Hackers are getting more sophisticated. Your company can’t afford to be lax about its security. Are you wondering how to prevent data breaches? Find out how to avoid a data breach below.
The cost of data breaches is staggering, with the average breach coming in at $3.9 million in total damages. That is a 6.8% increase since last year’s report on data security.
Email is still one of the most popular ways hackers get into systems. In fact, hundreds of millions of email breaches occur every year.
How is this possible when there is an increased emphasis on data security?
Somehow, the hackers are slick and stay one step ahead. But this doesn’t mean that all is lost. There are many steps you can take to make your business less vulnerable to a cyber attack and data breaches in 2023 and 2024.
In this comprehensive guide, we will show you how to prevent data breaches with 9 actionable and necessary cybersecurity steps.
Cyber Security Today
Not too long ago, all most businesses needed was a firewall and anti-virus program that came free with most machines. Voila! You were safe.
Today, things are much different. As the former CEO of Cisco Systems, John Chambers, famously said: “There are two types of companies: those that have been hacked and those who don’t yet know they have been hacked.”
Indeed, you either notice a cyber attack instantly or it lurks deep inside the shadows, devastating your system little by little.
The three most common forms of cyber attacks these days? Malware, phishing, and man-in-the-middle attacks.
Malware is any kind of malicious software that’s infiltrated your system. Ransomware is one of the most popular types. Ransomware is exactly like it sounds — hackers demand a ransom for companies to get their data back.
WannaCry, the largest ransomware attack of 2017, cost businesses $8 dollars globally. It sounds like something out of a ’90s action movie. Unfortunately, it is not over in 90 minutes and the good guy doesn’t always win in 2023.
Phishing attacks have been around since the advent of the Internet. They are set up to look like legit companies or organizations. You open their email, click on a link, and they got you.
Man-in-the-middle attacks happen when a hacker can tap into a two-party transaction, hence the name. From there, they interrupt traffic and steal your company’s data.
So, how do you protect not only your business’ assets but your employees’ and clients’ information? Here are 9 top tips for stronger cyber security.
1. Don’t Fall Victim to Phishing Scams
Just because the Nigerian Prince is sitting in a jail cell doesn’t mean phishing scams are over. That means you still have to take precaution with your emails.
When it comes to email security, the best practices are actually the simplest ones. Educate your employees about the dangers of opening a suspicious email.
If they get duped, make sure they know to never open an attachment or click on a link. How will they know a real email from a nefarious one?
Look closely at the sender’s email address.
In many cases, the address looks legit from first glance. When you take a second look, you will notice something is definitely not quite right.
For example, instead of Bob @ AnyCompany . com, the address will be B0b @ AnyCompany . co. We told you these scammers were slick.
2. Use Encryption
Unbeknownst to many, the 270 billion emails sent daily don’t follow direct paths. An email passes through third-party servers before landing in the recipient’s inbox. Emails can get intercepted by anyone along this path.
You and your employees can protect sensitive data by enabling encryption. Encryption converts the email information into codes. The codes then work to prevent anyone who isn’t an authorized party from accessing it.
So, how do you encrypt emails?
You simply enable it. Now, this needs to work two-fold. It is safe is one person sends encrypted email, but it’s safer if the recipient also encrypts the reply.
In other words, the data may be vulnerable. Insist all employees encrypt email and your data will be much safer.
3. Avoid Public Wi-Fi
Sure, it is convenient to stay on top of company emails while you’re waiting for a flight or grabbing a danish at the coffee shop. But public Wi-Fi connections are completely open which means anyone can access them. While that is the point, of course, it leaves people who use them vulnerable.
Man-in-the-middle attacks happen often through these open networks. Cybercriminals can also set up fake WiFi spots that seem legit and functional, but are only a way to get access to sensitive data.
Pro tip? Never allow your employees or yourself to connect automatically to networks and only visit sites using HTTPS. Also it is a smart idea to download the best vpn for google chrome to ensure your browsing is secure and anonymous.
If your business involves a lot of traveling, consider replacing company phones with newer models with hotspots built in. Or, you can purchase one for about $100 each from your provider along with a monthly plan fee.
4. Keep Business and Personal Separate
It is very common these days to have employees work remotely from time to time. We have already been over the dangers of public WiFi, but what about their connections at home?
It’s best for your employees to use a VPN or VPS when working from home.
A virtual private network or server their Internet access will feel safer and more private, especially if you are using torrent site. If you insist that all employees use one, you may even be able to get away with them using public WiFi.
5. Bring in an Expert
Since data breaches and hacking is widespread, there are now experts who specialize in cybersecurity. Consider bringing one in.
Most specialists not only have specialized training in cybersecurity but they stay up to date on the latest trends. In essence, their learning never stops, even after they become a certified CISO.
You have two choices with bringing in a chief information security officer. You can outsource the position to a cybersecurity company. The other, old-school way of handling it is to hire a CISO to become a part of your in-house team.
There are pros and cons to each option. Consider how much business you do online and what your budget currently is for IT.
6. Heighten Awareness and Urgency
Whether you outsource or hire an in-house CISO, the first thing they should do is stress the importance of security to your employees. Most of the time, your employees aren’t trying to sabotage you when they check email waiting for their coffee. They just don’t realize how dangerous it is.
A CISO will detail the threats associated with data breaches and educate your staff on what they can do to be more secure.
One huge way to increase security is by enforcing a password time limit. This means that every so often, say once a month, your entire workforce needs to change their password.
To increase this security measure even more, do away with passwords and opt for pass phrases instead. For example, a common password is “password.” When someone gets a prompt that it is time to change it, they usually add a number.
So many people do this, it is like using 1234 as your bank card pin. Using a longer passphrase makes it a little harder to hack. They are customized, so your employees shouldn’t forget them either.
Say your password is “ilovesecurity.” You can turn it into a passphrase by adding a few words: “ilovesecuritydoesnteveryone.”
Kick it up a notch by adding capitals, numbers, and special characters: “il0VesEcur!tydoesnTeveryon3.” You may not think you will remember it, but after a few times, it will be as natural as typing “password.”
7. Perform a Thorough IT Risk Assessment
Not all business owners know exactly where the biggest risks for a data breach lie within their system. It is not uncommon, but it is easy to figure out. Perform a thorough risk assessment.
This will help ensure you and your team are focusing on the areas where you are most vulnerable. You can have your IT Department perform the assessment or outsource the task to a cybersecurity specialist.
8. Enforce Data Restrictions
Many small business owners don’t think twice about restricting access to employees. After all, you have a small crew and they may need to help each other out sometimes.
Unfortunately, they could also be allowing data breaches in. In fact, employee error is the No. 1 cause of data breaches. Human error is that big of a deal in cybersec.
An easy way to combat this issue is to enforce data restrictions. Only allow your employees to have access to the aspect of your system they need to do their jobs.
In other words, Steve in Marketing doesn’t need access to Susan’s Accounting portal or vice versa. So, don’t let them have it.
If you face a situation where Steve does need to know something outside of his department, have him ask for it. Or you can change his restrictions temporarily.
There should only be two people who have access to everything: you and your IT manager. Enforcing this will drop your vulnerability substantially.
9. FINRA = Your Friend
Whether you have an in-house team or outsource, you need to stay on top of cybersecurity. The easiest way to do this is to review the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) cybersecurity checklist often.
Take a look at their latest measures and follow their suggestions.
How to Prevent Data Breaches: Keep It Simple
These nine steps on how to prevent data breaches are simple, actionable, and necessary. The hardest part of avoiding a data breach will be getting all your employees on board.
Let’s face it, not everyone likes change. Some people are even opposed to it.
When it comes to cybersecurity and preventing data breaches, it is imperative that changes occur. Make sure your employees understand the importance of the new security measures. Ask them for input about making your company less vulnerable to a cyber attack. Now that you know how to stop a data breach, you can help others at your company improve their cybersec strategies.
You also need to make sure your website isn’t causing you headaches either. Check out the top 3 mistakes that you could be making with your site.