Between credit card information, tax data and banking details, you probably hold a lot of people’s financial livelihoods in your hands without even realizing it. And if your business collects financial information from customers or employees, you could have a legal obligation to protect that data. Organizations operating in the financial services, healthcare and education industries—as well as government offices—are required to comply with regulations to guarantee data security.
Even if you don’t fall into one of these heavily regulated industries, a data breach could cost you. The average breach costs around $141 per record, which amounts to an estimated $3.6 million for every event. What’s more, the true consequences of data breaches go beyond a dollar amount—damage to your reputation, for instance. Last year, Verizon was able to acquire Yahoo’s assets at a $350 million discount after Yahoo data breaches were revealed to be a result of improper security practices.
The bottom line is that your business’ future may hang in the balance after a data breach. While there’s no way to prevent hacks, certain protections will help eliminate the kinds of system vulnerabilities hackers love. And contrary to what you might think, security techniques do not necessarily need to be complicated—in fact, there are several steps you can take now, on your own, without a heavily technical background. Here are four of the most effective measures:
Assess your assets
There’s so much data flying back and forth over the internet that sometimes companies don’t even know what needs to be secured. That’s why your first step should be an evaluation of all your company’s protected assets: your intellectual property, copyrighted data, industry secrets, sensitive information, and especially data protected by privacy acts, such as financial details or health information.
Taking stock of your business’ digital assets will assist you in understanding where you need to focus your cybersecurity efforts, as well as what type of protections you should use. For instance, businesses with online stores may find it helpful to enforce automatic software and operating system updates, as well as to limit which employees have access to e-commerce tools.
Bolster your physical security controls
When it comes to data security, there’s understandably a huge focus on digital protections. However, not all threats are external, and insider threats from your own employees pose serious risks as well. When IT services provider IPswitch investigated the prevalence of insider threats, it found that at least one-quarter of all hacks originate from internal actors. Unfortunately, these kinds of threat actors can be difficult to spot, as their actions often resemble those of legitimate employees.
Investing in physical security controls such as door access systems and security cameras puts some protections between you and internal threat actors. At the very least, this will guarantee that unauthorized employees can’t walk into the office, go directly to your server room, hook up a USB flash drive and copy all of your operation’s financial data. Be sure to enforce enhanced access permissions for sensitive physical spaces—it may mean the difference between a successful hack and a thwarted one.
Focus on team member training
Sure, not all your team members harbor sinister motives, but they can wreak havoc on secured data nonetheless. While internal attacks are much rarer than those initiated by outside threats, your employees often contribute indirectly to data breaches through poor data hygiene.
Phishing attacks and poor passwords are responsible for many of the most notorious data breaches of our era—just ask Sony, Anthem Health Insurance, RSA Security or any of the hundreds of other companies who’ve suffered an employee-prompted breach. Email phishing attacks may seem like old hat, but they’re still quite common and, unfortunately, often successful. As recently as last year, Verizon studies found that around 7% of employees cannot successfully detect phishing attempts through email attachments or links, and that rate is as high as 13% in certain industries. This issue is most notable among healthcare workers, whom hackers are targeting in droves.
Don’t let employees deliver your data on a silver platter; help team members understand the realities of hacking and its consequences. Teach employees to spot—and report—suspicious activity, especially questionable emails. Enforce complex passwords for all systems and encourage team members to use devices responsibly, especially when working remotely.
These are the basics, but your IT support provider may have other suggestions as well. Your IT services team may even elect to host employee training sessions on your behalf, giving team members access to the most up-to-date cybersecurity information available. Employees should be your first line of defense against data breaches, not your biggest vulnerability!
Encrypt and back up your data
Encrypted data is obviously a lot less useful to hackers, especially in the event of a ransomware attack in which threat actors essentially hold your data hostage in an effort to extract high ransoms in return.
Although data encryption is the obvious solution, there is evidence that only about one-third of sensitive data stored in the cloud is protected this way. One explanation for this surprisingly low number is that many businesses rely too heavily on cloud providers, wrongly assuming that they will enforce data protections. Meanwhile, data needs to be encrypted while both in transit and at rest to maintain the utmost security.
Encrypting data does come with disadvantages—most notably, it may slow applications or be more difficult with real-time data analysis or AI applications. Therefore, you may want to have your IT support provider weigh in when you’re deciding where to encrypt. However, when it comes to financial data, encryption is always the right choice. IT services providers can help you install encryption protections where it counts to foil opportunistic hackers.
That said, encryption is just one part of a robust data protection program; regular backups are another crucial component. Backups can give you leverage during a ransomware attack or allow you to restore data in the event of accidental deletion or corruption, so you should have your IT services provider perform automatic data backups every 24 hours. At a minimum, these backups should include customer information, billing and bookkeeping data, product orders, your website code, custom programming and passwords.
Keeping financial data secure is a big job, but you don’t have to do it all by yourself. An IT support provider can assist with more advanced controls, such as threat detection systems, monitoring and other protections that will aid you in spotting hackers before they do damage. IT services providers can also help you design emergency response programs to triage events should you detect an issue. If you’re ready to take the next step to secure your data, contact us today for a free consultation.