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Protect Your Business: Best Practices for Data Breach Prevention

Given what’s at stake when cybercriminals access and/or exfiltrate sensitive information, preventing a data breach is one of the most important aims of modern cybersecurity strategies. This article delves into the costs and types of data breaches before outlining some best practices in data breach prevention that companies can apply to reduce risks.

Delving into Data Breaches: Causes and Costs

Data breaches happen when unauthorized parties – usually hackers – access sensitive data. While many data breaches compromise personal data like customer data or employee details, there are also data breaches where hackers gain access to sensitive company information. After accessing sensitive data, including Social Security numbers or bank account numbers, threat actors often try to sell this information on the dark web to the highest bidder.

The various attacks that lead to data breaches include:

  • Conventional hacking incidents in which threat actors exploit vulnerabilities in software or operating systems to access data.
  • Ransomware attacks that involve the encryption and sometimes exfiltration of sensitive data.
  • Accidental exposure where human error leads to data loss and data leaks from misconfiguration, weak passwords, or other lax security practices.
  • Insider threats that involve employees, contractors, etc. misusing their access to sensitive information.
  • Social engineering attacks like phishing emails that contain malware or other attachments that give outsiders remote access to endpoints like laptops or mobile devices and the various types of data accessible from them.

IBM’s average cost of a data breach is one of the most commonly cited yearly security statistics for good reason. Each year, the figure seems to increase, with 2023’s average cost of $4.45 million per breach representing an all-time high. The risk of such a financial loss, often from hefty regulatory penalties, is what puts data breach prevention at the core of many security policies.

But, there aren’t just direct financial costs to consider when data security breaches occur. Unfortunately, the ripple effects often extend beyond the organizations to those who have their confidential information accessed. For example, unauthorized access to Social Security numbers poses a significant risk of identity theft scams.

Operational disruptions can also occur when businesses can’t access critical data. Long-term reputational damage is also a possibility, with one in four Americans not doing business with a company that’s previously suffered a data breach.

A final cost to consider is the societal impact of eroding trust in digital systems. With more services and business models depending on digital interactions and transactions, data breaches make people feel less willing to share details online like credit card numbers or personal data.

Best Practices for Preventing Data Breaches

As conveyed in the previous section, data breaches happen due to a variety of potential security threats. Thankfully, businesses can go a long way towards minimizing the risk of a data breach by adhering to best practices in data breach prevention.

It’s important to bear in mind that security teams alone can’t stop data breaches; everyone has a role to play in adopting and implementing the necessary security measures for robust data protection, such as:

  • Enforce strong password policies in line with what’s recommended by cybersecurity bodies like NIST. The most recent recommendations include blocking passwords that contain certain commonly used words, preventing repetitive or incremental passwords, and mandating that all user passwords are at least eight characters long.
  • Provide employee permissions to access data in line with the principle of least privileges. Someone who doesn’t need to access personally identifiable information (PII) or customer data in their daily work does not need any level of access to this data.
  • Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) to strengthen user accounts against compromise and to safeguard high-risk transactions like reading or downloading sensitive data. MFA adds an extra layer of security by requiring two or more different categories of information to authenticate a user.
  • Adopt a continuous and tailored approach to employee security training that makes employees in different job roles aware of specific threats that might compromise data security. Phishing attacks that hit someone in a finance department are likely to differ from those in human resources, and training programs should reflect this variation rather than be standard. Training should not be a compliance box-ticking exercise; instead, conduct regular exercises, use both theoretical and practical exercises, and provide employees with ongoing reminders about best practices.
  • Manage patches effectively to keep all software and operating systems up-to-date against the latest known security vulnerabilities. Incorporate external penetration testing as a way to validate whether patch management is running smoothly. It’s also worth automating patch management, if possible, for more timely and efficient updates.
  • Ensure all employee endpoints that can access data are running up-to-date antivirus and anti-malware software. Use firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and secure networking architectures like segmentation to detect intruders and limit the spread of cyberattacks across the network.
  • Develop and maintain an incident response plan that outlines what to do and who takes responsibility in the event of a data breach. This plan should cover everything from real-time response to communication channels in the immediate aftermath of a security incident to remediation. Run regular drills to ensure staff familiarity with the response plan and tweak the plan to reflect shortfalls.
  • Use data loss prevention (DLP) solutions that monitor, detect, and block sensitive data from unauthorized access or exfiltration. Make sure your chosen DLP tool works across all operating systems used within your networking environment. Opt for a tool that can enforce encryption of sensitive data assets on employee endpoint systems.

Endpoint Protector by CoSoSys is an industry-leading DLP tool that works across Windows, macOS, and Linux endpoints to help businesses prevent costly data breaches. In addition to Device Control, the tool’s features include data discovery, content-aware protection, and enforced encryption to prevent unauthorized parties from viewing sensitive assets. Deployment flexibility lets you run Endpoint Protector using SaaS, the cloud, or a virtual appliance.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How can a data breach be prevented?
Implementing strong passwords and MFA, educating employees on cybersecurity, using updated antivirus software, regularly updating systems, encrypting data, and establishing strict access controls are key to preventing data breaches.
What are the four common causes of data breaches?
The four main causes of data breaches are weak or stolen credentials, phishing attacks, insider threats, and outdated or unpatched software.
What steps to take after a data breach occurs?
After a data breach, it's important to enact an incident response plan to quickly contain the breach, assess its impact, notify any affected parties, eradicate the breach's cause, recover systems/data, and analyze the incident to prevent future breaches.

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