How to Improve Payment Security on Your Site
Whether you’re running a full-fledged eCommerce store or you’re simply selling a few pieces of premium content, you’ll need some way to collect payments from customers. That also means you need to keep their payment data safe—and improve the security of your website overall.
Website security is not something to take lightly. If your customers’ data are compromised, you may never be able to fully recover; not only will it be tremendously expensive to recover and make up for the compromised data, your brand reputation will suffer. Fortunately, there are a handful of strategies that can improve your payment security—and none of them are expensive to implement.
Choose the Right Payment Processing Provider
First, understand that there are many payment processors to choose from. Most of the household names, like PayPal, Authorize.net, and Stripe, have a good reputation for a reason; they’ve had a history of processing payments securely, with few (if any) security issues. They also update their connections regularly, and may have built-in security features, like alerts of suspicious activity. Make sure you investigate the reputation and history of your payment processor in addition to inquiring about basic features and pricing.
Don’t Gather Data Unless You Have To
You might be able to save your customers’ credit card numbers on the backend of your site, but every piece of personal data you store is another vulnerability. Chances are, there’s another solution. In some cases, you can simply avoid gathering the piece of data in question; for example, you might avoid collecting social security numbers (SSNs) altogether. In others, you can simply allow a third-party payment specialist to capture and store consumer data. That way, you won’t be directly responsible for storing and protecting that information.
Mandate Two-Factor Authentication
Two-factor authentication is a simple security measure that can make each of your customers’ accounts safer. Ordinarily, entrepreneurs are encouraged to make the checkout process as fast and easy as possible, reducing the number of clicks necessary and the number of steps between a customer and their payment. With two-factor authentication, you’ll require customers to provide not only a personal password, but also a unique code sent to their mobile phone, email address, or other contact option. This can slow down the checkout process, but it sharply increases the security of the transaction. It’s worth upgrading.
Require Strong Passwords (and Force Changes)
Even if you’re using the most secure payment processor available, if your customer’s account is compromised due to a guessed or stolen password, their account could still be the subject of fraud. Accordingly, you can prevent issues by requiring stronger passwords. The general approach is to require customers to use a mix of different characters, including lowercase letters, uppercase letters, numbers, and special symbols. In addition, the password should be a minimum length—and the longer it is, the more secure it is. As one last measure, force your customers to change their passwords on a regular basis (like once or twice a year).
Get an SSL Certificate
A Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate is a document that verifies your ownership of a security technology that allows for encrypted communication between web browsers and web servers. Once enabled, your SSL encryption will allow your site to display with “HTTPS” instead of “HTTP.”
There are two reasons why this is important. First, it will authenticate the identity of your website; if customers visit a website that looks and functions like yours (but is being fraudulently hosted by a cybercriminal), they won’t be fooled into handing over their login credentials. Second, it encrypts any and all data being transferred between parties, protecting it from being intercepted.
Actively Monitor Your Site for Suspicious Activity
It’s also a good idea to monitor your site for suspicious activity, like fraudulent accounts or bots. Depending on your website server and what plugins you’re using, you may have access to a built-in option for this. You’ll also want to actively monitor activity through your payment processing provider.
Educate Customers About Possible Scams
Even with all these security standards in place, it’s possible for your customers to fall for scams that render them vulnerable. If you want to go the extra mile, you can work to educate them about these scams. For example, you can warn them about suspicious emails or sites masquerading as authoritative sites, or you can caution them never to provide their password to anyone, even if they seem like a staff member.
Online security is one of the best investments you can make as an online retailer or website that collects payments from customers. It may take some time and effort to establish a secure foundation, but it’s far better than waiting until an incident has already occurred.