Data storage and movement, especially in the age of the Internet of Things, is an intrinsic part of efficient warehousing and distribution. Properly compiled, updated and leveraged, data points such as items-on-hand, overall stock volume and sales trends can help your warehouse team meet challenges head-on, with little to no downtime needed to fully assess operational needs. Fed into your system through a combination of warehouse technology connections and periodic updates through inventory checks, it's a true treasure trove of actionable insights within your company. Unfortunately, like most treasure troves, it has a tendency to attract worrisome interest from outsiders as well.
The key to using data responsibly is to maximize access for the right individuals while minimizing risk from the wrong ones. Here are a few guidelines to help you build your secure warehousing data plan:
Consider Who Actually Needs the Data
When setting up a network or user identities, don't let impatience riddle your first line of digital defense with holes. While it may be tempting to allow blanket access to your network in the name of expediency during setup, doing so is an implicit agreement that you trust every individual with the proverbial keys to the kingdom. A recent article from Black Stratus cautioned that more than half of all data security breaches in the workplace don't come from hackers or malicious outsiders, they actually come from employees of a company. Assigning unfettered access to your entire team is the type of carte blanche that leads to these unfortunate situations, so take the time to consider if your greenlit employees actually need such unrestricted access to data. It's possible that some periodic users can be relegated to "piggyback" status — only accessing the data when it's needed and under the direct supervision of an approved user to prevent uploads of harmful programs and downloads or copies of sensitive data.
This caution should extend to your hiring practices, as well. If you aren't already in the habit of putting potential hires through a background check, there's never been a better time to start. Red flags such as past digital theft accusations or severe debt concerns can signal that these individuals shouldn't be given unsupervised access to your databases, and may even take them out of the running for a position altogether. By carefully controlling the actions of your current team and selectively adding to it after verifying and filtering new hires, you can all but eliminate the risk of data being compromised within your company.
Create a Best Practices Rulebook
Shutting down a terminal at the end of a workday, logging out of equipment before bathroom or meal breaks, never lending out login credentials: these are common sense techniques that every employee understands — or are they?
Without the explicit guidelines from a company or manager, it's only too easy for an employee to justify that they'll "only be a minute" or that certain security procedures are "overkill" and thus unnecessary. As a member — or even the leader — of a warehouse management team, it's up to you to lay down ground rules and consequences for your employees. AJ Agrawal highlights the importance of a data security training plan for your employees, noting that education on "traps" like spoofing or phishing may be especially important for members of your team who aren't particularly digital-savvy. Getting your employees to sign off on a plan or training classes compels them to shoulder responsibility, and makes them more likely to stop breaches before they happen.
If your company uses outside contractors for services such as cleaning or inventory, carefully review the contract to ensure it contains security clauses, and don't be afraid to negotiate a few of your own. This is a particularly important step for IT professionals, who often have to access data in order to repair certain systems. By establishing boundaries and expectations for your warehouse technology in writing, you're warning would-be thieves that you're both forewarned and forearmed. Remember: you will also need this protection to pursue legal remedies if a breach does happen.
Build Strong Digital Walls
Keeping cyber-intruders out is a matter of teamwork between your inter-company practices and the structure of the technology you're using. If you're building a proprietary e-commerce or warehouse management system, make sure you're using a reliable technology company that won't hesitate to back up their work. If you're using an existing platform or program, use their recommended settings and partnerships whenever possible, advises Jennifer Lonoff Schiff of CIO. This may include, for example, teaming up with a hosting provider that offers encryption, or partnering with the payment provider suggested by your platform rather than a second choice that might not connect seamlessly. Also, keep an ear to the ground in your industry to watch for performance issues or possible weak points in security measures; the data breach failings of a rival company can be an important lesson to apply to your own warehousing and distribution systems.
Implementing certain security features can also give you a valuable head start on fixing exploitable gaps in your protections: TechTarget's Brad Casey touts the usefulness of tools such as intrusion detection systems, for example, to root out intruders before they have a chance to do major harm to a company. These passive guard dog-style programs will hopefully never see use, but provide substantial peace-of-mind nonetheless. Many companies consider their data systems to be a fortress. They pour effort and resources into shoring up the walls, but have little defense waiting inside if those walls are breached. Using passive tools helps companies erect a second, invisible wall that hackers or other compromising influences seldom plan for.
Be Willing to Evolve
Even the most expensive, state-of-the-art data security systems and plans are only as effective as the threats they're facing, and threats evolve and grow more complex every day. Your approach to data security must evolve to stay in front of these threats.
Stay informed and invest in education and networking for your employees, preferably annually, and encourage suggestions with an open door policy. Your team is on the front lines of interaction with the digital world, and they're more likely to spot unusual patterns or issues from their position in the company. Where sophisticated systems meet human instinct, you'll find a partnership you can't afford to be without if your company intends to move forward. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your data isn't attractive to someone looking to exploit it, either for your loss or their gain. No one wants to imagine their fortress is anything but impenetrable, but that style of arrogance has cost companies as large as eBay and Target a great deal of money and consumer confidence in the last few years alone: this is one case where it won't pay to follow in the footsteps of e-commerce industry leaders.
Make no mistake: your warehousing and distribution data is at risk from cybercriminals — but with the right practices in place, it could be a matter of swatting a few annoying mosquitos, rather than going toe-to-toe with a hornet's nest of hackers, data breaches and employee compromised systems when you least expect it and find yourself without resources to spare.