Businesses across all industries are racing to embrace digital transformation. At the same time, serious dangers in the form of data security risks lurk in the shadows.
Each day, businesses face a multitude of cyber threats from sophisticated hackers and bad actors. As for the consequences of enduring a cyberattack? They’re severe. According to one recent IBM study, the average U.S. data breach costs upwards of $8.19 million.
Think a data breach won’t ever happen to your company? Think again. Hackers frequently target even the most sophisticated organizations. Companies like Uber, Experian, Sony, Anthem, and Target have all been attacked in the past few years.
Chances are that your company has far fewer resources than any of these five. In that light, your business is probably even more vulnerable than they were.
When a hack occurs, immediate financial losses are only one piece of the puzzle. Data breaches are extremely disruptive to business. If your customer finds out that their data has been stolen, there’s a high probability that they will be hesitant to transact with you down the road. What’s more, you could also have your intellectual property (IP) stolen, leading to even greater losses in the long term.
If you’re concerned about the data security risks that your business faces, you’re not alone. A recent study revealed that 44% of U.S. CEOs feel that the risks involved with digital adoption are preventing their businesses from moving forward. Companies are literally chained to their old ways because they aren’t sure how to protect themselves against modern threats.
Before we examine what you can do to reduce the likelihood your business suffers a data security setback, let’s take a step back and get our definitions straight.
What Are Data Security Risks?
Data security risks are threats to an organization’s digital assets and infrastructure.
For example, if your business routinely collects your customers’ information, that data could be compromised if it’s not protected properly.
When data breaches occur, bad things happen. Your company might incur a fine. Someone could steal your sensitive data and use it against you. And your customers could be upset.
What Kinds of Data Security Risks Are There?
One of the main reasons hackers are so good at what they do is because it’s relatively easy for them to trick unsuspecting individuals.
Here are some of the most common data threats that businesses face.
1. Human Error
This might sound obvious. But if you or your employees lose a computer in a public area, all of the data stored on on the device is at risk.
Choosing an easy password is another common mistake that people make. For example, if your computer’s password is something easy like “Baseball123”—or, worse yet, the dreaded “p@ssword”—it could be relatively easy for someone that knows what they are doing to figure that out.
And if they do, not only is the data on the local device compromised, your entire infrastructure could be at risk. After all, the device would most likely be used to access databases, web platforms, email software, and social media accounts, among other things.
To prevent these instances from occurring, all devices should have strong passwords. Numerous password management services exist to help you do just that.
You could also look into employee management software, which allows you to remotely monitor and shut down remote devices in the event of a threat.
2. Rogue Employee
It’s not uncommon for an employee to intentionally steal your data, either. Countless criminals have been charged with stealing customer records, credit card information, and other sensitive data.
Why would someone do such a thing, you might ask?
One reason is that your company’s data or IP can be sold on the black market—like what recently happened at GlaxoSmithKline. What’s more, if your employee feels that they aren’t making enough money, they might try to take matters into their own hands by stealing and selling your data. Unfortunately, this happens far more often than you might think. And by the time you’ve figured it out, the damage has usually been done.
It’s virtually impossible to prevent employees from committing bad acts.
The best way you can prepare your business against this threat is to thoroughly screen your employees up front. Performing background checks, checking up on prior work references, and conducting drug screening are some practices that businesses use.
You may also want to keep the lines of communication open with your employees. Are they happy with the role they plan within your organization? Do they feel fairly compensated?
If they’re not happy, or if they feel underpaid, they’re more likely to go rogue.
Malware is a form of malicious software that’s designed to cause harm to a computer, database, software, or any other digital asset. It can steal data, corrupt files, and even damage infrastructure. Some of the most common forms of malware include viruses, trojans, spyware, and ransomware.
The best way to protect your business against malware is to install antivirus software on all company devices. You’ll also want to ensure that you have a robust firewall in place.
Keeping all of your software, hardware, and applications up-to-date is another must. It’s much easier for malware to corrupt and exploit outdated programs.
4. Public WiFi
As a general rule of thumb, never connect to an unsecured public WiFi network. One technique that a hacker can use on public WiFi is called a man-in-the-middle attack. When data moves from your computer across the public WiFi network, a hacker can intercept and read that data while it’s in transit. In this situation, data that originates from your computer could potentially be stolen.
If you or your employees must use public WiFi, install a VPN program on all company devices before connecting. VPNs protect your devices and data by encrypting your network connection.
Phishing is a form of cyber attack that uses emails to steal information. The practice of phishing is growing each day. In fact, a 2018 study revealed that phishing attacks had increased 27.5% that year.
Here’s how it works: Let’s say you receive a random email from Dropbox notifying you that your file is ready for download. But you didn’t recently use Dropbox. It turns out that the email is actually a fake—designed by hackers to look like it came from Dropbox. If you click on that email, you might be asked to enter your Dropbox password to access the file. If you enter your password, all of your business’s files could immediately appear the dark web.
The first thing you should do to protect your business against phishing attacks is to train your employees. Conduct a companywide meeting that demonstrates what phishing looks like and what to do in the event that a suspicious email is received. You will also want to ensure that all company devices have the latest antivirus software.
The Best Data Security Approach for Your Business
Given the wide range of data security threats that exist, there’s no single solution to keeping your data safe.
However, you can certainly help protect your business by following the best practices discussed above.
Deploying password managers, using VPNs, installing antivirus software, and investing in employee management software should be a no-brainer. You may also want to routinely educate your employees about the most common data security threats.
By taking this multi-pronged approach, you can put your business in a better place than most.
One thing’s for certain: With so much on the line, you can’t afford to cut corners.
This post was written by Justin Reynolds. Justin is a freelance writer who enjoys telling stories about how technology, science, and creativity can help workers be more productive. In his spare time, he likes seeing or playing live music, hiking, and traveling.