Navigating Cybersecurity Challenges in Answering Services

By Justin Massey

Artificial intelligence and the rising significance of cybersecurity present an evolving landscape. To ensure the future success of their business, answering services must embrace continuous adaptation.

Making Operators More Productive

Answering service operators answer calls from many unique companies in different industries each hour, requiring them to perform a significant amount of context switching. However, the complexity intensifies as answering services expect operators to learn and navigate multiple clients’ websites and their unique business software. This additional responsibility places a significant cognitive load on operators, impacting their efficiency and effectiveness.

Moreover, answering services’ number-one problem is hiring and retaining skilled operators, further exacerbating the situation. Onboarding new operators becomes time-consuming, especially when they need to familiarize themselves with multiple business systems and software.

One solution to reduce the onboarding time is for TAS vendors to support the integration of robust, two-way APIs within the TAS (Telephone Answering Service) software. Operators gain seamless access to clients’ business systems directly from the TAS software, eliminating the need for extensive training on each client’s website. This streamlined approach expedites the onboarding process and alleviates the cognitive load on operators, enabling them to perform their tasks with enhanced efficiency.

Furthermore, the utilization of two-way APIs in TAS software not only enhances operational efficiency but also strengthens security measures. With this integration, TAS operators can no longer log in to client websites directly. This eliminates the risk of an attacker compromising an operator’s workstation and stealing credentials from the local machine.

By removing the need for individual log-in credentials, the TAS software acts as a secure intermediary, ensuring operators don’t retain access to client websites once they no longer require it. This streamlined approach enhances data security and minimizes the potential vulnerabilities associated with operator turnover, providing answering services with an additional layer of protection for their client’s sensitive information.

TAS Vendors Security Architecture Improvements

In recent years, answering services have witnessed a significant increase in cybersecurity attacks, prompting a paradigm shift in the industry’s approach to security. With healthcare and other sectors demanding stricter cybersecurity controls, answering services must adapt to these evolving requirements.

This not only necessitates changes in the way answering services handle IT within the business but also calls for improvements in the security measures implemented by the software provided by vendors. Vendors responsible for developing and maintaining the software used by answering services must address these emerging challenges and protect sensitive data.

To achieve this, vendors should consider implementing the following practices:

Secure Handling of Customer Secrets: As TAS vendors become responsible for handling customer secrets like passwords and API keys, ensuring their secure storage and transmission is crucial. Vendors should implement robust encryption mechanisms, secure storage practices, access controls to protect sensitive customer information and log who accessed the customer secrets. By prioritizing the security of customer secrets, vendors can maintain trust and confidentiality in their relationships with answering service customers.

Implement Secure Connection Methods: Vendors should prioritize supporting secure methods for connecting to answering service customers’ applications. This includes implementing encrypted communication protocols such as HTTPS and adhering to industry-standard security practices. Additionally, vendors should explore supporting a variety of secure authentication techniques like oAuth, JWTs, and other forms of secure authentication.

Applications may require different authentication methods, and by providing flexibility and compatibility with various authentication mechanisms, vendors can ensure that answering services can securely connect to all types of applications they interact with. By establishing secure connections and offering a range of authentication options, vendors can empower answering services to maintain robust security across their entire ecosystem of customer applications.

Support Single Sign-On (SSO): By utilizing a single sign-on provider, such as Google Workspaces or Azure AD, vendors can enable seamless authentication to their TAS solution. This simplifies the log-in process for answering service operators and enhances security by reducing reliance on multiple log-in credentials. With SSO, operators can securely access and navigate various business systems without remembering numerous usernames and passwords.

IT Responsibility Model for Answering Services

If you are an answering service owner, you didn’t get into the business because you wanted to manage IT infrastructure. Your passion lies in providing exceptional customer service and ensuring smooth operations for your clients. That’s why shifting the responsibility of infrastructure management to a TAS vendor can be a notable change for your business.

By entrusting the hosting of the software to a reliable vendor, you can off-load the burden of maintaining servers and infrastructure, allowing you to focus on what you do best: answering calls and delivering outstanding service. This shift also transfers the risks associated with managing the infrastructure to the TAS vendor, as they take on the responsibility for hardware, operating systems, and network management. It empowers you to streamline your operations, optimize resources, and have peace of mind, knowing that the critical IT components are in the hands of experts.

Regarding the responsibility breakdown between answering services and TAS vendors, the dynamics can vary depending on who hosts the software. Understanding these distinctions is crucial for establishing clear expectations and ensuring a smooth operational framework.

If the TAS vendor hosts the software, the responsibility for infrastructure-related aspects shifts to the vendor. This includes hardware provisioning, operating system management, and application deployment. The TAS vendor maintains the network infrastructure and ensures its availability and performance. Additionally, they are responsible for regular updates and patches to the infrastructure, guaranteeing that it remains secure and up-to-date.

On the other hand, when answering services host the software themselves, they are responsible for managing the underlying infrastructure. This includes procuring and maintaining the necessary hardware, managing the operating system and application stack, and ensuring network connectivity. Answering services must stay vigilant in implementing security measures and updating their infrastructure to protect against potential vulnerabilities.

Regardless of the hosting scenario, answering services and TAS vendors must collaborate and align on responsibilities related to data security, access controls, and incident response protocols. Clear communication and a shared understanding of each party’s role are essential for a successful partnership and a robust security posture.

Justin Massey is the founder of Relay Hawk, a cybersecurity company building products exclusively for the telephone answering service industry.

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