Trade secrets, business strategies, product designs, and even operational procedures are all aspects of the proprietary information that your business owns. Sometimes, the data itself can be even more valuable than products or services that you ultimately offer to your clientele.
If you are not protecting your proprietary information then you will be exposing your business to unnecessary risk, with the potential to significantly damage or even completely cripple your activities. If you want to protect not only your information, but the very future of your business, then you will need to know the fundamental steps of safeguarding your proprietary information.
Understand That Proprietary Information is a Critical Asset
Before you can even think about controlling and protecting your proprietary information, you will have to understand why it is so critical and important to the continued success of your business.
Regular audits can be used to identify your most critical information, including trade secrets, proprietary designs and software technology. Risk assessment can be performed to develop simulations of what would happen if proprietary data is leaked to a third party.
Performing Ongoing Employee and Control Access to Data
Employee vetting is an essential practice that prevents bad actors in the workplace. Ongoing assessments can also identify risk factors that could cause previously vetted employees to act in a way that is fraudulent or otherwise damaging to your business.
Vetting allows you to understand who works for you, but it won’t eliminate proprietary information leaks. Some cases of fraud and information theft never go reported, so even thorough background checks aren’t guaranteed to protect your proprietary information. Controlling data access on a need-to-know basis is one way to limit the risk of proprietary information theft.
Access to information will usually be controlled through HR and your information security team, and employees should regularly have their clearance assessed based on their role and projects that they are working on.
Limiting who has access to data will significantly reduce the chances of having data leaked through malicious intent or neglect.
Protect Data Through Binding Agreements
Nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) are essential for any business that deals in proprietary information. An NDA should outline specific data, processes, and miscellaneous information that is unable to be shared with third parties. NDAs can be used both internally and with external partners, including contractors and consultants.
When prepared properly, NDAs are legally binding. It is essential that you have your legal team (or consult with a practicing business attorney) review all NDAs to ensure that they are legally sound and able to be enforced.
Non-compete clauses can also be used to protect proprietary data, including high level concepts that could be reapplied to similar or dissimilar business models. These are especially important for development staff, managers, and executives. Like NDAs, non-compete clauses should be passed through your legal team to ensure that they are binding and able to withstand scrutiny in a court of law.
Develop the Right Information Security Protocols
In many ways, information technology has made business easier and more agile. The flip side is that increased digitization of data, including proprietary data, means that there are ever present risks of data theft from both inside and outside of an organization.
To protect proprietary information that is stored on computer systems, a strong security policy must be in place. Regular employee training can prevent negligent data leaks. A managed IT service can assist with developing policies and technologies that can keep your information secure.
Maintaining control of your proprietary information will be critical to the success of your business. Depending on the industry you are in, your data may be one of your most powerful assets. Combining standard business practices with modern IT security solutions will help keep your information where it belongs and out of the hands of competitors and other third parties.