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ICO issues top five areas for improvement for SMBs

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Small and medium-sized businesses should train staff in data protection, use encryption on portable devices and only keep people's information for as long as necessary.

According to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) within the top five areas for improvement for small and medium-sized organisations, staff training and communication with customers on their details are the most important areas.

Its top five areas are as follows:

  • Tell people what you are doing with their data. People should know what you are doing with their information and who it will be shared with. This is a legal requirement (as well as established best practice) so it is important you are open and honest with people about how their data will be used.
  • Make sure your staff are adequately trained. New employees must receive data protection training to explain how they should store and handle personal information. Refresher training should be provided at regular intervals for existing staff.
  • Use strong passwords. There is no point protecting the personal information you hold with a password if that password is easy to guess. All passwords should contain upper and lower case letters, a number and ideally a symbol. This will help to keep your information secure from would-be thieves.
  • Encrypt all portable devices. Make sure all portable devices – such as memory sticks and laptops – used to store personal information are encrypted.
  • Only keep people's information for as long as necessary. Make sure your organisation has established retention periods in place and set up a process for deleting personal information once it is no longer required.  

The ICO has also recommended charities and third sector organisations do a data protection ‘check-up', as they often handle sensitive information such as individuals' medical details and are potentially more susceptible to encountering a serious data breach.

Louise Byers, head of good practice at the ICO, said: “We are aware that charities are often handling extremely sensitive information relating to the health and wellbeing of vulnerable people. With these organisations often lacking the money to employ dedicated information governance staff, there's a danger that many charities may be struggling to look after people's data.

“A one-day advisory visit from the ICO provides charities with a data protection ‘check-up' and practical advice on how they can look after people's information.  We are now calling on these organisations to use the summer period to check that their data protection practices are adequate and get in touch before it is too late.”

Sam Younger, chief executive of the Charity Commission, said: “Trustees are responsible for ensuring their charity complies with relevant legislation – including the Data Protection Act – and for protecting their charity's reputation. Mishandling sensitive data not only causes individuals serious distress, it can also damage the good name of your charity. So I encourage trustees of charities that handle sensitive data to take note of the ICO's guidance and consider taking part in an ICO advisory visit.”

An ICO advisory visit is offered free of charge to give small and medium-sized organisations the opportunity to discuss and receive practical advice from the ICO aimed at improving their data protection practices.

It said that the visits last one day and each organisation is provided with a short report summarising the ICO's findings and providing practical advice on how they can improve. These can be organised by sending an email to advisory@ico.gsi.gov.uk, with more information available here.

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