Top 5 Best Practices For Safe & Secure Client Portals

Double exposure of businessman hand points human resources, CRM and social media as conceptThe 5 Most Important Best Practices To Keep In Mind When You Create Your Own Client Portal

Client portal systems can radically change “business as usual” for your enterprise, regardless of your company’s size or industry. Client portals are electronic gateways to a shared, mutually-accessible digital space that allows your company and clients to share critical business data, sign contracts, make payments, view financial records, collaborate on projects, monitor workflows, and more. In all but replacing email communications, the two significant uses of client portals are:

  1. Communication
  2. Collaboration

Optimizing communications and collaborations/workflows via a secure, shared digital space can give your company the ability to work with business partners, associates, clients, and shareholders in a more feasible and optimized manner. For client portals to be genuinely useful, the critical files, documents, records, information, and data that are shared within the client space must be kept secure. User privileges, authentication functions, encryption, and authorization mechanisms must be in place. Adopting IT security best practices will allow your company to minimize data leaks, data breaches, and hacking incidents, all of which can add up to millions of dollars in damages.

Developing your client portal solution has several advantages. Using managed apps/platforms or customizable cloud platform development solutions gives your company the ability to align the client portal to your company’s strategic plan.  This development project allows your business to consistently manage workflows and automate maintenance as your company’s needs change while helping your enterprise to scale accordingly with the evolution of the portal solution.

For such a portal solution to be realized, several security controls are needed, all of which must be aligned with three separate IT security protocols:

  • IT strategic security plan 
  • Risk Management framework
  • Thread Modeling system

A proprietary, custom client portal requires these  top five security controls/procedures to be adopted:

  • Secure Database
  • Encryption/Hashing
  • Access Control
  • Authentication
  • Authorization

Adopting the ISO-27001 standard and using a robust Risk Management Framework, along with implementing a powerful Firewall and 256-bit TLS, end-to-end encryption, are important ways for your company to stay ahead of the security curve.

Build A Robust Core With Security In Mind

Maintaining the security posture of your custom client portal begins with minimizing all security holes in your company’s portal solution, along with deploying robust, enterprise-level security controls, and hardening all pertinent systems against malicious users (e.g., hackers). 

The Core Is Your Database

The client portal system’s core begins with the database that exists in the cloud-based shared, digital client space that is accessed via the client portal. Such databases usually encompass an RDBMS, and typically operate via the SQL language, making such systems potentially susceptible to SQL injection attacks. Hardening your portal’s database systems is critical, as all crucial data will be stored in such systems.

Create Retention Policies

Within the realm of IT security, a retention policy is a strategic procedure for determining how long certain corporate data sets will be stored, where it will be stored, and how critical data is to be organized. Such a policy is key to ensuring that only the most relevant and vital information is stored and kept for collaboration and future reference.

Retention policies are also integrated with user management and determine which users have access to which pieces of data, at which time.

Know When To Deactivate Inactive Users

It is crucial for user access privileges to be well managed so that users who have no reason to access the portal’s data or access the client space as a whole - can be deactivated according to the company’s needs.

Have A Clear Map of What Data Will Be In The Portal

While it may be tempting for businesses to include all company data in the cloud-based client portal space, a specific blueprint and map should be in place. This point of reference will help determine precisely what data and information will be in the client portal solution.

Have Policies In Place For Old Data

Your company should also have a thorough but straightforward policy in place that reveals precisely how old client data is to be dealt with, whether it be deletion, or for the data to be backed up, etc.

Employ Forced TLS Transfer

Since client portals are robust web apps that allow your company’s clients to access the shared client space via a web browser, the client portal must be specially engineered so that it forces the use of HTTPS in the web browser being used, which indicates protected data via end-to-end Transport Layer Security (TLS) encryption. TLS “scrambles” (encrypts) data in transmission and storage. That way, malicious users, even when using packet sniffers to capture web data, cannot read it or unscramble the information into plaintext.

Maintain Granular Controls Of User Access

Within the world of IT, granular access control, and access management indicate distinguishable, clearly-defined levels of very different controls that determine six various aspects of IT system access:

  • Who - This control-level of access determines who can gain access to any given part of a system.
  • Determining why an employee or contractor is given access to any given part of a system helps form audit trails for every action taken within the client portal system. It helps IT executives better manage who is given access based on why they may need access in the first place.
  • What - This control determines what users can access, and what they can do. 
  • When - This control helps determine if access to the system during certain times (i.e., outside business hours) is appropriate and ensures that staff access the system only when necessary.
  • How - The method of login authentication (i.e., dual authentication) and session management is vital for ensuring that the client portal is kept secure and that only the relevant staff can access it.
  • Where - While allowing remote workers to access and update the client portal is an integral part of client portal functionality, security admins must ensure that the IP addresses used to access the portal space are appropriate. Granular access control ensures that only certain geolocations can access the system, thus narrowing potential malicious activity.

User-Level Authentication

Robust user-level authentication mechanisms are critical for ensuring that the client portal is accessed only by those for whom it is appropriate and that such staff and associates can only access the resources within the client space that are pertinent to their job. Effectively adapting and implementing user-level authentication mechanisms will help to keep your company’s client portal safe and secure.

Adopt Strong Password Policies

Passwords are still the most common method of authentication among web and IT systems. Adopting strong password policies will not allow users (who are setting up their login profiles) to use weak passwords. This includes passwords without numbers, without case-sensitivity, and passwords that lack at least one special character. Utilizing this strategy dramatically minimizes the probability of malicious users cracking a user’s password.

Passwords that require a certain length, and are checked against password dictionaries, tend to be strong enough not to be cracked by hackers who employ brute force attacks, dictionary attacks, and birthday password cracking attacks.

Practice Two-step Verification

Businesses should also adopt dual-authentication mechanisms that require a personalized password and an additional step and level of authentication security to log in. Such an extra step is usually applied when a user logs in from an unknown device or location and helps prevent unauthorized access to the client portal system. Dual-authentication processes include sending an additional security code to a user’s approved email or mobile device when the user attempts to log in with the correct password.

Utilize Brute Force Login Protection

Brute force scripts can automate running through every possible combination of letters, numbers, and characters to allow a malicious user to “guess” the correct password. This requires continually inputting passwords into the system, which means a massive number of login attempts. Limiting the number of login attempts possible before the system locks the user out is a security feature that can prevent constant brute force attacks/attempts. Using captcha technology can effectively stop bots and automated programs from guessing the correct user’s password combinations.

Set Limit Access To Portals

Limiting users’ access when inside the client portal system - which is an authorization feature - restricts personnel from accessing information and data that they don’t need to access. Accordingly, user privilege and access management are vital even for authenticated users.

User-Level Authorization

After a user is authenticated, they need to be authorized for what data she/he can or cannot access. Users who are authenticated also need to be authorized to sustain and ensure a completely secure system where only the relevant individuals can access both the system and the suitable files within the system.

Grouping Users To Make For Efficient Authorization

The primary method of managing user privileges and user-level authorization management is by creating and assigning different roles for different groups of users that can be aligned with groups of data, information, and projects within the client portal. With such a system, only authenticated individuals can access the system and be authorized to view only what is relevant to them.

To this end, specific roles may include:

  • Admin
  • Super Admin
  • User
  • Engineer
  • Analyst
  • Advisor

Specific projects and datasets for each user above may include:

  • Major projects and datasets
  • All projects, financial datasheets, and datasets
  • Basic workflow files
  • Code sheets
  • Strategic plans and project blueprints
  • Corporate statistics and project management files

Don’t Provide Unnecessary Access To Users Who Don’t Need It

Access to each file within the client portal system should be aligned with certain groups, making it vital for businesses not to provide random access to data that any given user group doesn’t need access to fulfill their duties.

Choose Your Platform Carefully

When choosing the development and deployment platform for your web-based client portal solution, your company has several choices, which should be based on the overarching IT security strategy of the enterprise. Client portals can be engineered via custom platform solutions, off-the-shelf (pre-built, customizable) solutions, or open-source solutions. Each solution has its pros and cons.

Completely Custom Platforms

Completely custom platforms require a significant deal of work and support, and must be coded upon with secure coding methodologies that engineers must be privy to. 

Custom platforms have many pros and cons:

  • Pros
    • Custom platforms allow a business to tailor a custom solution that benefits their specific needs and strategies.
    • Custom platforms can be engineered to work more effectively and efficiently, especially when integrated with other enterprise systems.
  • Cons
    • Custom platforms are expensive to utilize for engineering client portals and require extensive upkeep. 

Off The Shelf Platforms

Off-the-shelf platforms are pre-built systems that allow a company to deploy a client portal with minimal overhead quickly.

  • Pros
    • Such platforms easily install, utilize, and deploy, and often allow all major functionalities to be carried out.
  • Cons
    • Such systems are not customized for a company’s specific needs, are often bloated with unnecessary features, and do not easily integrate with a company’s already-existing enterprise systems.

Open Source Platforms

Open-source platforms are mostly or entirely free platforms that give companies the ability to leverage tested and (typically) secured platforms for the deployment of a client portal solution.

  • Pros
    • Open-source platforms are usually free, easy to deploy, can be made to integrate with specific enterprise systems, and can be customized to fit with - and align with - a company’s enterprise strategy.
  • Cons
    • On the flip side, some open-source software platforms are not easy to integrate with proprietary software systems (creating compatibility issues) and may be challenging to use due to steep learning curves.

Combinations

A “hybrid” approach of using a custom-based platform with pre-built components tacked on to it may be the best strategy for any business. For instance, a Content Management System (CMS), such as WordPress, may be used for custom web development. At the same time, pre-built WordPress modules and components can be added to the customized system to deliver a hybrid solution. 

Check Out This Article On The 8 Best Wordpress Client Portal Plugins

Plan For Maintenance

Even the most robust, well-built client portal web application will require maintenance and security updates (“patches”). Since maintenance and support workflows require overhead and skilled personnel, companies of all sizes should include such maintenance procedures in the overarching long-term client portal strategy.

The Build Is Only The Beginning

Building a client portal is only the beginning. Support and maintenance admins will be needed to ensure that the portal solution continues to function effectively, that it scales with the needs of the company, and that any detected security vulnerabilities are immediately mitigated.

Administering The Portal Will Be An Ongoing Cost

Support and maintenance admins will always be needed to continually monitor and fix the client portal solution as long as your company uses the application. Resources and personnel will have to be allocated to maintain the portal solution throughout its life cycle.

Ensure You Have Internal Staff Who Understand The Basics

After developing the client portal solution, your company needs internal staff that is well-versed in web application security and updating and maintaining the client portal solution, all of which will ensure that the solution continues to work for your company as needed.

Plan For Future Functionality And Growth

As your company scales, the client portal needs to be designed and developed from the ground-up with such scalability. Allowing the client portal to evolve with your business, and be developed so that additional functionalities can be added feasibly, will ensure that the portal solution has a maximum ROI and will always be pertinent to your business.

Integrations Are Crucial

Allowing your client portal to be integrated with other enterprise web assets will ensure that the portal solution offers a seamless, optimized experience that will help your business operations. For instance, the client portal solution can be tied to several advanced technologies for the company’s future growth, including ERP suites, A.I. analytics systems, and more.

Keep In Mind The Principles Of Loose Coupling

While integrations are necessary concerning enterprise software working together, building component isolation within a system - loose coupling - is also vital to ensure that your systems’ components (in this case, a client portal solution) can be independently deployed, tested, scaled, changed utterly, upgraded, and updated.

Check Out This Article On Loose Coupling

Be Responsive To Client Requests

One reason why custom client portals are essential is the ability to respond to client requests concerning certain functionalities, customized mechanisms, etc., which often comes with the scaling of a company and the evolution of its strategy.

Make Sure Every Other System Integrates With It 

When growing your business and scaling its global architecture, the entire IT infrastructure needs to evolve and scale together, thus eliminating insecure legacy systems or systems that do not integrate well with anyone scaled component or subsystem. It is vital for the other enterprise systems within your company’s IT infrastructure to integrate with the web portal system to ensure a seamless workflow.

Ensure A Secure Portal For Your Clients

When deploying a client portal for your clients, associates, and partners, it is essential to ensure complete data security to protect your enterprise’s assets and to protect your clients. This can only increase your client’s trust in your brand, and can make your business hack-proof, which mitigates costly and dangerous data breaches.

In following specific necessary IT security steps, your company can create an extremely secure environment, which ultimately has a positive reflection on your company’s bottom line.

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