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How to make your customer portal more secure

How to make your customer portal more secure
Photo by Ivan Samkov: pexels

Today, organizations require advanced digital technology to handle increasingly complex customer relationships. A customer portal, providing integrated support, self-service, and other essential features, is one of the best examples of such a technology.

However, even an effective portal may be easily compromised if it turns out that its owner cannot guarantee data security. According to the 2022 Cyber Threat Report by SonicWall, there were 623.3 million cyber-attacks in 2021, and that number was rising. Therefore, in 2023, ensuring customer portal security may be more critical than ever.

When Itransition experts build a customer portal, they implement multiple measures to avoid malware, SQL injections, and additional types of threats. This article shares our professional recommendations to help other organizations build secure customer portals.

1. Considering security before building a portal

The surest way to ensure customer portal security is to think about it in advance. After all, security is highly determined by the software architecture, technologies, development model, and other decisions made long before the portal launch.

For example, if an organization considers security a top priority, developers can use Secure Software Development Framework (SSDF) for portal development. This framework, approved by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, helps organizations reduce the number of vulnerabilities in their software, thus mitigating multiple risks in advance.

So, when initiating a project and considering the solution’s security, we recommend that decision-makers closely coordinate with corporate IT specialists. Here are some of the questions that may be worth joint discussion from the security perspective:

  • Can we develop a secure customer portal from scratch? Or should we choose a platform-based development?
  • Which CMS should we choose for our customer portal? Why?
  • Does our organization have experience in developing web-based software? Can we apply this experience to our customer portal?
  • What testing methodologies and tools should we use throughout the development? How often should we run the tests?
  • What KPIs should we track to evaluate the portal’s security?
  • Can we build a secure customer portal on our own? Do we need to engage third-party web developers?
  • How can we maintain a high level of security in the long term? Should we resort to managed IT security services?

If corporate IT specialists have enough skills and competency, they can use the obtained information when formulating a cyber security strategy. However, in an ideal scenario, we also recommend consulting with cybersecurity experts before implementing this strategy.

2. Utilizing the best web security practices

Although each business case is unique, we recommend paying attention to the general security measures that have already proven their effectiveness in other web-based projects. Here are some concepts that companies can use when developing a customer portal.

Role-based access control (RBAC)

According to the Internet Crime Report by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in 2021, there were more than 51,000 identity theft crimes. Additionally, the FBI reported that identity theft was among the five most common cyber threats to individuals and businesses.

In some situations, hackers use malware or spyware to infect an organization’s device and thus get access to employee account credentials. In other cases, malefactors use social engineering techniques to manipulate employees and make them share some sensitive data.

A web portal stores sensitive information, including corporate and customer data, so it may be considered a target for such attacks. There are several ways to avoid identity theft, and implementing RBAC into a customer portal is one of the best.

In short, RBAC allows organizations to customize and limit data access based on the role of a specific portal user, be it a customer, partner, or administrator. Depending on its security requirements, an organization can assign different permissions to each of these roles.

For instance, an organization can rely on the principle of least privilege (POLP) to grant all users the minimum necessary access they require for interacting with a portal. Therefore, an organization can reduce the attack surface and preserve the most critical data even if hackers successfully infiltrate one or two accounts.

Data encryption

While data encryption is a well-known concept, only 62% of organizations have implemented some encryption strategy, according to the 2022 Global Encryption Trends Study by Entrust. Still, encryption remains one of the best ways to make data inaccessible and hidden from hackers.

As an option, organizations might consider connecting a customer portal to a corporate hardware security module (HSM). Devices protected from unauthorized access and physical opening help generate and manage cryptographic keys throughout their entire life cycle. 

Data backup

A successful cyber attack on a customer portal may result in data loss, leading to downtime and workflow disruption, not to mention reputational expenses. Therefore, organizations should back up the data stored and processed by the customer portal to prevent such issues.

From the very beginning, decision-makers should determine what data types should be backed up first (for example, customer transactions). Then, developers may set up an automatic backup mechanism and specify its frequency. Also, developers should perform backup and recovery tests to ensure they can restore the data in case of a breach.

Continuous security monitoring (CSM)

Using the CSM concept, developers can automate the security monitoring of a customer portal. Digital technology for continuous security monitoring may detect cyber threats, suspicious traffic, and errors in security settings even in real time.

Typically, CSM solutions use artificial intelligence, so they are highly effective in identifying and preventing cyber threats. According to IBM’s report Cost of a Data Breach 2022, organizations that use AI and automation can identify and eliminate a breach 28 days faster than those that don’t, saving $3.05m in costs.

3. Consulting with cyber security experts

In addition, we recommend involving cybersecurity experts at all stages of customer portal development. In particular, experts can document the security roadmap and integrate it into the general development plan. Alternatively, they can audit an existing portal to assess its strengths and weaknesses from the security perspective and suggest improvements.

Final thoughts

With the right digital technology, managing customer relationships may be less complex and more effective, and this is where customer portals come in handy. B2C portals connect organizations and their customers while providing essential features such as self-service and integrated customer support.

However, a customer portal can be secure only if its owners guarantee the safety of corporate and client data. Considering cyber security early on, implementing practices like RBAC or CSM, and consulting with cyber security experts are just some ways to build a more robust and secure customer portal.

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