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In the online world, who's the safest of them all?

Massive cyber attacks against U.S. companies have become a major scourge. The theft of millions of customer passwords, credit card numbers and other customer data has become so worrisome that President Obama earlier this year issued an executive order to better protect businesses and key national assets.

Companies too are working hard to protect their customers from hackers. Today the Online Trust Alliance, a non-profit membership group dedicated to identifying best practices and policies for Internet security, released its annual Honor Roll in recognition of companies that excel at privacy, security and consumer protection. The list includes major retailers, technology companies (including Responsys) and financial institutions.

The importance of protecting customer data

“Nothing is more important for us and our customers than knowing that their data is secure,” says Kevin Senne, Senior Director of Global Deliverability Operations at Responsys, which has made the Honor Roll for two years running.  “Any time there is a major publicized security data breach of a company, customers want reassurance that their data is secure."

The challenge for companies is twofold: not only is it critical to prevent hackers from actually stealing company data, but it is also important for the public to know that customer information is safe. That's where organizations like the OTA come in. Recognition by the OTA reassures customers -- and, hopefully, regulators -- that a company's security is among the best. With OTA's stamp of approval, recipients like Responsys know that their "security standards are based on advanced tools and best practices," says Senne.

Earning OTA's stamp of approval

OTA recognition is no easy feat. There is an extensive application process and several audits, during which OTA takes into account privacy and data policies, Better Business Bureau ratings and any plans for informing customers when a breach occurs. OTA says only about one third of applicants make the list.

To ensure the security of its client data, Responsys prioritizes infrastructure security and advanced data protection and has a detailed plan to educate customers about the extent and status of a breach should one occur, according to Senne.

The issue of customer trust today isn't just about preventing cyber attacks. It's also about engaging customers on a personal level -- and you can't have that kind of intimacy without trust that companies will, for instance, respect customer profile preferences.

After all, without trust, customers will leave.

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