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January 21, 2020

How to Improve Security in Your Communication Apps

X Ways to Boost Security in Your Communication Software

Most companies rely on a number of different communication apps to store and exchange data, from project management platforms to voice apps and instant message software. It’s easy to assume that all these channels are safe, especially when you use them on a daily basis, but even a small vulnerability could lead to a massive disruption, compromising the integrity of your business’s operation.

Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to improve security across all your communication apps.

Choose the Right Providers

Your first job is choosing the right provider. Not all communication apps are created equal, and not all providers are going to prioritize your security. Some developers offer encrypted messaging options, and other features designed to keep your communication private. Others have open integrations, allowing you to easily use third-party services to increase your security and privacy further. Check out the reviews of whatever communications providers you use, and do your research to see if there’s ever been a security breach. You might be surprised at what you learn.

Check for Vulnerabilities Regularly

Any software or piece of hardware can have a security vulnerability, including your communication apps. This is especially true if they rely on open source elements, which aren’t inherently more vulnerable, but do add more complexity to the system. You can use resources like WhiteSource’s Vulnerability Lab to search for current vulnerabilities, learn about them, then patch them or prepare for them on your end. You can also stay tuned to the latest news in the tech industry; occasionally, you’ll see warnings to select groups of consumers or business owners, encouraging them to commit a specific update, change their password, or take other action to avoid being a victim of a breach.

Enable Optional Security Features

See what optional security features are available within each of your communication apps. You may find that there are optional services or functions that can improve your security in some way. For example, your email provider may have built-in security features that increase the privacy of a given message. In Gmail, it’s possible to set a message to self-destruct after a given period of time, so it can’t be read past a certain point. You can also enable two-factor authentication for certain messages, ensuring that only your intended recipient gets to read it.

Keep Your Apps Updated

One of the best things you can do to improve security is to keep all your communication apps (not to mention your operating systems) up-to-date. Software developers are constantly looking for new vulnerabilities that could be exploited, or new upgrades that could improve security further; when they find an opportunity for improvement, they write new code and issue an update. Only if you download and install this update will it be able to protect you. This is especially important upon discovery of a new potential threat.

Choose the Right Platforms

It’s also a good idea to use the right platforms for the right types of messages. For example, if you’re collecting personal information from someone (including their social security number and/or credit card information), it may be a good idea to switch to an encrypted email platform, rather than using your conventional email account. You may also prefer to exchange this information over the phone, especially if you don’t keep written transcriptions of phone calls.

Mandate Strong Passwords

One of the most common ways for hackers to gain access to a system is by guessing or brute-forcing a user password. There are dozens of painfully common passwords in heavy circulation, including “password” and “123456.” If you or your employees are using passwords like these, it’s only a matter of time before some unauthorized user finds their way in. Instead, mandate strong passwords for yourself and all your employees, for all accounts associated with the business. All passwords should contain a mix of different characters, including upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and special symbols; they should also be as long as possible.

Change Passwords Regularly

Even a long, complex password can be a vulnerability if it remains the same indefinitely. An easy way to counter this vulnerability is to encourage your employees to change their passwords on a regular basis, ideally a few times a year.

Keep Employees Aware (News - Alert) of Scams

It only takes one misplay by an employee to compromise the integrity of your entire communication system. Educate employees about common scams, including phishing schemes, and teach them how to avoid these deliberate attacks. It’s also important to educate them on the nature of social engineering, a tactic in which a cybercriminal masquerades as an authority (like an IT pro), which is often harder to spot than a strange email or suspicious website.

Use a VPN

If you’re especially concerned about the privacy or security of your business’s communications, it may be a good idea to invest in a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN allows your users to send and receive data across any kind of network as if it were a private network; oftentimes, you’ll also get the benefits of an encrypted connection. There are many varieties of VPN available to business users, so make sure you do your research before buying.

Delete Old Information

If you’re exchanging sensitive information, it may be better to delete it when it becomes obsolete; if it’s available in long-term storage, someone could eventually get ahold of it. If you delete it, it becomes practically unobtainable. This doesn’t mean you should delete everything older than a certain date, necessarily, but you and your employees should exercise judgment on a case-by-case basis; for example, messages containing personal information like social security numbers should be deleted if no longer necessary.

It’s impossible for any system or organization to be 100 percent protected from cybercrime. However, even the most basic security measures can discourage opportunists who might otherwise initiate a data breach. Train your employees on best practices and keep your communication apps updated to maximize your communicative security. 

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