Data breaches are a struggle for businesses and individuals. 45% of US companies have experienced a data breach, and 1 and 5 internet users are affected by a data breach every year.
These data breaches cause long-term and short-term disadvantages for businesses and individuals, from financial losses to lack of trust and a negative brand reputation. Therefore, to prevent data breach consequences, it’s critical to be fully aware of what a data breach is, how to avoid it, and what to control if it happens.
So, if you are here and wish to know data breach basics, you are in the right place. This article covers what a data breach is and provides prevention strategies and control measures.
Let’s get into it.
What is a data breach?
A data breach occurs when confidential or sensitive data is copied, transferred, viewed, or disclosed without authorization. They are conducted by unauthorised users who hack into a business or individual’s data for personal gains, blackmail, etc.
This private information may include financial information like credit card details, bank details, intellectual properties, or trade secrets. It may also include personal health information (PHI), personally identifiable information (PII), unstructured files, documents, etc.
Anyone can fall victim to data breaches without adequate data security, whether you are an enterprise, a government organisation, or an individual.Learn more about data breaches in this excellent resource.
What causes data breaches?
Generally, data breaches happen due to weaknesses in two specific areas: user behavior and technology. Digital products, services, and tools are susceptible to attacks without proper security. Also, users’ internet behavior can expose their private information to data attacks, including non-usage encryption, strong passwords, etc.
Below are common ways data breaches occur in an organization:
- An accidental insider: This happens when a co-worker uses another employee’s computer and reads their files without permission. Although the breach is unintentional and no information is copied or transmitted, it’s considered a data breach because the owner didn’t authorize it.
- A malicious insider: This occurs when an insider gains authorized or unauthorized access to a business’s system with the wrong intent, perhaps to destroy the company or make profits.
- A stolen device: This happens when a device without encryption or adequate data security gets stolen or missing.
- Malicious outsiders: This occurs when criminals outside the organization hack into the system to gather information about a business.
Different methods to breach data
Hackers employ three standard techniques to breach data. Let’s check them out below:
- Phishing: Hackers design social engineering attacks to get users to give up their personal information to enable unauthorized access to their systems.
- Brute force attack: Brute force attack occurs when illegal users employ different tools to weaken your data security system.
- Malware: Hackers look for security flaws in your operating system, software, and hardware and exploit them to access your data.
Top data breach prevention strategies
There are several effective ways to protect the company’s sensitive information from breaches. Let’s examine the top ways below:
1. Restrict access to the business’s critical data
The more people have access to your company’s critical information, the higher the chances of exposure. So, it’s helpful to restrict access to the most relevant users. Limiting access reduces the number of people who can hack or expose your files to unauthorized users.
Restricting access requires implementing access control principles, determining who has access, and who ensures the restriction is implemented. It also means identifying how access will be documented and conducting periodic audits.
Restricting access will help you control who can view, transmit or use your company’s most critical information. Also, it ensures accountability and protects business data.
2. Ensure third-party compliance
Third-party vendors can put your data at risk if adequate measures are not taken. For example, a survey revealed that 51% of respondents attributed recent data breaches to third-party vendors.
Therefore, ensuring other companies you do business with comply with your company’s data breach policies is crucial. To do this, educate your third-party vendors about your data security practices, and create a Service Level Agreement (SLA) that ensures third-parties fulfil their agreement to comply with your security standards.
Additionally, limit third-party access to your business’s system. Give them access to relevant information, and restrict access to other critical data irrelevant to their business.
Review your third-party policies and agreement regularly to keep them up to date about new data security measures. Finally, conduct regular audits, including reviewing the SLA and third-party activities to detect loopholes and make immediate fixes.
3. Update your system regularly
Keep your software up-to-date to equip your system to fight against data breaches. It enables security patches, preventing system vulnerability. Since the system is not susceptible to threats, attackers will be unable to hack your software with malware, thereby preventing data breaches.
So, install patches frequently. Also, employ practical security tools to ensure your system is patched and updated regularly. Doing this strengthens your network and prevents attacks on your company’s data security.
4. Conduct regular employee data security awareness training
Employees will likely weaken your data security system, exposing your data to breaches when they are ignorant of how data protection works. Regular employee training lets workers know precisely what they should do to avoid data breaches, how to detect threats, and adequate security measures to adopt. This way, they secure your system adequately and stop violations before they happen.
So, educate employees about phishing, password security, privacy policies, and compliance. Conduct training frequently so the staff is always in the loop about new data protection policies and practices. This builds a culture against data attacks, creates collective data security defenses, and enables compliance with data security laws and regulations.
5. Encrypt your data
Data encryption boosts data privacy and security. It prevents authorized access to the business system, safeguarding against data breaches. So, ensure your confidential emails are encrypted before you send them.
Also, create a private network the public can’t access when using WiFi. Although other preventive practices like firewalls and strong password protection are excellent, data encryption is among the most essential, last defence against data breaches.
Therefore, implement strong encryption standards by deciding your security needs and adopting the right tools to meet them.
How to handle data breaches
What do you do when a data breach occurs in your company? Below are practical control measures you can adopt to limit the damage and stop data threats in your organization.
1. Assemble the control team
Organize data security experts to the rescue. This may include data analysts, IT, and the legal team. The team will collaborate to identify how the leak occurred, the type of information that was leaked, and the next steps.
2. Protect your IT system
After assembling a team, safeguard your entire system to prevent continuous leaks. This could involve disconnecting computers from your network to prevent leaks from those systems.
Afterward, authorized employees can change their passwords and log-in details to your server. Then, protect the system against similar attacks by employing the right tools and practices.
3. Inform the right people
It’s essential to communicate the incident of the leaks to those affected to maintain their trust, including employees, partners, and customers. You can contact them directly or use a public relations campaign, depending on the number of people affected.
Discuss the cause of the leak, which sensitive information was breached, and the control measures the company is taking to prevent future incidents—answer pressing questions and explain the activities you’ve implemented to mitigate damage.
Prompt and effective communication with affected persons lets you maintain a positive brand image and keeps you accountable.
4. Notify law enforcement agencies
Informing law enforcement agencies and privacy bodies can lower penalties and facilitate control. It will also mitigate identity theft in cases of personal data breaches.
Depending on the type of data leaked and for whom, you may inform the government and appropriate privacy regulatory bodies like the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) or CCPA ( Consumer Privacy Protection Act). To discover the appropriate government agency or privacy body to inform, check out your state and federal regulations or hire experts to help.
5. Implement data security defences
After addressing the leak, introduce proper security protection controls to prevent your system from future leaks. Afterward, test the prevention controls to ensure your defence is up and running.
Reliable security provides the security patches you’ve adopted to work. In addition, they will strengthen vulnerable tech areas and regularly inspect your defences to ensure they are effective.
6. Acquire cyber liability insurance
Cyber liability insurance protects against future data losses. It gives your business options, including first-party coverage, against data destruction, extortion, theft, hacking, etc.
Cyber liability insurance enhances data security and provides a funding mechanism for companies to recover from data losses. Therefore, obtain cybersecurity insurance as a proactive measure against data leaks that may occur in the future.
Knowing how to prevent data breaches and control them when they happen is essential. Control practices limit damages while preventive measures stop data breaches from happening. This article discussed data breaches and presented the best prevention and control activities.