Are live chats safe?

Often provided as part of a broader customer support package, a live chat function on a website connects customers with agents in real-time, offering them a quick and easy way to get their questions answered. But while these solutions undoubtedly deliver on convenience, some businesses and consumers have concerns over their security. This is understandable given the often sensitive and personal nature of the information that people share with agents using these systems.

So, how safe and secure is this messaging software, and what can you do to make sure you provide your customers with a live chat service that they can feel confident using? Keep reading to find out.  

Is live chat secure?

The short answer to this question is yes, live chat can be secure. However, it depends on the systems that your chat provider has in place. This means it’s essential to make sure you choose a trusted live chat service. Here are some of the key security features you should look out for when searching for a service provider.

  • Encryption

Normally, data sent between browsers and web servers is in plain text. If this information is intercepted, the attacker can see and use it for whatever purposes they have in mind. Fortunately, there is an alternative to this. Secure live chat software uses encryption to allow sensitive information – be that login details, credit card numbers or anything else – to be sent securely without the risk of a third party intercepting and using it.   

  • Frequent updates and upgrades

Cyber criminals are always finding new vulnerabilities in systems. To stay ahead of threats, live chat providers must regularly update and upgrade their software.

  • PCI masking

PCI in this context is shorthand for PCI DSS, which stands for ‘payment card industry data security standard’. PCI masking is a security feature that automatically hides information such as payment card numbers, card expiration dates and so on when a customer enters them into a chat.

  • Blocking illegitimate chat requests

Not all chat requests are authentic. Some may be designed to compromise the security of the host website. To prevent these attacks, live chat providers can have a third-party firewall in place to help ensure only legitimate requests are answered.

  • Secure hosting

Whether chat services are hosted on-premises or via the cloud, the provider should take thorough steps to ensure their system is secure.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of security criteria you should be aware of, but it will give you a good start when you’re searching for a reliable live chat service provider.

Are banking live chats safe?

Unsurprisingly, banks and other similar organisations take live chat security extremely seriously. This means that when consumers use these services, they can have a very high degree of confidence that their information is being processed safely.

If your business provides financial services, there are certain extra measures you can take in addition to those listed above. For example, you may choose to incorporate a proof of identity process that means only validated customers can access your messaging service.

What is secure live chat?

At its core, secure live chat simply refers to messaging software that has features designed to help keep the information provided by users safe. The criteria we outlined previously, ranging from PCI masking to secure hosting, all play a role in this.

However, the sign that many web users pay most attention to when assessing if a live chat service is secure is whether or not it is encrypted. Secure chat services are typically 256-bit SSL encrypted. SSL refers to a standard security technology that establishes an encrypted link between a client (usually a website) and a browser. SSL is used to secure millions of data exchanges every day, and many web users have come to associate internet security with the lock icon displayed on websites that feature this technology.

Do companies have to keep live chat conversations?

The rules governing what companies must do with information gathered from customers, whether via live chat or by other means, are set out under UK GDPR rules. Failing to meet these rules can result in significant fines, not to mention reputational damage. One of the big changes under GDPR compared with previous regulations is that businesses now need opt-in permission from consumers to use their data, rather than being able to rely on the previous opt-out system.

In short, companies have to make sure that they process personal information consensually, lawfully and transparently, and for a specific purpose. Once this purpose has been fulfilled, they should delete the data.

As a business, you must ensure that you have a comprehensive privacy policy in place that sets out how and why you collect data, what sort of information you collect and where you keep it. You must also provide information on how consumers can access or remove this data, and set out your procedures for processing it. In addition, you have to get agreement to this policy. If you decide to offer a live chat service to customers on your website, one way to get this consent is to set up a permission checkbox in a pre-live chat survey.

You can discover more about your obligations under GDPR by visiting the Information Commissioner’s Office website.