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By Cindy Waxer
Whether it’s an malevolent agent, a poorly protected VoIP connection or a highly vulnerable collaboration application, there are countless factors that can threaten the security of a call center. Just ask Michael DeSalles. A strategic analyst with Frost & Sullivan, DeSalles said that it’s not enough to simply have a security-minded IT department in place. Rather, he warned, companies must provide security at the network, application and desktop levels to ensure the protection of its highly sensitive customer data. Here are some steps you can take to safeguard your call center from today’s security threats.
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1. Know the risks. Protecting your call center from threats may “look easy at the outset,” said DeSalles, but “this is not your regular do-it-yourself project.” Rather, DeSalles said that companies must ascertain the budgetary demands, compliance issues, risk-management programs and data requirements involved in securing a call center’s internal and external communication channels before opening its doors. What’s more, a disaster-recovery plan will be needed in the event of a serious breach, such as a DoS (denial of service) attack, to ensure business continuity.
2. Know compliance issues. From PCI (Payment Card Industry) to HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996), there’s no shortage of certifications and regulatory-compliance issues governing today’s call-center transactions. PCI compliance is particularly important, as it carries penalties. Without it, a company may not be able to process credit cards. For this reason, it’s critical that organizations do their homework, investigating industry regulations and how to best ensure ongoing compliance.
3. Secure executive support. Ensuring a safe and secure call center takes more than technology: It also demands money. That's why companies must make certain that senior-level management is on board when it comes to identifying — and purchasing — the right tools. But that’s not all. If a company has a clean-desk policy requiring employees to lock up their drawers and toss out paper notes, managers must also be willing to commit. Said DeSalles, “You have to set up rules and enforce them. And the rules that apply for the agents are the rules that apply for the managers. So if you have a manager who’s not enforcing a clean-desk policy, you fire them. A policy has to have teeth at that level.”
4. Audit home agents. If you employ home agents in a virtual call center, make sure that they’re out of sight but not out of mind. When hiring, conduct thorough background, criminal and financial checks of potential home agents. And make sure that candidates are willing to sign legal documents absolving the company from any liability in the event of criminal wrongdoing. From a technological standpoint, companies should also introduce desktop applications that disallow users from loading unapproved applications. That way, said DeSalles, “You’ll never have the issue of agents trying to download iTunes while they’re handling a customer call.”
5. Consider outsourcing. If taking the necessary steps to secure your call center seems overwhelming, consider outsourcing your customer-support capabilities altogether. “In the end, my research tells me it’s easier to outsource,” said DeSalles. Certainly, handing over this function to a third-party provider can give rise to control — and budgetary — concerns. But immediate access to qualified agents, low attrition rates and built-in security measures are often worth the added cost. “You factor all these considerations together, and outsourcing becomes a very economically viable model,” DeSalles said.
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