Top 10 Data Protection Risks and How to Avoid Them

Is your company protected against these 10 common data protection risks? Learn what they are and how to avoid them in this easy-to-follow data security guide.

The Complete Guide to Mitigate Data Protection Vulnerabilities

Data protection risks. It’s one of your company’s most discussed nightmares ─ and if it isn’t, it should be. Threats to your data exist everywhere. Even from your employees themselves. Did you know that over a third of data breaches involve internal actors?

The possibility that your systems could be hacked, and your data stolen and misused, is higher now than ever. Especially if you have any employees who work remotely, from their home or elsewhere.

If your data is stolen, the consequences can range from nuisance level to company crippling. 

Where should you begin your journey to data safety?

We recommend that you start with these 10 common data protection risks and how to avoid them.

The benefits of data protection

For many companies, data protection is mandatory. Especially in industries like finance, health, and eCommerce, regulations dictate minimum requirements for cybersecurity measures ─ including data security best practices.

Yet, even for those companies that don’t have mandatory security requirements, data protection is necessary. It ensures that their confidential information remains confidential and helps prevent any kind of threat or damage to the company’s reputation.

Get it right, and data protection can:

  • Ensure your business can continue operating and serving its customers, even if your systems are hacked.

  • Build trust between you and your customers, suppliers, and employees, and enhance your business’s reputation.

  • Prevent unnecessary expenses. In the United States in 2020, the average cost of a data breach was $8.64 million (IBM), and these costs seep into your business over a long period ─ 39% of them being incurred more than a year after the breach.

So, how do you get data protection right?

Here are those top 10 data protection risks we promised to discuss

  1. Insider or employee data breaches

Insider data breaches happen when someone who has access to your company’s sensitive data uses it (or allows it to be used) maliciously, either intentionally or unintentionally. This is the number one data protection risk.

This might be a rogue employee, who has access to your company’s data without authorization or has decided to use their access for personal gain without your knowledge. The most common form of rogue employee is a disgruntled employee who wants revenge against their former employer, but it could be an employee who is being extorted by a criminal gang.

The most usual form of an employee data breach is by careless or uninformed employees. The accountant who walks away from the computer but leaves it logged in. The employee who innocently responds to a request for password details from your IT helpdesk ─ which turns out not to be your IT helpdesk.

Insiders can also be others with access to your systems, hardware, and software, including contractors, vendors, and even customers.

How to prevent internal threats

We’re talking about two types of risk here ─ carelessness and maliciousness. To cover both, we must improve the vigilance of people and systems, so we employ a range of tactics that include:

  • Using advanced activity logging and system monitoring

  • Limiting employees’ access to only the specific data needed to perform their roles

  • Implementing multifactor authentication

  • Regular training and familiarization of employees with data protection risk and preventative measures, which include teaching employees to:

  • Identify and avoid phishing attacks

  • Log out after a session

  • Detect, avoid using, and report a malicious website

  • Identify and report suspicious activity on user accounts and devices

  • Create and manage strong passwords

  1. Lack of awareness

Lack of awareness of data protection can lead to some dire consequences as well. Often, this is because people in your company or attached to it have not kept up with changes in data security laws and regulations, or they simply aren’t aware of the risks to your business and to them.

How to beat lack of awareness

Information really is king when it comes to data protection. The more informed your people are, the less likely your business is to be breached. It’s crucial that you:

  • Educate your employees about digital threats, and how recent data breaches have occurred

  • Improve their understanding to improve your protection

  • Avoid poor cybersecurity measures other businesses use ─ such as sending out a data security newsletter once a month and expecting people to read it

It’s essential that you make data protection accessible to your employees. Keep the language simple and easy to understand. Share stories that employees can relate to, to describe the serious nature of data protection. Put data protection at the top of your team meeting agendas. There are many basics of data security and cybersecurity that make a significant difference.

  1. Business software applications

Your business depends upon the software it uses. Whether making products or selling services, the digital nature of work today means you use a lot of software across your business ─ from calendars to project management software to accounts, and so on.

Outdated software may suffer from inadequate protective measures and be easy to infiltrate.

Software update supply chain attacks ─ when a cybercriminal gains access to a software vendor’s systems and plants malicious code into the vendor’s software updates ─ are also a threat.

And, of course, downloading software from untrusted sources is a big source of data breaches and the planting of malicious programs into your IT systems.

How to avoid business software threats

Two words are key here: be suspicious. You wouldn’t allow a stranger to enter your house until you had checked their credentials, would you? Take the same attitude with your business software:

  • Check and update your software regularly

  • Uninstall unsupported software versions

  • Assess your software updates before releasing them

  • Regularly monitor your systems and networks ─ use penetration testing and regular risk assessments

  • Only use trusted software from a developer’s website

We’re going to come back to the education of employees here. It’s vital to ensure that they never download software onto your systems that are not on your list of allowable software. You should also use your system functionality to block any suspicious downloads, and alerts to warn your IT department should an employee seek to do so.

  1. Malware and ransomware

Malware and ransomware threats have been a major concern for companies in recent years. These threats can destroy your company’s reputation and expose confidential information such as customer details, credit card numbers, employee information, etc.

Malware is a type of malicious software that can take control of your computer or mobile device without your knowledge and use it to steal information or cause damage to your system.

Ransomware is a type of malicious software that encrypts all files on your system without giving you any option to restore them without paying the attacker a ransom.

Malware and ransomware are most commonly spread by phishing attacks ─ emails that contain infected attachments or links to malicious websites.

How to prevent malware and ransomware

There are four tactics that you can employ with relative ease.

The first of these is to educate your employees. Train them to spot malicious emails and what to do if they receive one (and what not to do!).

You should also ensure that your IT infrastructure and systems benefit from modern endpoint security (a little like ensuring your doors are locked and having a spyhole to see who comes knocking).

Advanced malware and virus scanning will help to give you added protection in real-time, alerting employees to malicious attachments.

Finally, employ smart data backup processes ─ so that if you are attacked you can revert to a recent ‘clean’ state and protect your data from being misused or wiped.

  1. Advanced persistent threats

Cybercriminals don’t go to sleep when your business closes its doors for the day. They are like thieves in the dead of night, constantly trying doors and windows and looking for ways to break in. 

Just like the cleverest cat burglars use advanced techniques to break into the most guarded and alarmed building, so, too, do cyber criminals when they are trying to breach your security measures to steal your most valuable data.

That’s an advanced persistent threat (APT).

How to prevent APTs

We’ve come to the first threat where it’s all about the tools you use ─ you can’t watch your door 24/7, can you? But you can lock it, alarm, it, and video it.

So, what should you do to protect your systems from APTs?

  1. Use patched browser and software vulnerabilities.

Patches are designed to fix any potential security issues in a system or program and are usually released by the developers of the system or program. However, there is a downside to these patches.

  1. Use SSL security.

SSL is a protocol that secures communications between two computers. It’s used to prevent terminals from capturing sensitive data and to prevent ATP entry into your network.

  1. Segment your network.

Segmentation of your network allows you to detect suspicious activity or behavior more easily.

  1. Implement intelligent APT protection.

Install autonomous intelligent APT protection solutions that can discover and intercept APT at various levels of the network.

  1. Cloud server breaches

The cloud is a powerful tool for your company. It helps you manage your data and operate more efficiently. Unfortunately, the cloud also comes with the risk of being breached. Often, companies focus on the perimeter instead of understanding their internal systems and processes. Once a cloud database is hacked, cybercriminals can infiltrate the rest of your system.

How to prevent cloud server breaches

The first action to take is to configure your system to allow maximum control over it. Then, if you do experience a security threat, you will be positioned to tackle the issue in real-time. 

A word of warning here: you could make things worse if you try to fix something in the cloud (or internally) without the experience to do so. Therefore, always seek expert advice. The best practice? Create (or partner with) an enterprise security team that can resolve these issues before they become a critical concern for your business’s data.

  1. Personal data accessibility

Your customers trust you with their personal data ─ all sorts of information about them. If personal data is accessed without authorization, it could ruin your business. You may suffer reputational damage and be subject to investigation, penalties, and fines.

How to avoid personal data accessibility issues

The problem is that personal data can be accessed by third parties without consent or authorization from the person whose information is being used. The solution (as well as using strategies such as data encryption and masking) is to secure personal data using modern strategies such as blockchain security and use cloud storage intelligently to protect personal information against loss.

  1. Data loss

Data loss can happen in many ways. By an insider attack, malware or ransomware, carelessness internally, and negligence outside of the workplace. Your data could be intercepted while in transit.

How to prevent data loss

Employee education is crucial to protect against data loss. Your people should understand how to protect themselves from cyberattacks, and how to protect any data in their possession.

Introduce data loss prevention management (DLP) into your business strategy. DLP programs include a set of processes and tools that ensure your data is not accessed without authorization, lost, or misused.

You should also certify all those who have access to your systems, and help all in your business understand and value the data you hold.

  1. Backup system vulnerabilities

You’ve got everything set. Including your disaster recovery planning and backup procedures. But those backup systems are also prone to attack: the software and files are natural targets (they usually have high accessibility and are easy to find), and if encryption keys are lost or stolen the data can be read easily.

How to prevent backup system vulnerabilities

Many of the preventative measures that we have already outlined can be used to combat backup system vulnerabilities, including employee education and multifactor authentication.

On top of this, you should use a reputable shadow IT service provider, keep backup files securely (and geographically separated from your ‘live’ data), and use SSH authentication for remote access.

  1. Third-party risks

And so, we come to the last of our 10 data protection risks, and one of the most common ─ third-party risks. If you fall victim to these (such as a click-and-bait site), you could lose your entire business.

How to prevent third-party risks

When using third-party sources, you should always evaluate them. Make certain that they are genuine, and that you assess for risks. Even though you do this, however, you may still fall foul of the most advanced cybercriminal tactics.

Therefore, secure third-party sites and employ advanced cyber threat security, backed by robust security policies. Lastly, embed regular re-evaluation of third parties, checking on their security measures and status.

Is your business data 100% secure?

Find out if your business is 100% secure. Are you protected against human and system vulnerabilities? Discover if your business is protected before it’s too late. Contact Millennium Tech today, and we’ll show you how we can help protect your company against cyber threats.

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