If you think your business is safe just because you’re a startup or a small company, think again.
Cybercriminals target businesses of all sizes, so every business owner must make a conscious effort to protect their data. Data security serves as the base layer of your business‘s foundation.
In this Nira guide, we’ll detail an effective step-by-step strategy to help secure your business and keep data breaches at bay.
Let’s get started!
Step 1 — Start With Data Security
The more data you have about your employees and customers, the greater your worry is to protect them.
One never knows when you might need someone’s phone number or email ID. Still, considering the repercussions of a data breach, it’s better to reinitiate contact when needed instead of creating a storehouse of files and documents.
In addition to deleting data that you don’t need anymore, you should also not collect sensitive information you don’t need.
Think about the process where your company asks people for personal information. Does it only ask for information you really need? Evaluate your process for gathering customer information and see what data you truly need versus what might be extraneous or unnecessary to collect. Then remove those items from your existing database and reconfigure how you gather information from customers, and remove the fields for the unnecessary data.
Once you get this sorted, make sure you don’t use personal information where it isn’t necessary, especially when training employees.
As an example, Accretive Health used real people’s actual personal information in their employee training sessions, after which they failed to remove the data from the employee’s computers once the sessions were over.
They ended up being sued after a data breach and alleged federal and state privacy law violations in addition to other charges. The company ended up shelling out millions and being exiled from doing business in Minnesota for two years.
Step 2 — Limit Access to Data
Controlling access is an excellent way to prevent data leaks or data theft.
You see, all data security threats aren’t external. A disgruntled employee or, even worse, a negligent one can be equally dangerous. This is why you should consider putting controls in place and ensuring employees have access on a strictly need-to-know basis.
The logic is simple: if employees don’t have to use personal data as part of their job, they shouldn’t have access to it.
Limiting administrative access is particularly crucial since these permissions allow a user to make system-wide changes. Twitter learned this the hard way.
The FTC alleged the microblogging and social networking service granted its employees control over its system, including resetting user account passwords, sending tweets on the accountholder’s behalf, and viewing non-public tweets. This is a blunder that can significantly increase the risk of a severe data breach.
For your network, you can take actionable steps like separating user accounts and administrative accounts and only giving access to people who require it.
Step 3 — Practice Good Security Hygiene
Practicing sensible password hygiene and following robust authentication procedures can make the lives of business owners storing personal information on their networks a lot easier.
Here are a few ways to get this sorted:
Encourage Employees to Use Unique and Complicated Passwords
Your security system is only as strong as your weakest password. So how strong do you think your security would be if your employees use passwords like 123456, qwerty123, or password.
Encourage your employees to use password generators and stick to longer, complicated passwords comprised of a mixture of lower and upper case alphabets, symbols, and numbers.
Have a Two-Step Authentication Process
Storing administrative passwords in plain sight—or in plain text in personal email accounts—is never a good idea.
If your employees prefer writing down passwords on a piece of paper, ask them to keep them in a locked drawer. You should also make sure all network user credentials are masked, and that additional security protections like two-factor authentication are activated.
Two-step verification can seriously prevent password compromises, where a user is asked to provide a second piece of information in addition to a password to confirm that identity. This makes it difficult for hackers to access a user’s personal information.
Guard Against Cyberattacks and Authentication Bypasses
Have you ever heard of brute force attacks?
Hackers use automated programs where they repeatedly submit multiple passwords or passphrases with the hope of eventually cracking someone’s password. To avoid this, you should restrict the number of password tries and implement a policy to suspend or disable the account after repeated login attempts.
Another thing to keep an eye out for is testing your web application for “predictable resource location.” This type of security flaw allows hackers to predict patterns and manipulate URLs to bypass the web applications authentication screen and gain unauthorized access to your databases.
Luckily, testing common vulnerabilities will help you eliminate risks.
Step 4 — Set Up a Firewall
Activating firewalls is another way to secure your business. They segment your network to limit access between computers on the network between your computers and the internet.
Firewalls restrict a hacker from penetrating your network, successfully blocking unauthorized access to critical business information like employee records and financial data.
Simultaneously, they also protect against other malicious activity on the internet, such as identifying and blocking “malware malicious“programs often disguised as legitimate software.
In addition to firewalls, you can also consider intrusion detection and prevention tools that do an excellent job monitoring your network for all malicious activity.
Step 5 — Take the Necessary Measures to Protect Data During Transmission
Businesses often have to send their data elsewhere. Now, any kind of data transition is risky, but when you’re dealing with sensitive data, the risk can amplify considerably.
One of the best ways to protect your data during transmission is using strong cryptography. Given the nature of your business, you can try out encryption protocols, such as data-at-rest encryption, Transport Layer Security/Secure Socket Layer (TLS/SSL) encryption, or iterative cryptographic hash.
However, whatever method you select will only be as good as a person who implements it.
It’s crucial the person on the job understands how your company uses sensitive data and has the expertise to determine which cryptography method would be appropriate for every situation.
Another important aspect here is ensuring proper configuration. Encryption, or even stronger methods, cannot protect your database if you don’t configure them. Precisely why, in addition to implementing encryption, you should also ensure it’s properly configured.
Step 6 — Educate Your Staff on Cybersecurity Best Practices
According to Cybint, a staggering 95% of cybersecurity breaches are caused by human error. This is because employees don’t know the correct course of action and lack the know-how to identify suspicious activity.
It’s why you should take active measures to educate your staff if you’re serious about protecting your business’s critical assets.
Raising awareness about cybersecurity best practices will help employees understand what data needs to be protected and how they can protect it. For instance, you can teach them what activities can be and cannot be done using company computers, what websites and applications they shouldn’t download on a company computer, and what emails are probably sent by spammers.
Educating them about the latest cybersecurity technology is also essential.
Step 7 — Plan Your Data Breach Response
They say precaution is better than a cure, but knowing the cure when the need arises is equally important.
When it comes to data security, you must always be prepared for worst-case scenarios, including your response to data breaches. Generally, your response plan should include the following:
- Instantly close security loopholes. You should immediately disconnect or shut down any compromised computers, as well as stop using and delete any compromised programs.
- Notify affected parties. Depending on the stolen information and who the breach affects, you should notify the appropriate parties and law enforcement.
- Carry out a thorough investigation. The next step is to conduct an internal review or hire an agency or cybersecurity specialist to determine what went wrong that caused the data breach.
Once you find out the root cause for the data breach, make sure you take measures to ensure it isn’t repeated in the future again. Be transparent with your employees when discussing the breach. This will help create awareness and make them more proactive in their approach to data security.
Common Problems When Securing Your Business
Let’s review some of the most common challenges business owners face when trying to secure their data.
Problem #1: The Cost of Maintaining Data Security
Ensuring top-notch data security can be an expensive affair.
You need cutting-edge software systems, provide the necessary training to employees, and even hire a cybersecurity specialist (if needed).
All this costs some serious money. For instance, network security software can cost as much as $6000 per year.
Similarly, the cost of cybersecurity training can range anywhere from free to $5000—sometimes, it can even be more! It all depends on the quality of the training and how much access to hands-on equipment your employees will have.
Ensuring data security involves a considerable sum of investment, which can be out of budget for most SMBs. But there are also cheaper counterparts, so it’s not like small business owners are left alone to fend for themselves.
Plus, considering how expensive losing sensitive information can be, cybersecurity investments are absolutely worth the money.
Problem #2: Employee-Related Bottlenecks
Your employees can turn out to be the biggest threat to data security. It is imperative to establish the importance of employees getting the necessary training on best practice data security protocols.
This includes spotting a phishing scam via email, social media, or phone, knowing how to use encryption when sending sensitive data via email, reporting protocols if they suspect their credentials have been stolen, and conducting appropriate security updates on all work devices.
However, we’re still humans at the end of the day. We make mistakes. You can have your employees trained by the best security experts, but it won’t matter unless they take the initiative to put the best practices into effect.
Then there’s the issue of employee data theft, where fired or disgruntled employees may end up selling sensitive data for money or revenge.
Problem #3: Hiring the Right Data Security Talent
While you can always train your regular employees in security best practices, you still need a team of experts for your IT department.
So you must hire technology experts who can genuinely protect your information assets against future attacks. You need people who can identify and implement up-to-date data security policies, procedures, management tactics, and methods to protect company networks, reputation, and sensitive information.
Your data security team needs to have an up-to-date and intimate understanding of the latest cybersecurity threats and data security leaks. They should also be well-equipped—both in terms of knowledge, experience, and expertise—to immediately detect any unauthorized activity.
The only issue is finding people who fulfill these criteria.
Not only are top-level data security experts expensive to hire, but there’s also talent scarcity in this niche. Therefore, you must be prepared to put in the required time and effort to build a solid data security team for your organization.