How to protect client data in consulting business: 7 ways

In consulting, trust is the real currency. Clients entrust sensitive data, strategic plans, and internal processes to consulting companies, expecting this information to be kept under lock and key. No doubt, IT leaders in any professional consulting company will take all necessary measures to protect client data. But as you may already know, the growing information security threats can make that task feel like an uphill battle.

Whether you’re long in the consulting game or just starting out, understanding the best practices of information security is key. By focusing on keeping client information private, you do more than protect their data. You also create strong bonds and improve your image as a reliable partner.

We spoke with Emrick Etheridge, Information Security Expert and Product Content Owner at DataGuard, to develop actionable ways to improve your company’s defences. Here are 7 measures you can take as an IT leader to protect client data, preserve client confidentiality, and build trust.

In this blog post, you’ll find out how to:

1. Implement robust access control

If you’re a consulting company, you need to ask yourself: does everybody need access to all your client data all the time? You’ll probably find that the answer to this is: No.

Confidentiality means making sure data only gets seen by the right eyes. This starts with tight control over who can access information to stop unwanted sharing, whether intentionally or by mistake.

It's based on a rule of "least privilege access." This means only giving access to sensitive data to those who really need it for their work while keeping everyone else out. Here’s how you can go about access control:

  • Role-Based Access Control (RBAC): Implement a system where individuals are assigned roles and clearance levels with predefined access to client information.
  • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Add an extra layer of security by requiring users to verify their identity beyond just a password, like with a phone call or fingerprint scan.
  • Secure file permissions: Ensure only authorised individuals can create, edit, or share sensitive documents. Encrypt them for an added layer of protection. One way of achieving controlled access to data is using cloud-based solutions.
  • Logging and monitoring: Track who accessed what information and when. This helps identify suspicious activity and potential breaches.

Of course, physical access to documents and assets must also be regulated. All printed documents should be stored securely (such as in a locked safe) when not in use.

By setting up proper access levels, you can protect sensitive information from the wrong hands, protecting your clients' trust from serious harm.


2. Follow the CIA triad

Confidentiality is only one piece of the puzzle. Or, more precisely, one section of the CIA triad. The CIA triad is at the heart of information security, consisting of Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability. And here's how encryption helps keep the balance between the three triad elements:


Encryption scrambles data, ensuring only authorised individuals can decipher it. Data at rest and data in transit should always be encrypted. This safeguards client confidentiality at the core.


Integrity ensures your data stays accurate and unchanged when it's not actively used. Encryption keeps it out of reach from unauthorised changes, guaranteeing your information remains trustworthy and reliable and helping to uphold your business's reputation.


Encrypting data at rest provides an additional layer of security, assuring the integrity of backups against unauthorised changes. That ensures that in the event of a system failure or data loss, the backup can be relied upon to restore the availability of critical systems, with the certainty that the data remains unaltered.


3. Train your employees

When it comes to employee training, everybody knows they should do it, but they never do it enough. It's not just online threats you've got to watch out for when dealing with data; human mistakes can also put client confidentiality at risk. Regular security training is vital to beefing up defences and protecting sensitive info. It is your organisation’s next big win.

The bustling life of consultancy companies has some underestimated threats: new staff is hired, people leave, people forget, and sensitive customer information can fall into the wrong hands. Regular training sessions on information security help build the necessary awareness.


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As you may have experienced, one training every six months is not enough. So, how can you remind people of good cybersecurity practices? First off, integrate regular knowledge refreshers. For example, regular phishing simulations can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to an attack.

Another simple but effective measure is to put up posters. You can have different posters covering a variety of topics:

  • Reminding employees to store, hand over, and dispose of data securely.
  • Details on phishing attacks and what to always be on the lookout for.
  • Information on keeping passwords safe and details on the organisation's policy for password management.

Physical reminders are part of the ISO standard and help educate your employees.

This way, you foster a culture of security within your company and emphasise the importance of confidentiality in your consulting business as part of your day-to-day work life.


4. Get management on board

Phishing, ransomware or accidental data leaks. Information security breaches are unfortunately not a question of “if” but “when”. Even with the best defences and regulations, unforeseen circumstances can lead to incidents.

This is where being ready matters. Leaders in consulting firms have to know about cyber threats just like their teams do, but they also need to be clued in on how to handle incidents if they happen. Here, communication and a clear incident response plan will give you a solid start:

Set up an incident response plan

The incident response plan provides explicit instructions, defines responsibilities and holds data recovery strategies in the event of a security incident. It helps your organisation respond quickly and uniformly to threats.

Focus on communication

But for the incident response plan to work and be followed through, there must be a way to report issues safely and communicate clearly. If employees are scared, they’ll get in trouble for messing up, and they won’t speak up about mistakes.

Create a safe space to foster a culture of transparent and effective communication. You don't want an environment where people are scared to admit or to ask questions. Otherwise, employees may fall for cyberattacks and stay silent about them, increasing the damage.



5. Ensure secure communication channels

In the collaborative consulting world, it’s all about secure communication channels.

Communication with clients is no longer limited to physical meetings. Emails, instant messaging, and video conferencing have become essential collaboration and information-sharing tools. However, these convenient channels also introduce new security risks to client confidentiality.

Especially in consulting, where organisations deal with sensitive matters such as competitor information, they have to ensure secure communication channels. If possible, encourage your company to arrange information-sensitive meetings in person instead of a video call.


Watch our on-demand webinar: Information Security: trends, tools and tips for 2024


Eavesdropping, whether unintentional or intentional, is a principle that jeopardises all communication channels. Solutions can be simple. Consultants should develop an awareness of eavesdroppers and pay attention to the security of their communications.

Shared office spaces, as are popular today, require additional security measures such as headphones, audio-proof rooms, and physical separation. Another factor is using secure technologies. Adequately secure devices with strong passwords, implement encryption for all sensitive communication and ensure only authorised parties can access the information transmitted.


6. Beware of your vendors

Consulting firms often rely on third-party vendors for various tasks, from software development to data analysis. While these partnerships can be beneficial, they also introduce additional security risks when client data is involved. Vendor due diligence is, therefore, crucial to build secure customer relationships.

When organisations are compromised, it's often not because they've been hacked but because one of their customers or suppliers has been hacked. As a result, the infestation comes to them. It's a bit like a virus.


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A consultant with a weekly phone call with his customer does not think twice before opening a PDF sent from the corresponding e-mail address. However, once this customer is infected, the hackers replicate their processes, gain access to their contacts and finally bring the malware into your consulting firm.

Consider working with vendors certified by recognised security standards like ISO 27001, as the certification independently verifies their security. By taking these steps, you can minimise the risks associated with third-party vendors and ensure your client data remains safe throughout the collaborative journey.


7. Conduct individual risk assessments

Keeping client data safe is all about finding the right mix between making things accessible and secure. Tailoring risk assessments for individuals lays the groundwork for flexible access levels, helping manage who gets to see sensitive data.

So, information security isn't just about fancy tech safeguards; it also considers how risky people can be. That's why security setups often tag people with their risk levels. Just like a system might have weak spots, people can, too. 
Individual risk assessments look closely at how likely it is for an employee to purposely put client data at risk. They consider things like:

  • Technical proficiency: How comfortable are they navigating technology and data?
  • Access history: Have they previously accessed sensitive information without authorisation
  • Financial situation: Could financial pressures create vulnerabilities to manipulation?
  • Personal conduct: Have there been any questionable data handling practices?

Based on the risk assessment, employees are assigned different levels of access to information in the organisation. These levels determine their access to specific types and levels of client data. Higher-risk individuals might have limited access, while those deemed trustworthy receive broader permissions. If the data is confidential and can be accessed on a “need to know” basis, reviews should be implemented to see if the user needs the data to complete their work. Once they no longer need it, access should be reassessed. This way, you move beyond rigid roles and build a more nuanced system that fosters trust while effectively safeguarding client confidentiality.


See information security as an ongoing effort

Keeping client information safe is an ongoing effort, not just a one-off achievement. These seven strategies provide a roadmap but stay vigilant. New threats emerge, and best practices evolve. Embrace ongoing learning, empower your employees, and adapt your approach.

And if you could use some help, feel free to contact us.


About the author

Emrick Etheridge Emrick Etheridge
Emrick Etheridge

Emrick Etheridge is an associate Information Security Consultant and a certified ISO 27001 Lead Auditor. Prior to DataGuard, Emrick studied Computer Science at Anglia Ruskin University (Cambridge) before entering a world of Digital Forensics and Information Security for a Cambridge based company. In these roles, he consulted merchants who required either a digital forensic investigation or re-certification. Emrick was also a certified Cyber Essentials assessor at the heart of the pandemic which proved to be an interesting time in industry. In his current role, he helps SMEs create an Information Security Management System (ISMS) to strengthen their security posture as well as consulting them on their path to obtaining ISO 27001 certification.

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