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While the terms “Data Security” and “Data Breach” have been around for a long time, they acquired a lot of traction a few years ago with the proposed implementation of data privacy regulations like the General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR) and California Customer Protection Act (CCPA).
By definition, a data breach is an intentional or unintentional release of secure or private/confidential information that occurs due to a cyberattack, allowing unauthorized individuals to gain unauthorized access to a computer system or network. While it is critical to be aware of the risks and have contingency plans in place to navigate a data breach, ensuring a robust layer of information security systems are part of an organization’s Data Management procedures is required to mitigate such mishaps.
According to research studies, the average total cost to an organization due to a data breach is $3.86 million. Organizations like Yahoo, LinkedIn, Adobe, Zoom, Equifax, Capital One, and Marriott International have fallen prey to data breaches.
Repercussions of a data breach can be severe, impacting not only the financial well-being of companies but also their reputations. Often organizations may also be subject to regulatory proceedings as a result.
While most common data breaches are due to malicious outside actors, the cause can sometimes be an accidental insider. There’s a large spectrum of possible causes for a data breach. This can range from simple and unintentional, such as borrowing a co-worker’s device and accidentally browsing through their data, to malicious, such as an intentional hack or misuse of data, especially Personally Identifiable Information (PII).
The “Why” And “How” of a Data Breach — First Line of Defense
Cybercrime is an extremely profitable industry for attackers. Hackers seek personally identifiable information to steal money, compromise identities, or sell over the dark web. Hackers target vulnerabilities of companies and tap into opportunities by directly going after the network. Since the average time taken to spot a data breach is over five months, there is sufficient time for malicious actors to abuse the data.
A data breach can occur in several ways but is most commonly carried out in the following four ways:
- Compromised System Securities: Outdated software creates easy access for attackers to sneak malware onto the system and steal data.
- Weak Login Credentials: Weak and insecure user passwords are easier for hackers to guess, especially if a password contains whole words or phrases.
- Targeted Malware Attacks: Phishing is a prevalent method used for malware attacks. Since phishing attempts can be made to look unsuspicious, it is an easy opportunity to steal confidential data with just one bad click.
- Third-Party Access: Malicious actors can mask their attacks as third-party vendors into even the most secure of the systems.
Below find some best practices to mitigate potential data breaches through information security:
- Security Awareness Training: Employees are most often the weakest link in a company security system. Since employees often open suspicious links from an unknown email address, frequent training is strongly recommended. Security awareness training could be an elaborate presentation to educate the employees about the importance of data security every few months, in addition to conducting random phishing attack tests by sending out emails with suspicious-looking links.
- Restrict Access to Sensitive and Confidential Data: Limit physical and electronic access to computer systems and data based on specific job requirements. Ensure clear and well-defined policies are in place for employees to request access to specific hardware or software required to be productive at work. Non-disclosure agreements are a great starting point to make sure employees are required to request access to sensitive and confidential data.
- Data Security Over Personal Devices: Having a dedicated guest-access network is critical to ensure all guests, contractors, and even employees who use personal devices are accessing a separate network and will minimize the risk of exposing sensitive data.
- Individual Login Credentials: Ensure employees have individual credentials to access the system and enforce a strong password policy. Reminding employees to frequently change their passwords is also a good practice that minimizes the risk of hacking.
- Monitor Portable Media: Portable storage devices present an excellent opportunity for attackers to steal data. It can be the physical loss/theft of a flash drive or releasing malware via a flash drive. Smartphones and other electronic devices that sync with computers need close monitoring as well.
- Data Classification: It is critical to be educated about existing data and classify it according to the level of importance. Identifying and understanding which data is sensitive, how it is stored, retrieved, and backed up, and if it can be downloaded in encrypted form, especially to personal devices, is important.
- Safeguarding Computers: In addition to the implementation of a strong password policy, enforcing time-out features that require employees to login after a stipulated time of inactivity is vital. Training employees to not leave their computers or personal devices unattended and limiting the websites they can visit can also add an additional layer of security.
- Ensuring Data Security from Insiders: It is very important to ensure the data of an organization is stored in a safe physical location with restricted access. While enabling access to certain employees who require it, it is advisable to conduct thorough background checks to ensure that important data is in safe hands. Also, enforcing strict confidentiality agreements with new employees during the onboarding process can emphasize the seriousness of future data breach mishaps.
- Third-Party Vendor Compliance and Cloud Providers: Moving sensitive data to a cloud provider with expertise in storing and retrieving data in an encrypted format multiplies the layers of data security and is a popular approach to secure enterprise data. It is recommended to collaborate with companies that are transparent about their security policies.
- Proper Disposal of Data: In the earlier times when storing and maintaining important data was done by physically storing papers at secure locations, ensuring the safe disposal of them was done through strict data disposal procedures and rules in place. However, with data storage moving online, additional measures should be taken to ensure proper data disposal. Simply deleting files does not permanently erase the data in them. Hence, it is crucial to use appropriate software to thoroughly wipe the said data.
Undoubtedly, with the increase in internet connectivity around the globe, data is the new currency for organizations, enabling them to predict consumer and market behavior and make profitable strategic decisions. However, even a small data breach can result in losses amounting to millions of dollars, along with a potential loss of customer trust. Hence, it is advisable to have maximal information security systems in place to protect your organization from falling prey to such situations.
Although one-time costs to implement security measures could be considered high by some, one must understand the fact that negligence to potential data breaches could lead to a loss of a higher magnitude for the organization. In today’s world, with more businesses moving online and more employees encouraged to work remotely in the post-COVID-19 era, having secure Data Management and robust information systems is almost imperative.