What Is the Biggest Threat to Data Security?

Data security is a leading concern for CEOs across all industries—and for good reason. Each day, businesses face a wide range of potentially game-ending cyber threats. Malware, phishing, DDoS attacks, and rogue employees are just a few of the dangers lurking in the waters of digital transformation.

Why exactly is data security such a concern?

It’s simple: Data breaches can be exorbitantly expensive. In fact, a recent study by IBM revealed that the average cost to US companies is $8.19 million. Healthcare breaches tend to be the most expensive to resolve, with the average cost hovering around $6.4 million.

What’s more, the same IBM study showed that loss of customer trust accounts for 36% of the damages that companies face. This goes to show that data breaches are not only extremely disruptive and costly to businesses in the short term, their effects will be felt for years down the road—and perhaps even indefinitely.

In this post, we’ll be answering the question: What is the biggest threat to data security? Further, we will give you some tips on how to mitigate it.

Data Security Statistics

To give you a better idea about the growing prevalence and seriousness of cyber threats, consider the following statistics:

In this light, it’s easy to see why CEOs are leery to dive headfirst toward digital adoption. However, this is precisely why it’s more important than ever for companies to embrace a multi-faceted approach to data security.

But with so many different types of threats to watch out for, how can a business possibly prepare for them all? And more specifically, what is the single biggest threat to data security that companies should prepare for?

If you’re asking these questions, you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading to learn more about some of the biggest threats to data security that companies like yours are fighting off every day—and what you can do to stay on the right side of the issue.

What Is the Biggest Threat to Data Security?

The biggest threat to data security isn’t viruses, hackers, or malware. It’s people.

The same employees you depend on to run your business are the folks who are most likely to cause a breach—accidentally or intentionally.

And it’s not just everyday employees who can cause a breach. Using complex tactics, malicious actors can trick CEOs and IT professionals alike.

Why Are People the Biggest Threat to Data Security?

Let’s take a look at why people are so susceptible to causing data breaches.

1. Human Error

Companies are spending millions of dollars on technology to protect against external threats. What many businesses fail to realize, however, is that 9 times out of 10, data breaches are caused by internal employee error. They’re not caused by an outside force.

How is that possible?

It boils down to basic human nature. No matter how hard an employee tries to do things right, every once in a while, mistakes will happen. For example, if an employee forgets their company phone or laptop bag in a public space, that data becomes at risk. What’s more, if an HR professional forgets to conduct a thorough background check or drug screening on a new hire, they might not detect an alarming red flag.

People are also the most common target of sophisticated cyber attacks—like spear phishing, for example. A phishing attack takes the form of a fake email that tricks an employee into providing sensitive information.

For example, your employee might receive what appears to be an email from Google Drive informing them that a file is ready for download. If they click on that email, they’ll likely be prompted to enter a login and password to access the file. By following those directions, all of your company’s data stored on Google Drive becomes immediately available to hackers. (This is precisely how hackers infiltrated the Democratic National Committee’s emails back in 2016.)

How Can You Protect Your Business Against Human Error?

Requiring your employees to use strong passwords is one way to protect your devices in the event of loss or theft. You can also conduct routine security training that shows your employees what spear phishing looks like. As a result, your employees will know what to do in the event that a suspicious email comes their way. If you’ve trained them right, they’ll learn to avoid clicking on emails that seem off.

2. Malicious Actors

Rogue employees are also a major threat to your business’s data security. In some cases, a disgruntled employee might actively try to sabotage your company’s data or IT infrastructure. The employee simply hates their job. And for whatever reason, they decide to take out their anger by throwing a wrench in your operations.

In other cases, a rogue employee might try to steal your company’s trade secrets or IP. This individual might think they could use it to launch their own business or sell on the black market (which is what recently happened at Tesla).

The good news is that protecting yourself against rogue employees isn’t as hard as it might seem.

The first step is conducting in-depth background checks and verifying prior work references of new hires. You’ll also want to keep the lines of communication open with all employees. That’s because unhappy employees are more likely to become or be influenced by malicious actors.

You can also implement employee monitoring software across company devices. This way, you can monitor devices for suspicious activity.

3. Unauthorized Users Accessing Company Devices

Whenever an employee brings their laptop away from the office, you lose control over who accesses that device.

For example, let’s say your employee is working at home after hours. Something comes up, and the employee leaves their laptop open and unattended. The employee’s ever-curious child then goes to check out their parent’s work computer and starts surfing the web. Unknowingly, the child stumbles upon a shady website and accidentally downloads malware.

Your company device and data is now compromised.

To prevent such an innocent mistake from happening, make sure all devices are regularly updated with leading-edge antivirus and malware protection. You can also set rules which force company devices to automatically log out after 15 minutes of inactivity, for example.

A Holistic Approach to Data Protection

By now, you have a pretty good idea as to why your people are the biggest threat to data security. This doesn’t mean they’re bad actors. They might just make mistakes or do something careless without thinking—just like any one of us.

As you can see, there’s no single easy solution to protect you or your employees from causing a data breach—inadvertently or otherwise. With that in mind, businesses must take several steps to reduce the risk of their employees causing a data breach.

To protect your company devices, consider implementing antivirus and malware protection and employee monitoring software. Protect all devices with strong passwords. You’ll also want to thoroughly screen your employees before they’re hired and keep the lines of communication open once they start working.

Finally, by conducting routine cybersecurity training, your employees and business alike will be less likely to fall victim to a cyberattack.

And of course, if you do happen to end up on the wrong side of a breach, work quickly to resolve the situation. Figure out what went wrong and devise a plan to decrease the chances of that happening again.

Here’s to keeping networks safe, customers happy, and your company healthy!

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.