October 31, 2023

Top 8 Security Factors to Look For in Your Philanthropic Giving Partner

In today's digital world, philanthropic giving has seen a tremendous shift towards online platforms, making it easier and more accessible for donors to contribute to their chosen causes. However, recent data breaches in the philanthropic giving space have underscored the importance of partnering with a secure and trustworthy platform. These breaches have resulted in millions of dollars in losses and exposed the vulnerability of platforms that don't have robust security factors in place.

Partnering with a provider that doesn't have these security factors in place can undermine your entire giving program. You can't afford to partner with a platform that doesn't prioritize security. In this blog post, we will explore the top security factors you should look for in your philanthropic giving partner to ensure your giving program remains safe and effective.

1. Mandatory Security Training for all Employees

Security breaches often hinge on human error, as is seen in incidents like the recent ransomware attacks. Incidents like these are a good reminder of why the human element in security should not be underestimated. 

The most proactive way to prevent incidents like this is to ensure that the partner platform you use for your philanthropic giving program provides mandatory security training for all their employees. 

This training should cover key topics such as:

  • Ransomware Attacks
  • Phishing
  • Social Engineering
  • Compliance with Privacy Regulations

Cybersecurity training for employees should be an ongoing requirement, not just a one-time event for new employees. Many organizations will do the bare minimum to be technically compliant with security protocols like SOC 2. However, these organizations don't implement ongoing training, which is necessary to guard effectively against cyberattacks. 

Additionally, many security frameworks like SOC 2 don't even require that the organization outline a security training schedule or policy — it's just a checkbox confirming you do training in some form or fashion. Effectively, an organization could be SOC 2 compliant and still wildly unprepared for a cyberattack. SOC 2 compliance is great (more on that later), but when it comes to employee security training, ask a prospective partner for records of an ongoing training schedule. 

2. Role-based Access Controls

Unnecessary exposure of applicant data should be avoided at all costs — and that includes internal and external exposure. Open data access exposes you and your applicants to data breaches and internal threats. Your chosen platform should operate on a strict need-to-know basis to limit the exposure of customer data. Data should only be accessible to employees who require it to perform their roles. 

Prevent Data breaches

Every employee with access to customer data represents a potential entry point for cyber attackers. If a non-essential employee's account is compromised, it could provide unauthorized individuals access to sensitive information, leading to a data breach. Role-based access controls help minimize the number of individuals who can access customer data, reducing the attack surface and protecting against potential breaches.

Reduce Insider threats

Employees with access to customer data may misuse the information for personal gain or malicious purposes. This access could include selling customer data to third parties, conducting unauthorized marketing campaigns, or engaging in identity theft. 

According to a recent study by cyber-security insiders, 74% of organizations reported an increase in insider cybersecurity attacks. By implementing strict need-to-know access controls, organizations can limit the number of employees who can potentially misuse or abuse customer data, mitigating the risk of insider threats.

Pro-Tip: In addition to role-based data access, confirm your vendor operates under a zero-trust policy that requires authentication for every access request.

3. Comprehensive Data Encryption

Your philanthropic giving platform should implement data encryption mechanisms to protect sensitive data. Encryption ensures your data remains secure, whether in transit or stored on the platform.

Data in Transit

Encrypting data while it's in transit protects your data on its way between the user and the platform's storage device at a data center. If an applicant uses an unsecured network at a coffee shop when they use the software to apply for aid, the platform should encrypt the data they enter before sending it to the server at a data center. Once the data is encrypted, it prevents a cyber attacker on the same coffee shop network from accessing that data as it's sent.

To check if your data is secure while in transit to the program's servers, look at the platform URL. If the URL starts with "https," it is secure. If the "s" is missing (a.k.a., the URL leads only with "http"), your data is not secure.

Data at Rest

Encryption of data at rest encompasses everything from hardware and firmware protection to secure erasing technology. Because the encryption has to happen at several levels to be secure in this state, you'll need to work with your vendor to confirm.

A couple of ways you can confirm your vendor has secure data storage are: 

  1. Ask for their SOC 2 report (which will indicate if they have secure data storage).
  2. Confirm they use a well-known cloud storage provider like AWS that has established SOC 2 compliance.

4. Best-in-class Authentication Integration

Many vendors will claim robust authentication on their platform, which may be true — until it isn't. The issue is when a vendor has native authentication protocols built into their platform (and therefore doesn't offer integrations). You're completely dependent on their security and development team to not only stay abreast of industry standards but also implement them in a timely way. 

The reality is many vendors will prioritize other, more splashy, interface developments over constantly evolving authentication protocols because security is not a primary focus of their business.

What you want is a partner platform that leaves authentication to the experts, to the folks whose bread and butter it is to develop the best-in-class authentication interfaces. What you want is a partner platform that has a BYOA (Bring Your Own Authentication) policy. A vendor that prioritizes industry-standardized integrations with your choice of authentication tool ensures you're getting the best industry-leading authentication protocols — future-proofed against changes in the security landscape.

Let the security experts be the security experts and prioritize choosing a philanthropic giving platform based on its compatibility with Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) integrations. A platform that seamlessly integrates with any authentication tool will inherit the security of whichever authentication tool you choose.

 5. Subprocessor Vetting

When selecting a philanthropic giving partner, it's crucial to not only assess the security measures implemented by the primary SaaS provider but also evaluate the security standards and practices of the subprocessors they rely on. 

Many SaaS providers use subprocessors for various tasks, so it's best practice to require your partner platform to prove that their subprocessors have security standards that are as high as yours. The security of your data extends beyond just the SaaS provider's systems. Any vulnerabilities or breaches at the subprocessor level can have a direct impact on the security and integrity of your data. For example, if your partner uses database storage on AWS or file storage on DropBox, you want to ensure your data remains secure.

When requesting proof of security standards from subprocessors, you can ask for documentation such as security certifications, audit reports, or compliance with industry standards and regulations. These documents prove that the subprocessors have undergone rigorous assessments and adhere to best practices in data security.

6. Robust Dev-Ops 

Robust dev-op practices are foundational to a secure platform by integrating security measures into the very DNA of a platform.

A secure platform starts with a Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC) procedure that ensures security is not an afterthought but an inherent part of the development process from inception to deployment. This alignment promotes a proactive approach to security, addressing vulnerabilities at their roots.

The development policy and procedures must be meticulously structured to incorporate a "baked-in" security design and thorough testing well before a product goes live. These proactive measures ensure that security considerations are not only considered but prioritized, thus significantly reducing the chances of post-production security breaches. 

A combination of automated and manual security testing plays a pivotal role in preemptively identifying vulnerabilities within the product. By automating routine tests and supplementing them with human expertise, dev op teams can uncover and mitigate security flaws before they become exploitable threats, fortifying the product's overall security posture. 

One key piece of automated security within SDLC is programmatic provisioning, a text-based roadmap for building a product, which is then deployed with automation to eliminate the potential for manual errors. The removal of the human factor in provisioning processes not only ensures consistency but also expedites the development cycle. In cybersecurity, this translates to quick and reliable responses to vulnerabilities, as automated systems can swiftly identify and patch security gaps, thus minimizing exposure to potential threats. 

Programmatic provisioning also simplifies updating defenses against emerging malware, as automated systems can be programmed to monitor continuously for new threats and deploy countermeasures promptly. This automation not only streamlines the SDLC but significantly reduces the risk in the dev ops phase of product development, fortifying the overall cybersecurity posture.

When the development process includes proactively safeguarding systems and data from potential threats and breaches, the end product is inherently more secure.

7. Incident Response Plan

Even the most secure organizations will face cybersecurity threats. How organizations prepare and respond to these threats is the key to confidence in partnering with them. Look for organizations with a well-defined incident response plan that enables timely and effective action against security threats.

Ideally, partner platforms should conduct a simulated run-through of their incident response plan at least once a year to ensure preparedness. The plan should detail data breach notification systems and backup and recovery processes to address worst-case scenarios.

The best way to check if the partner platform you're considering has this in place is to ask for their SOC 2 certification. SOC 2 requires an organization-wide incident response plan for maintaining business continuity and providing disaster recovery. If the platform is SOC 2 compliant, you can confidently assume they have a robust plan in place to protect your data in the event of a breach.

8. Third-party Auditing and Testing

Security is constantly evolving. It's impossible to identify all potential vulnerabilities in-house, which is why it's critical your platform provider regularly brings in third-party security specialists to conduct audits and testing, in addition to holding industry-standard security certifications such as SOC 2.

These third-party security specialists can uncover security gaps that an internal team might not even be aware of. Internal vulnerability testing, while good, is not enough. An external penetration test (a.k.a. Pen Test) is more in-depth than an internal team likely has time for and is also conducted by a team of experts trained in finding common security blind spots.

WizeHive: Your Partner in Secure Philanthropic Giving

WizeHive is a leader in secure philanthropic giving. We prioritize data security and continually strive to meet the highest standards. Book a demo today to explore our platform and show you what to expect from your trusted partner in giving. Your giving program deserves the best protection.

Topic(s): Zengine

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