How to protect your digital footprint

For start-ups, cyber security is often not prioritised but discover why it’s so important to protect your digital assets from day one…

It was not that long ago that start-ups were concerned with their carbon footprint.

Nowadays it is their digital footprint which is of greater concern, or certainly which needs to be.

Whilst digital has given us speed of access and communication, it also means we are generating vast amounts of data with often little regard to how we manage and protect this material, let alone how we ensure continued, appropriate access.

In the UK alone, the value of individuals’ digital assets has been estimated at £25bn!

What is a digital asset?

A digital asset is defined as any property that can be found in digital form. Young start-up companies with unprotected digital assets are particularly at risk in the early stages of development. The focus generally will be on growing the business and shifting from one exciting stage to the next. As they grow their digital assets – images and videos, databases, IP and other unstructured content – little thought is given to the actual succession planning of the digital assets the fledgling company is generating.

What are the risks of not protecting your digital footprint?

Yet should something happen to incapacitate the founder who, generally speaking, is the one who has generated much of the content, created the passwords, databases, social media sites etc., the rest of the organisation may find they grind to a halt. From a business perspective, the sudden loss of access to digital information goes beyond financial loss: it can also create an intangible loss of goodwill with customers and suppliers.

What steps can be taken to protect your digital assets?

Different businesses will have their own unique digital footprints and assets – from customer data and crucial passwords to patents, presentations, white papers and financial spreadsheets – so there is no one formula that fits all requirements. However, taking an inventory of all digital assets and outlining any issues relating to ownership and licensing, is the first step towards managing the issue at hand. This involves everything from where the assets are located, how they are accessed, who can access them and who can inherit them.

The next step would be to ensure that all this information is contained in one place (a little bit like a Will) and to create a chain of trusted verifiers – people who are nominated by the owner of the digital assets to legally speak on his or her behalf in the event that the owner dies or becomes permanently incapacitated.

The need to ensure from the start that all digital assets are created in a manner which enables ease of access by a number of reliable team members, is all about sound management planning and is something which is much easier to put in place in the early stages of growth. The system should also regularly review all new digital asset generation and ensure its protection as well as its access channels.

What is the importance of digital data?

Currently not enough thought is being given to what an individual’s digital data really represents to their company. If the team works in silos and on personal devices, meshing all of these touchpoints to create a cohesive system can prove challenging. Yet a storage system is not difficult to set up.

Regardless of whether the digital assets can be measured as a tangible value or as a consequence of loss, the fact of the matter is that digital property is multi-faceted and needs to be stored and managed as carefully as traditional assets.

For many start-ups the existence and ownership of digital assets will be clear. However, with the increasing use of social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and others, complex issues arise as to who actually owns and who can access and use material uploaded to those sites. Whilst social media accounts are not transferable, they do have a value.

Furthermore, even though ownership of the digital material may not be an issue, accessing it in the event the owner dies can certainly be problematic. It is incumbent, therefore, that creators of digital material take steps to ensure that their assets are left to the appropriate beneficiaries and actively managed and protected to generate the maximum income for future generations.

Anand Ramdeo is a director and co-founder of Planned Departure. Anand is an expert in the field of software testing, consulting widely with organisations such as IBM Rational, Amazon, BBC, Channel-4, BSkyB and Camelot.

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