While many business owners believe they're taking steps to protect their data, the statistics often show otherwise. As the Wall Street Journal reports, 33 percent of businesses that experienced a data breach didn't even realize the breach for more than a year.
That tells us two things: not only do some businesses fail to adequately protect their data–they sometimes aren't even aware a breach occurred in the first place.
Protecting data is one of the biggest challenges facing businesses today, but these four simple tips can help reduce data breach risks.
1. Minimize Internal Access to Your Data
Make sure any data stored at your business is secure, and limit access to that data. For example, you might make sure that only the sales and finance team can access customer financial details and only human resources can view employee Social Security numbers and other payroll details.
One way to accomplish this is through the use of a permissions-based system. This both restricts access to sensitive data and makes it easier to track where a breach might have occurred if data is exposed.
Using an IT service management system with enforceable workflows can help you put data protection protocols in place to ensure that only the people with the necessary permissions can view sensitive information.
2. Keep Your Software Up to Date
Any piece of office equipment that runs on software requires regular updates. If you let your software go unpatched, hackers can easily exploit vulnerabilities and pilfer your data.
To guard against this, take inventory of all equipment in your business that may need software updates. To minimize the risk of employees accidentally downloading something they shouldn't, entrust all software updates to your IT team. You might also create a policy that outlines the process for implementing updates in the future, too. Ideally, updates will be applied as soon as the manufacturer releases them.
Finally, if you have software or equipment that has become so outdated that patches or software updates are no longer available–like Microsoft discontinuing security updates for Windows Server 2003–you should replace it before it becomes a security risk.
3. Back Up Your Data
You can have every security protocol in place to protect your data from hackers, but if you don't also protect it from a power surge, break-in, or a natural disaster, you could still potentially lose all of your company's critical information in one fell swoop.
Make sure that company is data is backed up frequently (preferably daily). You might also want to ensure your data is securely stored somewhere other than your office. This could be either at a secure off-site server or in the cloud. That way if an employee's laptop is stolen or your office experiences a fire, your data is still safe.
4. Educate Employees
Outside of your IT department, you can't expect employees to be IT security experts. However, you can train them on some best practices so they don't unwittingly compromise your company's security. For example, you might…
- Enforce alphanumeric passwords. Require company passwords to have a combination of numbers, upper- and lowercase letters, and special characters. It's also a good idea to use a password management system that requires employees to change passwords at least every 90 days.
- Educate your employees on basic network safety. If you have remote employees, make sure they don't access sensitive company data via non-secure Wi-Fi networks (e.g., at a coffee shop or airport).
- Teach employees how to recognize phishing scams. Even though spam filters are getting better all the time, phishing emails sometimes slip through. Train employees on how to spot a phishing email, and reinforce the fact that they will never be asked to divulge sensitive information via email.
Whatever steps you take to protect your data, just remember to create a comprehensive data security plan and stick to it.