Which privacy and security features does your CRM need to be compliant?

CRM systems store a trove of sensitive customer information, hence the need for compliance, security, and privacy to be incorporated by design.

Customer relationship management (CRM) platforms hold a wealth of sensitive and valuable customer information. Should that information end up in the wrong hands due to a data breach or leak, it could spell disaster for the organization, not to mention hefty fines in cases involving compliance failures.

In today’s digital world, every organization needs to take a proactive stance when it comes to privacy, security, and compliance. These factors should be hard-baked into any software your business uses, particularly mission-critical solutions like CRM. With regulations like Europe’s GDPR and California’s CCPA now in force, it’s more important than ever to ensure that the correct information governance routines are in place to safeguard customer data.

Thankfully, implementing the right CRM software can help you on your compliance journey by introducing security and privacy by design and default. An enterprise-grade CRM platform will provide the technical controls needed to satisfy the requirements of laws like GDPR and CCPA and, in doing so, simplify and, to a large extent, automate compliance routines. A fully modular, low-code, and open-source solution goes even further by giving you unprecedented freedom over how you govern your data.

In this blog, we’ll look at some of the functions and features a CRM should have to make that possible:


1. Role-based access controls

Role-based access control (RBAC) is one of the fundamentals of information security, and any CRM or other data-bearing system should support it. RBAC restricts access to specific types of data, applications, or even entire networks based on a person’s role in an organization. The idea is that no one individual, device, or application should ever have access to data that they don’t explicitly need to perform their roles. For example, there’s probably no need to grant the marketing team access to customers’ payment information. More sophisticated systems even allow administrators to set contextual roles based on both operation and context. Using RBAC will ultimately help you boost privacy and security by reducing the size of your attack surface.

2. Privacy management consoles

One of the biggest challenges in upholding compliance with GDPR and CCPA is ensuring the lawful collection of data in the first place. Your privacy policies should make clear the reasons for collecting data, and you must have the mechanisms in place to manage consent, purpose, and data minimization. Modern CRM solutions support the implementation of data protection, but that doesn’t necessarily make them a substitute for additional organizational and technical measures. Having a privacy management console that spans your entire data environment, including your CRM, is essential for getting a granular view into your data, where it lives, and whether it is subject to deletion, export, or privacy requests.

3. Data localization controls

In light of the fact that most of the world’s data falls under the control of US cloud providers, a growing number of countries and regions are pushing for greater digital sovereignty. In the EU for example, data residency laws dictate that, even if personal data pertaining to EU citizens is transferred outside the bloc, GDPR still applies regardless. Other laws are even stricter to the point of prohibiting out-of-country transfers entirely. This is often the case with healthcare or government data. Data residence is of particular importance to any company that does business around the world, in which case their CRM systems must allow them to select exactly where their data is physically stored and which vendors have access to it.

4. Multifactor authentication

Any CRM system must be protected beneath multiple layers of protection. Even the strongest password policies are not enough by themselves. This is why your CRM should support multi-factor authentication, which adds an extra verification layer, such as a one-time security token sent via email, SMS, or mobile authenticator app. This protects against phishing scams, which routinely target usernames and passwords. However, it’s much harder for an attacker to steal the secondary authentication factor, especially if it’s a biometric or time-limited security token. For maximum security, businesses should use zero-trust architecture to protect their CRM and other critical systems, since this incorporates continuous verification.

5. Data loss prevention

Data loss prevention (DLP) is a well-established security method for detecting potential data leaks or breaches and proactively blocking them. DLP systems can be installed at the network, application, or endpoint level to stop sensitive data from leaving the pre-defined perimeter. It works by continuously analyzing traffic to identify keywords and other characteristics in data that is being sent in possible violation of privacy policies. Given the huge amount of data going in and out of a CRM system, it shouldn’t be difficult to see why DLP is a vital function to have. That said, DLP is rarely a native function of a CRM, but rather one which is provided by a third-party vendor that specializes in information security.

6. Encryption key management

Encryption key management (EKM) refers to the administration of enterprise encryption keys. Most cloud vendors provide end-to-end encryption by default, but they also handle encryption keys themselves. This means that, if the vendor were to receive a subpoena to release data belonging to one of their clients, they would be able to. Furthermore, when all encryption keys are handled by the vendor, a serious data breach targeting said vendor could result in all keys for all clients being compromised. To achieve true digital sovereignty, organizations must have the means to bring their own keys and manage them locally. This applies to CRM systems or any other systems that handle sensitive data, particularly those used in finance operations.

7. Consent management

As we talked about earlier, one of the biggest privacy and compliance challenges concerning CRM is whether you’re even allowed to collect, store, and process the data in the first place. This is why consent management features are vital for upholding compliance with GDPR and CCPA, among other legislation. For example, if a client asks not to receive marketing emails that are part of a pre-defined and automated CRM flow, then it’s essential you have the means to exclude the customer from that workflow. A comprehensive CRM platform should allow end users to set up such customized workflows by defining request types and the actions following those requests.

8. Compliant backup systems

Needless to say, the information held in a CRM system is immensely valuable to the company. Losing your customer database could quite literally result in a business closing its doors for good. While the need for backup and disaster recovery might seem obvious, the ongoing spate of ransomware attacks demonstrate that many organizations have yet to get things right. Any CRM vendor should be able to tell you how and where they store data and where they keep any redundant copies, but you should never rely on a single vendor for everything. You should have at least three copies of your data, including at least two stored in different cloud locations. Remember, however, that backups and archives of customer data are still subject to GDPR.

9. Tracking and auditability

Every digital interaction leaves a trail of data, and having the means to access and understand that data is vital for driving informed decision-making. When it comes to security and privacy, audit trails let you identify suspicious activity, such as potential policy breaches and unknown access requests. Moreover, if a data leak or breach does occur, having a full track record of everything that happened will give you the chance to mitigate the damage and identify the root cause. Audit logs help you answer questions such as which user was accessing a system and when, who updated a particular field value and when, who deleted a record, and which locale was used to make an update.

10. Modular and extensible design

One of the major drawbacks of relying on an off-the-shelf CRM solution (or any other software) is that you rarely end up with precisely the features you need. In fact, there’s a decent chance you’ll end up with a lot of features you don’t need. This so-called feature-sprawl or software bloat doesn’t just get in the way of productivity – it can also expand your attack surface to the point it can compromise security, privacy, and compliance. Opting instead for an open-source, low-code development platform lets you build a fully modular CRM system with customized workflows tailored to the unique needs of your business. That way, you have all the features you need and none you don’t, and that’s better in every respect.


Planet Crust is the primary contributor to the open-source project Corteza, a low-code platform that comes with several pre-built apps that businesses can use to create a tailor-made CRM systems that work for them. Try it out for free today.

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