stock-photo-16919804-video-concept-icon.jpgAccording to McAfee’s new threat prediction report for 2016, customer data collection is just getting started. As data capture and use becomes more ubiquitous, security threats are expected to rise.

Today, companies collect a relatively limited amount of information, including names, addresses, email addresses and phone numbers along with some purchasing histories. But, the depth and volume of this data is predicted to reach unprecedented levels in the coming months and years.

Thanks to the decreasing cost and increasing ease  of developing Internet of Things devices, connected wearables, mobile apps and web-centric products and services, an expansion of new business and data usage models is underway. These innovations collect and use customer data everywhere, 24/7, and the data collected involves highly detailed personal information including frequently visited locations and typical behavior patterns as well as weight, blood pressure, sleeping habits and exercise routines. The McAfee report says, “This combined information represents the digital exhaust that will become a mainstay and unavoidable by-product of modern life.”

This digital exhaust is highly valuable to businesses. Understanding the behavior patterns and intent of customers is worth far more than only knowing a name and email address. It enables companies to personalize customer engagement and improve revenue by upselling, cross-selling, improving satisfaction and earning loyalty. It also enables customers to realize more value from their activities as companies tailor services around their information.

However, there is a down-side to the growing flow of personal data. It is also highly valuable to thieves. While some companies will use the data legimately to deliver better customer experiences and higher value, ubiquitous data collection will pave the way for a new breed of criminal.

Just as companies today seek to aggregate a unified view of the customer to enable seamless, personalized engagement, criminals will look to the growing breadth of data available to piece together a comprehensive picture of a victim. With information that goes beyond name and phone number to include data such as purchasing patterns, significant life events, medical records and health statistics among much more, thieves can aggregate a customer profile and select a victim aligned with their intentions to skirt detection.

For instance, a thief who wants to use a stolen credit card number to purchase a flat screen TV could find a victim with a regular pattern of purchasing electronics. By emulating the victim’s online behaviors, the criminal can bypass threat controls, and this is just one example. The possiblities for nefarious activity in relation to pervasive data collection are vast.

Thwarting these criminals who seek to tie together stray and easily accessible data will take an elevated commitment to data security from every company handling customer information. Protecting the rising volume and expanse of customer data will become an increasingly important part of not only improving the customer experience and retaining customer trust and loyalty, but of making it safe for everyone to benefit from digital engagement.

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