Magazine article CRM Magazine

Averting Customer Data Loss

Magazine article CRM Magazine

Averting Customer Data Loss

Article excerpt

Do you have any idea what your customer data is worth? Have you ever considered what would happen if you lost it all?

Data, according to Wayne Eckerson, director of research at The Data Warehousing Institute, is like the blood pumping through any company's body: "You've got to keep it flowing, you can't let it bleed, and you can't let it get infected." Unfortunately, he says, "companies only ever learn this the hard way."

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Some companies have learned harder than others. Data specialist Acxiom, for one, suffered a significant black eye when a pair of data thefts from its servers drew the attention of federal authorities. According to court documents, hackers stole information on millions of individuals, resulting in losses of about $8.5 million.

No one soon forgets a seven-digit lesson. When the story broke, Acxiom stated that it was taking steps to reinforce security, offering a kind of road map other companies might want to follow--or insist that their vendors use.

According to Alan Canton, president of software provider Adams-Blake, the problem isn't a lack of technology. "We've got encryption up the wazoo: We've got challenge/response. We've got sniffers, and black-lists, and tracers, and whatever the tool of the day is." Today there is a need for security on multiple levels--database, network, application, and even user.

Eckerson says the first step is to understand the value of data to your company. "You have to treat it like an asset just like any other," he says. "Two percent of our assets are in cash, and 98 percent of them are in data," a bank executive once told him. "We ought to protect that as much as we protect the cash."

Violations, more often than not, are the acts of a company's own employees--or, as in Acxiom's case, a business partner. Eckerson says that as a result, "internal controls have to be just as tight as or tighter than external controls."

Mother Nature is a very different kind of external threat. The U.S. Small Business Administration predicts that every state will suffer a national disaster in the next two years, yet disaster recovery "hasn't really been a hot-button item with data warehousing people," Eckerson says.

Keith Powell, senior manager in the retail solutions unit of consultancy BearingPoint, says that securing data from theft can also provide protection for disaster recovery. "Doing a number of things on the security side also help protect you on the disaster side. In a security sense I'm going to keep all my data on a network instead of different servers, but . …

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