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5 Best Practices for Minimizing the Risk of PII Breaches in any Organization

Organizations today face numerous challenges when it comes to protecting sensitive data and confidential information. This is because the environment makes maintaining complete control and effective monitoring more complex than ever. Moving data to the cloud and allowing employees to work remotely means that the data is no longer physically maintained by the organization and that steps must be taken to protect it from theft and data breaches while it is processed and stored in multiple physical locations.

Organizations can follow a general set of best practices to ensure that sensitive data such as personally identifiable information (PII) is well secured. These practices work well in both centralized and heavily distributed environments. They can help you avoid extremely costly and risky sensitive data breaches that can destroy your company’s reputation, result in hefty fines, and even lead to bankruptcy – according to the Cost of a Data Breach Report 2022 by IBM Security, the average cost of a data breach in the US in 2022 was 4.35 million which is more than most businesses can afford.

If you want to avoid such disastrous outcomes caused by cyber criminals and maintain effective data breach prevention, here are our five points of advice on security best practices.

1. Create a comprehensive security policy

Maintaining the security of sensitive data should always begin with creating a comprehensive security policy that covers all bases. Cybersecurity is such a complex topic these days that if you don’t have a well-planned strategy, you’re almost sure to miss something, and it only takes one small mistake to give malicious parties access to your valuable information. The following are some of the most important considerations when developing your security policy:

  • A good security policy requires the development of a comprehensive risk management strategy. This includes identifying and assessing potential security threats and risks, determining their likelihood and potential impact, and implementing appropriate mitigation measures.
  • Another critical strategic element is establishing a security governance structure to oversee the implementation and enforcement of the security policy. This includes defining roles and responsibilities, developing policies and procedures, and implementing controls to ensure that security risks are effectively managed.
  • Things can always go wrong, no matter how many precautions are taken, and quick and effective mitigation of attack consequences can make a massive difference in the end outcome of the incident. As a result, having well-designed incident response plans – both technically and in terms of communications with customers, business partners, and the general public – is just as important as prevention.

2. Build employee security awareness

It is critical to educate and raise awareness among employees about security risks, best practices, and policies in order to keep sensitive information secure. Employees can become an unintentional weak link in an organization’s security, and a lack of awareness about security risks can result in security breaches. When it comes to security education for employees, consider the following factors:

  • Explain potential security risks and run exercises to identify them. This includes encouraging users to learn about common types of cyberattacks and vulnerabilities, as well as explaining the potential consequences of security breaches. Employees can become more vigilant and better equipped to identify potential threats if security risks are raised, lowering the risk of successful attacks.
  • Demonstrate to employees how to maintain cybersecurity in the workplace and beyond, especially if your workforce is partially or fully remote. This includes advice on strong passwords, multi-factor authentication, secure communication, safe web browsing, and data protection. Employees can help prevent security breaches and mitigate the impact of successful attacks by receiving clear instructions on how to practice good security habits.
  • Establish a security culture. This includes emphasizing that security is everyone’s responsibility, from the CEO to the entry-level employee, and encouraging an open and transparent culture. Employees are more likely to take security seriously and become active participants in its maintenance if a security culture is established within the organization. And the best way to foster such a culture is for leaders to set a good example.

3. Maintain tight access controls

Before you can protect your valuable sensitive information effectively, you must first define what it is, where it is, and who should have access to it. Because sensitive information can come in various forms and types of data that aren’t always as obvious as credit card or social security numbers, it’s not always an easy task, and tools like data loss prevention software can be extremely helpful. Here are some pointers for defining protected information and its appropriate uses:

  • Adhere to the principle of least privilege (PoLP). PoLP is an information security concept that states that a user or entity should only have access to the required data, resources, and applications to complete a task. In this case, ensure that access to data is only granted to those who absolutely need it and only grant the bare minimum of access; for example, if someone does not need to modify the data, grant them only read permissions. This principle not only prevents unauthorized access but also assists in tightly controlling authorized access.
  • Use DLP software that can track sensitive information downloaded from your cloud systems to your users’ computers and, for example, automatically delete it after a set period of time. While such information may require temporary access for work purposes, the less sensitive data that leaves your well-protected information storage systems, the better.
  • Keep track of all sensitive data access. Data loss prevention software, for example, enables you to not only define sensitive data but also log all access attempts. Set and respond to alerts for any suspicious activity, such as access outside of work hours or multiple access attempts to different pieces of sensitive information in a short period of time. This can be your key to avoiding insider threats, too.

4. Encrypt wherever possible

With today’s processor speeds, there is no excuse to avoid encryption. Encrypting information used to take a lot of resources and was therefore often avoided in the past, but today, you should encrypt information whenever and wherever possible, especially when dealing with sensitive data. Here are some encryption-related tips:

  • While most Internet technologies, such as email or the web, now encrypt information in transit, don’t be afraid to go above and beyond and implement your own encryption scheme. Two layers of encryption will not harm the data or resources, and such an approach ensures that even if the privacy of the transit technology is compromised as a result of an attack, your data will remain safe from malicious hackers.
  • Use measures that prevent unnecessary access to unencrypted data if your users only need temporary access to unencrypted information, such as verifying the personal data of a customer during a call. For example, prevent your users’ PC operating systems from allowing them to copy and paste PII elsewhere as long as it does not interfere with their work.
  • Enforce encryption whenever data needs to leave your zone of influence. Never, for example, allow your users to copy unencrypted sensitive information to any external media, such as external hard drives or USB storage devices. If such copy activities are required for their work, DLP software allows you to enforce encryption every time such an operation is performed.

5. Cover all bases

While professional data loss prevention software like Endpoint Protector can help you cover most of the bases, such as data identification, forced encryption, access monitoring, and more, you must also pay close attention to the other systems involved in storing and processing your valuable PII. While almost every small business and enterprise understands the importance of installing anti-virus software and protecting themselves from malware and ransomware, the following areas frequently receive insufficient attention when developing and implementing data security policies:

  • Web application security is frequently undervalued simply because many security experts started their careers before the cloud migration and still have a network security mindset. Today, the importance of security measures such as network monitors and firewalls pales in comparison to the importance of web application security simply because most data is stored in systems accessible from anywhere via web interfaces, and such web interfaces are prone to vulnerabilities and misconfigurations that allow malicious parties easy access to sensitive data. Dynamic application security testing solutions should be prioritized in your security suite alongside data loss prevention.
  • Despite your best efforts, the best DLP software, and the best configurations, the weakest link in any security system is humans. As a result, social engineering attacks, including phishing, continue to be the most effective way for malicious actors to gain access to sensitive information. To avoid social engineering, require any potentially dangerous actions, such as sending PII in an email, to be confirmed by a manager or the security team. In such cases, it is preferable to deal with false positives rather than risk a tragic data breach caused by human error.
  • Employees who work remotely increasingly prefer to use their mobile devices for work purposes rather than laptop computers, and such mobiles are often their own devices, not provided by your organization. This causes the security personnel to face additional challenges. Make sure that your security policies include solutions like work profiles on mobile phones that can be tightly controlled by your IT teams. When using work profiles, sensitive data is stored on mobile phones in secure containers that can only be accessed using pre-approved work apps. This technology also allows your IT teams to control logout timeouts and multi-factor authentication requirements preventing, for example, the theft of sensitive information from a stolen phone.
  • Last but not least, today’s IT environments are no longer entirely under your control. Third-party providers handle the majority of IT services. External solutions and components are heavily used in implementing software. A plethora of open-source libraries and snippets are used in development. And, while all of them promise you that they are safe from cyber threats, if they are wrong, it is you that will bear all the consequences. As a result, ensure that you pay equal attention to supply chain security as you do to your own security.


Frequently Asked Questions

What measures can be taken to ensure secure access to data containing PII?
Multiple measures should be included in a comprehensive security policy to ensure secure access to PII. Secure authentication, including multi-factor authentication, granular access control, and encryption in transit and storage are examples of such measures.
How should organizations ensure employee awareness of the proper handling of PII?
Employee security awareness should be promoted not only through trainings and exercises, but also through top management's example. Employees are more likely to treat PII security with due diligence if they are aware of the importance of PII security and the consequences for everyone else in the company.
What types of policies and procedures should be implemented to protect PII data?
The principle of least privilege, forced encryption in transit and storage, and extensive monitoring are some of the policies and procedures that help protect PII data. PII should be accessible only when necessary and in the required format, such as display-only.

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