. However, you'll still need a certain level of security to ensure:

• That you don't compromise the personal information of those who use your app daily.

• That the information your app provides remains credible and factual so that you don't misguide your customers in the heart of one of the world's most unforgiving wilderness.

Regardless of your organisation's size or your audience's security savvy, you can set up some simple access controls to protect your data.

Single Sign On

Give your employees a single login credential that they can use to access all your business systems at once. This minimises the number of passwords they need to remember and they're less likely to note it down somewhere that unauthorised persons can easily access. Depending on the technology and apps you use in your everyday business, you'll have a variety of SSO options.

For example, if you choose a complete software suite like Zoho One, because all your CRM, accounting, marketing, inventory, and data management apps are from the same developer, you'll automatically have SSO enabled in your Zoho account. This means every employee will only need to remember one password. However, if you're using a number of different vendors for your operations, you can choose a dedicated SSO software that integrates will all your other apps so you can have a single log in.

Multi Factor Authentication

Hopefully, you have this enabled already, at least in a few of your systems if not all. This type of authentication requires a user to confirm their identity by using a verification process, along with their password. Your additional verification could be an email, voice, or text OTP, a face or fingerprint ID, security questions, or an authorisation from an external device or app.

The Australian Government does this with your myGov account—every time you want to log in, after you enter your username and password, you also have to enter the numeric passcode generated in the MyCodeGenerator app or the code sent to your phone. Many businesses use two authentication systems, such as a password and a one-time password, making it a two-factor authentication.

Online password managers

Most of us save our passwords in our browsers or cloud accounts. It's instant, convenient, and is always there, no matter which device you're logging in from. It's the perfect little manager for personal use. However, when it comes to storing passwords of business systems, you're better off with a dedicated tool that's designed to manage your passwords against most known threats. For example, Zoho Vault is our own password manager that lets you store all your business account details, share them with others in your organisation securely, and organise everything in a way that makes sense to you. You'll have a master password that unlocks your vault and everything else you need will be in there. When you use a dedicated password manager, your vendor takes some responsibility in ensuring your passwords aren't lost, reducing your burden.

Account management

Your business data is only as safe as you keep it. It helps to have a separate tool that can serve as your directory to manage all roles and access permissions across your organisation. There are many account management tools out there you can choose from, some of which are more suited for enterprises while some are better for smaller businesses. Either way, investing in an account management system can save you a lot of time and hassle in the long run. You don't want to hear an angry customer complain that one of your suppliers had gained access to their contact information and was now spamming them with promotions.

Final thoughts

Data security should be at the heart of your business, regardless of your industry. When you take the necessary measures to protect your customers' data, you send them a critical message. You're telling them that you take their partnership seriously and will do everything in your power to honour their trust. It may seem like you're doing all this to comply with legal requirements, but beyond that, your stance on data security will also elevate your credibility amongst your audience. The more transparent you are about your commitment, the more loyal customers you'll find.

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