Digital assets are often overlooked when companies are running a full inventory and assessing their overall value. It’s important to know and understand:
- What digital assets are.
- How to identify digital assets.
- How to protect and secure critical digital assets.
According to TechTerms, a digital asset “ascribes legal ownership and value to a digital file.” The key difference between a digital asset and a physical one is that (no surprise) digital assets are not tangible. Digital assets can be something that consumers can purchase but don’t fully “own,” like buying a song from an online vendor — a consumer can purchase a song to play on a personal device, but they do not ultimately hold the copyright or own the music. The digital assets that your company has are assets and materials that are digital only and are intangible, but are fully owned and controlled by your company.
When it comes to your company, it’s crucial to take the time to understand what qualifies as a digital asset throughout your business — both internal and external. These can vary from photos of your company and products to workflows, apps, websites, and more. Here’s a breakdown on what you need to know about how to identify and protect digital assets — updated for 2022.
What Are Digital Assets?
Digital assets are assets you own that live online. Some may exist on your company’s own servers and some may be stored in the cloud. Digital assets include imagery, digital content, social media, apps, proprietary processes, customer databases, proprietary processes, and any company material or intellectual property that is under copyright, trademark or patent. Some of the most common digital assets include:
Any photos, illustrations, videos or other imagery created for your company that are either of your business or business processes. These might be marketing images, product-related photos, illustrated workflow documentation, and more.
Your company’s website, including all domain name information, content, internal material and any articles or blogs within the website. It’s important to make sure any content or photos licensed from third parties or projects requisitioned from freelance writers and marketers is cleared with your legal counsel to ensure your company maintains full ownership of this content. Those digital assets belong to your company and are valued as such.
Your company’s social media presence, including all accounts, posts, and content within the posts. This includes Facebook updates, Twitter outreach, even your company’s LinkedIn presence may all fall under the social media category as a digital asset.
Company apps that have been developed for the business, be they consumer-facing or for internal team use only, are often considered to be highly valuable digital assets.
Any business processes that you or your employees have developed that could be recreated and sold — for example, a unique workflow, like a content management system or internal invoice tracking system — are considered to be digital assets that can be monetized.
Client and contact lists for your business, including email addresses and contact information, are valuable. If you have an email database and an outreach campaign or a customer newsletter, it’s a digital asset.
Registered Company Intellectual Property
Any intellectual property your company has developed that exists in a digital format is considered an asset that can be sold. Examples of this include company logos, any copyrighted material or trademarked digital material such as photographs or imagery, and any existing company patents for digital processes or other innovations.
Why Are Digital Assets Important?
Digital assets add to the overall value of your company and are considered valuable to investors. As they can be sold independently, companies can claim expenses and make tax deductions against their digital assets. They are just as important to a company as physical assets, and companies need to take proper steps to know how to protect digital assets — just as they would for their physical ones.
How Can I Protect My Company’s Digital Assets?
Protecting digital assets begins with a survey of your business and a full inventory of what your digital assets are — and also what they might be — don’t potentially overlook something that may actually be a valuable asset! Begin by taking a complete stock of all possible digital assets.
Here are 10 steps to protect your company’s digital assets:
Step 1: List All of Your Digital Assets
The first step is to have a full and complete understanding of all of your company’s assets. As a reminder, digital assets include your company’s website, social media presence, appropriate customer information and client lists (with email addresses and contact information), plus proprietary digital business processes, apps, photos, videos and imagery, and any intellectual property (material that is under copyright, trademarks, and patents). Begin by listing all of your company’s possible digital assets, including those we described above, so that you have a comprehensive picture of your complete digital asset inventory.
Step 2: Establish Ownership and Value
In order to protect the digital assets, ownership should be established and a valuation applied. Work with legal counsel to determine if asset ownership has been legally established, and create a baseline valuation for the digital assets. Be mindful that values will change over time as content output increases and/or customer and client lists grow — just two possible examples — but you need to establish a starting point. If necessary, utilize a business appraiser to determine the valuation of the digital asset.
Step 3: Limit Access and Follow Best Practices
A fundamental step in how to protect digital assets is restricting access to digital assets and systems reduce the risk of loss or theft. Make sure to limit access to digital assets and systems to only those employees that actually need to use them. Authorized users of these systems should be employing data security best practices including password protection and authentication, and being careful when using personal devices and other risk factors. You can also reduce your company’s susceptibility to cybersecurity threats by taking steps to prevent data breaches.
Step 4: Use Protective Agreements
Protect your digital assets through your employee and team member agreements, and those with third parties who may need to access your information. Companies should have employees, freelancers, clients, and consultants sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to protect their digital assets. Asking partners and team members to commit to confidentiality also functions as a helpful reminder about the importance of the digital data that they have access to. The agreement underscores for people that digital assets are important and they must be handled with care!
Step 5: Register Ownership
Many digital assets can be officially registered to prove ownership. Business owners can copyright the contents of their website, including blog and article text, original artwork, photographs, and imagery. Trademarks can be registered through the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and while you can’t copyright the domain name for your company’s website, you can include it as part of your overall trademark application. In addition, new processes can be submitted for unique patent approval, which is also done through the US Patent and Trademark Office.
Step 6: Keep Data Secure
Having strong information security is essential for keeping digital assets protected. Hackers exploit security loopholes and weaknesses, and one way to prevent this is for companies to make sure that their operating systems and any other licensed and cloud-based applications are up to date. Team training about online hackers and scammers to deter social engineering like phishing is just as important for keeping confidential data secure. Take advantage of the security features of enterprise-level applications including two-factor authentication, which provides an extra layer of protection for your company and employees against hackers. Google, Slack, and Salesforce are all examples of large companies that offer clients and users two-factor authentication.
Using secure Wi-Fi is also important for keeping digital assets safe. Make sure your company follows Wi-Fi data security best practices. Routers should be stored in a physically secure location. Regularly change your Wi-Fi network name, enable the firewall, and regularly update the firmware and software. Some routers also provide options for encrypting data, and you should take advantage of that if it’s a feature that your service provider offers.
Step 7: Consider Insurance
A cyber insurance policy can be used to protect your business from internet-based risks. If digital assets are accessed by hackers, cyber insurance can cover costs related to the investigation and resultant business losses — including any lawsuits and extortion. For more information on cyber insurance and the different kinds of policies and levels of coverage, you can find additional details from the Federal Trade Commission.
Step 8: Back It Up
Having a solid redundancy plan in place for your digital assets is critical. Protect digital assets with a reliable backup plan, and perhaps even a backup for the backup!
Step 9: Document Protocols
Now that you have all of your company’s digital assets accounted for, be sure to record the necessary information for the future management of them. Build a calendar and set timelines with an ongoing schedule and calendar for tasks like backups, updates and software reviews. Document your company’s existing protocols and make sure to modify them as needed going forward. Guidelines for digital asset management should be considered a living document that evolves and is adjusted by the business as the content, applications, and programs mature and change.
Step 10: Future Proof
Take the comprehensive understanding that you now have of your company’s digital assets, and ensure those are included in the full picture of your business’s finances and value. Business owners and leaders need to make sure that digital assets are covered in any partner agreements and/or succession planning documentation for the company.
Ready to Start Efficiently Protecting Your Company’s Digital Assets?
After going through all of these steps and gaining a full understanding of your company’s digital assets and their inherent value, you will be able to build a proper system to protect your company’s digital assets. Knowing how to protect digital assets for the short- and long-term is important for your company’s complete valuation and overall bottom line.
Companies need to manage and maintain their digital assets safely and securely, there are technologies that can help! AuditBoard’s risk management solution can manage and assess your data security and overall asset risk status. Get started with RiskOversight today!