A staggering 83% of companies encounter multiple data breaches over their organization’s lifetime. While no industry is spared, certain sectors, such as financial services, education, and construction, are at higher risk. Even the scale of a business does not seem to deter cybercriminals—according to a Verizon report, 61% of SMBs experienced at least one attack over the past year.
For business owners, data breaches are an imminent threat they can no longer ignore. Understanding the risks and implementing preventative measures is crucial for their company’s sustainability.
A data breach can occur in your business when you least expect it. External threats are the most common. They typically include deliberate attacks using phishing and hacking techniques. For instance, a cybercriminal could access confidential data by misleading employees, downloading malware, hacking into your network, or using other external influences.
However, one in three data breaches is internally driven. A good example is an employee leaking your business strategies to a competitor or selling customer data on the dark web.
But what drives data breaches? The answer almost always involves money. Competitors could use your business plans to counter-attack your strategies and gain your market share. Criminals can steal customer information to target them for financial theft. They may even hold your data hostage and demand a ransom. What all these incidents have in common are the ultimate financial gains.
Of course, in rare cases, data breaches are led by non-financial reasons. For instance, a disgruntled employee could leak confidential information to tarnish your company’s reputation.
Whatever the motive, any of these situations can pose significant business risks to your organization. Imagine facing a ransomware attack where your entire organization is at a standstill without access to critical business data. Or, picture a customer data leak and the resulting events that will unfold when the news hits the media. The reputational damage, loss of stakeholder trust, impaired competitive edge, operational disruptions, and financial costs could cause a devastating blow, regardless of your business’s scale.
More often than not, employee negligence, ignorance, and a sheer lack of knowledge are at the root of data breaches businesses encounter. So, preventing them requires staff awareness, involvement, and training on security best practices and technology adoption.
Here are specific areas to focus on together with your employees to avoid and mitigate threats to your business information:
Poor password practices are a frequent contributor to data threats. They include using passwords that are easy to guess, reusing them across several accounts, writing them down, and sharing them with coworkers. Such habits could compromise data security, making it easier for cybercriminals to launch attacks.
To minimize data threats, it is important to keep login credentials confidential and adopt unique passwords for each account. They must contain a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters, making them difficult for others to crack. And if remembering multiple passwords is a challenge, you can opt for a password manager instead of noting them on paper.
Phishing attacks have been steadily rising, making them one of the most common risks to business data. One report estimates the daily phishing email volume to be as much as 3.4 billion.
So, learning to identify and guard against them is crucial to avoid falling victim. Start by scrutinizing the email address. To a great extent, fraudulent email addresses will resemble the ones used by genuine businesses. However, if you inspect closely, you will notice minor differences, typically in the form of a missing letter, an extra character, or the inclusion of a number. Misspelled words, grammatical errors, and generic greetings that don’t specifically mention your name are other giveaways.
If unsure, google the email address and check for any scam-related references. If there is a contact number, search for it on PhoneHistory to find more details about its registered user. Any discrepancies in the information you find could indicate a phishing scam.
Criminals often impersonate familiar organizations and individuals to deceive employees into sharing confidential data. These imposters could even take the guise of internal employees. For example, with number spoofing technology, they could replicate your phone number and text your finance manager asking for bottom-line information.
These types of data breaches are widespread, making request verifications crucial when sharing data. Setting up access controls for critical information and establishing data-sharing policies is pivotal for this.
Establishing security protocols for regular devices your employees use is also essential. It is even more critical when teams work from home or use personal devices.
Such security measures should include installing antivirus software and setting up strong device passwords. Keeping software up-to-date with the latest patches is another effective step.
If you allow teams to use their own devices, a robust BYOD policy is imperative to minimize common human errors that breach data security. For instance, they should avoid connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, which are easier for hackers to infiltrate. Opening a personal hotspot and using a virtual private network can help mitigate much of the risk.
In addition, using company-recommended software applications and tools is necessary to avoid malicious downloads, such as ransomware and malware that could access device data.
The physical safety of business data is just as important as its digital security. For instance, storing confidential printed documents in a safe environment and using a shredder when disposing of them are vital steps to adopt.
In addition, you can limit access to office spaces and prevent data theft by unauthorized personnel or external parties by using fingerprints, passcodes, or security cards. Access control systems can also help track who has entered and exited specific parts of your office building.
Restricting printer use and prohibiting external storage devices is useful, too, to minimize data mishandling and leaks by employees who are privy to sensitive information.
With rapid technology integrations, data breach threats to businesses have continued to surge. These could arise from both external and internal attacks and can result in damaging and sometimes irreversible outcomes.
As a business owner, taking preventative action is no longer a choice; It is a business imperative for your organization’s future success. Implementing password safety, learning to identify phishing threats, authenticating data requests, protecting devices with security measures, and ensuring the physical safety of data will be essential for establishing a robust information security system.