Data breach prevention has become an important thing for businesses all over the world. Given the importance of the issue, companies are doing their best to introduce best practices and top-tier software to stave off external threats.
In this article, we talk about data breaches, how they occur, and how to prevent them.
What is a data breach?
A data breach refers to all situations where an unauthorized person gains access to sensitive information. The term is most commonly used in the business world, but it can also refer to the hacking of private individuals. Data breaches happen to almost everyone, regardless of the security measures they have in place.
After a successful attack, a hacker can gain access to:
- Credit and bank numbers
- Credit reports
- Social security number
- Customer data
- Financial information
- Intellectual property
- Healthcare data, etc.
3 Common reasons for data breaches
Although it might seem that a data breach is always caused by an external unauthorized activity, there are other reasons why this happens:
You would be shocked to learn that most of these incidents have nothing to do with a lack of data security or external attacks. Instead, they are usually caused by human error.
According to a report from the World Economic Forum, 95% of data breaches happen due to unintentional mistakes. For example, a common issue companies have to deal with is phishing scams. There are many cases where authorized users give access codes to the wrong individuals, resulting in an instant data breach.
So, while in theory, the attack still came from an external entity, it was directly caused by an intrusion. That being said, these are the most common data breach incidents caused by a human error:
- Not updating software and systems;
- Using the same weak password over a prolonged period;
- Sharing individual or corporate data with third parties;
- Not protecting your devices while in public.
It is nowadays become common for businesses to train employees against these security threats. Still, given the sheer number of data breach risks and constantly evolving methods and technology, there’s always a high risk that you’ll suffer data leaks during the company’s lifespan.
Software like malware is the main reason behind numerous data breaches around the world. These apps affect companies’ systems and devices, allowing attackers to obtain sensitive corporate data. Malware comes in various shapes and forms, including spyware, ransomware, and viruses.
Getting infected by malware is, once again, caused by human error. An employee might click on a suspicious link or download a file without having good protection, giving malicious insider access to data stored on the device. Despite good security measures, many companies are affected by these type of data breach attacks.
Once a person has introduced this software to the company systems, there is a number of things that can happen next:
- External entities might steal data and other confidential information;
- When it comes to ransomware, these programs are used to encrypt data so that you can no longer access them. So, once the data breach occurs, you have to pay the intruder to get back your information (thus ransomware);
- Remote access trojan viruses and keyloggers allow hackers to spy on your daily activities. They don’t necessarily have to take any action, but they’ll still gain access to your data;
- There are also situations where malicious software might delete or alter your company data.
Companies nowadays invest enormous amounts of money to prevent data breaches. So, it isn’t that surprising that the data protection industry is valued at $2 trillion in 2023.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t completely eliminate the risk. Viral software and ransomware usually develop faster than data leak detection software, so the intruders always have a way into your systems.
Physical attacks are the least common out of these three, and there are only a handful of situations where businesses would really be affected by these threats. Still, there are situations where a provider might install troublesome software on your systems or when one of your close associates might sell company information.
For the most part, these physical attacks are a product of industrial espionage but can also be caused by individuals who want to make money off of your business. A data breach can come from just about anywhere, including company servers, desktops, mobile phones, drives, and other devices. Of course, the severity of a breach will mostly be affected by the data stored on that device.
Unlike the previous two cases, these threats are much easier to quench. Companies can thwart physical attacks through smart policies of keeping physical records and devices. By simply limiting access to these devices and adding extra layers of protection, you can stave off most physical, real-world intrusions.
11 Data breach prevention tips
Due to the nature of these intrusions, preventing data breaches isn’t the simplest of tasks. With these 11 tips, you’ll at least improve your odds:
- Employee education
The first and best way to prevent data breaches is by providing your staff with the necessary education. This is especially important if your employees are old school and are clueless about data breaches, identity theft protection, and other security measures.
Your employees don’t have to become tech wizards overnight, but they should at least know the basics about multi-factor authentication, phishing attack threats, and other potential issues.
- Create a backup
Having a backup is crucial in case of ransomware. It can also protect your sensitive information in case of deletion or alteration. However, having a backup is also a fantastic practice if your servers ever get hit by crashes or natural disasters. Your backup as a service provider should create an automated solution and update it regularly.
- Minimize backup
Speaking of backup, it’s good to minimize the amount of data you have on different servers. Just make sure to keep them for as long as your industry’s regulatory bodies demand. Not only will this unload the systems, but it will also make it harder for intruders to use your sensitive data against you.
While some companies like storing the information in different places, this only increases the likelihood of data leaks. Ideally, you should also minimize the number of places where you store it.
- Introduce monitoring
Remote monitoring is another common practice that can prevent data breaches in real-time. Given that this is a demanding procedure that requires the support of a veteran team, most companies hire an external IT department for this activity.
- Create a security methodology
Having a protective security posture is an excellent way to prevent a security incident. Your business should introduce procedures and methodology that will protect financial accounts and all other sensitive information.
Among others, by introducing standards, your IT team should always work on reaching a certain bar. Many data breaches happen because employees become complacent, believing that their systems are secure enough to stave off any threat.
Another good practice is designating roles for team members and allocating permissions based on seniority. That way, you will always know who was responsible for what, which can also asses performance.
- Destroy data
Another great way to prevent data breaches is by eliminating any information you might have before disposing of it. There are certain specialized softwares that can help you with this task, removing all traces of these files. Similar to virtual data, make sure to eliminate any physical traces.
- Keep your documents safe
Speaking of physical documents and other records, you need to implement similar practices as with digital files. Aside from keeping them in a limited number of safe spots, you should shred them as soon as they’re no longer usable. On top of that, you should limit the number of people who can access them.
- Update software
As previously mentioned, the number of new malicious software is continuously increasing, and it’s hard to create programs to counter it. Still, you need to update company apps regularly to prevent a potential data breach. Also, invest heavily in the best anti-spyware, antivirus software, and firewalls to defend your organization against intruders.
- Encrypt data
Before sending files to external partners, make sure they’re properly encrypted. Depending on the file format, you might have different security measures at your disposal, providing more or less protection.
You should also be careful when outside the office, as public networks can present a major threat to your devices. Similarly, you’ll need a dedicated network while on the premises, which a limited number of people can access. That way, no one will be able to intercept your data.
- Safeguard devices
Your portable devices are always at risk from digital and physical intrusions. If someone steals your phone or tablet, they can easily go through all the files and cherry-pick the ones they need. Aside from taking care of your devices, you also need good passwords, powerful software, and to adopt other best practices.
- Hire an IT provider
Although outsourcing might seem like a counterintuitive idea, as you’re relinquishing control to an external agency, it often makes sense.
First off, most small and medium businesses don’t have the resources to create internal departments. With the rise of SaaS and PaaS platforms, it’s also ludicrous to develop data centers to invest heavily in infrastructure. So, getting an external provider can significantly cut your costs.
External partners are also good because they have the necessary know-how. As someone who achieved a career in internet security, they can introduce the best practices and software to ensure your business data remains intact.
No matter what we do, we can never fully insulate our company from external virtual threats. Still, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. By implementing the above mentioned methods, you can set the basis for effective data breach prevention, ensuring that your business remains as safe as can be.