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How to Prevent Data Breaches with Proven Techniques in 2024

Two realities that organizations face in today’s security landscape is that threat actors are mostly data-hungry and employees make mistakes when handling data. Both of these factors put sensitive data at risk of a breach either from intentional targeting or human error.

Understanding how to prevent data breaches is imperative due to the financial and reputational hit that they can cause. Effective data breach prevention begins with the realization that you need a blended approach of proven techniques – one technique, tool, or strategy won’t suffice on its own, no matter how powerful. Here are some core strategies for preventing data breaches in your organization.

Understanding Data Breaches and Their Impact

A data breach happens any time there’s unauthorized access to, disclosure, or theft of sensitive, protected, or confidential data. Breaches can involve a variety of data types, including personally identifiable information (PII), healthcare data, financial records, and intellectual property (IP). The complexity and scale of data breaches range from unauthorized access to a single person’s email account to the sophisticated infiltration of entire databases.

For businesses, a breach can lead to significant financial losses, including regulatory fines, legal fees, and costs associated with breach notification and remediation efforts (see The Cost of a Data Breach in 2023 to learn more). Not to mention the loss of trust or competitive advantage from having certain data breached. For affected individuals, the consequences can include identity theft, financial fraud, and privacy breaches, all of which can cause financial and emotional damage.

Core Strategies to Prevent Data Breaches

Here are eight proven strategies to help your company prevent data breaches.

Take a data inventory and identify all sensitive data locations

One big hurdle when figuring out how to prevent a data breach is that you might not even know where all of your sensitive data is located. This visibility problem becomes more pronounced in large organizations with multiple departments and business units. When you don’t know where sensitive data is, you run into calamities like unsecured cloud storage buckets, publicly available, containing sensitive information.

Gaining full visibility into where sensitive data resides within your IT ecosystem calls for data discovery and classification tools that can scan across cloud storage, databases, and file servers to automatically identify sensitive data based on predefined criteria such as PII, IP, PHI, etc. It’s also worth potentially assigning owner(s) for different types of data that specify who’s responsible for managing access controls and monitoring the use of that data.

Enhance data security with advanced tools

Advanced tools can be a great help in safeguarding sensitive information from unauthorized access and leaks. One option is context-aware Data Loss Protection (DLP) tools that not only monitor data movement but also understand the context of data use within your organization to adjust controls based on the data’s sensitivity and the user’s role. DLP tools can block unauthorized data transfers, providing strong prevention against exfiltration.

Consider also using secure web gateways to block access to malicious websites/content, which prevents phishing attacks and malware downloads that could eventually lead to data exfiltration. This strategy grows in value with the onslaught of info-stealing malware that steals data stored in web browsers, email clients, instant messaging apps, etc.

Proactive monitoring and real-time response

Proactive monitoring continuously observes your network, systems, and data to detect anomalies that could indicate a cybersecurity threat. The point here is to identify potential threats before they can escalate into full-blown breaches. Aside from using advanced analytics, machine learning, and AI to detect unusual patterns of behavior that deviate from the norm, you can also integrate real-time threat intelligence feeds and feed detailed logs into a SIEM tool.

Real-time response helps ensure you’re positioned to mitigate or neutralize identified threats and ideally stop the data breach from occurring. Automation proves its worth here with tools or scripts that instantly isolate affected systems, revoke access privileges, or apply patches to vulnerabilities. Detailed incident response playbooks can help the team in charge of incident response do their jobs more efficiently and contain threats.

Moving towards zero trust

Zero trust is a network paradigm based on the idea that it’s risky to provide default levels of trust to any user, app, or service due to their location. The mantra of this architecture is “never trust, always verify.” In other words, continuously verify all users, devices, and system interactions before granting access to resources. The point here is that you minimize your attack surface and limit the capability of anyone to pivot between different systems to steal data.

Central tenets of zero trust include microsegmentation to create small secure zones in your network and more granularly control traffic flow, and using real-time security policies that adapt based on the context of access requests. Zero trust is not something you switch on with a specific tool; it calls for a phased approach that touches on various aspects of technology, processes, and culture within your organization.

Run effective and continuous security awareness training

With many data breaches occurring due to employees making preventable errors, a key pillar of how to prevent a data breach is transforming your workforce into a security-aware one. This means equipping people with the knowledge to recognize and respond to cybersecurity threats, exercise best practices in data handling or systems use, and understand company security policies about reporting incidents, remote working, and BYOD use.

For effective training, design training programs tailored to the roles and responsibilities of different user groups within your company. Ensure training materials focus on the specific threats these distinct users are most likely to see. Using interactive and engaging training materials helps your employees retain knowledge. Delivering small bites of cybersecurity awareness via regular emails or newsletters is also a good tactic.

Strengthen third-party risk management

The ongoing risk of data breaches from supply chain compromises calls for strengthening third-party risk management. The MOVEit incident in 2023 alone led to 2,600 companies being hit by supply chain data breaches that compromised information of 84 million individuals. Being aware of all the components that make up any in-house software you use, having an extensive inventory of third party vendors/services, and conducting thorough security assessments of third parties all need to be part of this strategy.

Use robust authentication

To ensure that only authorized users can access sensitive information and systems, you need to move beyond just usernames and passwords. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) that pairs two or more distinct categories of evidence to prove a user’s identity is one way to do this.

For an even stronger MFA implementation, opt for biometrics or hardware token-based authentication as one of the categories. To better blend user experience and security, opt for adaptive authentication mechanisms that adjust the required authentication strength based on the user’s context, such as location, device used, desired resource/app, and time of access.

Encrypt data at rest and in transit

While many threat actors spend their time on the prowl for sensitive data to access, proper data encryption acts as a solid last line of defense. Even if someone manages to compromise all other security measures and access sensitive data stores, encrypted data is unreadable to outsiders.

Encrypt sensitive data stored on physical or virtual storage devices, such as hard drives, SSDs, databases, and cloud storage solutions. Where sensitive data needs to be transferred over a network or between devices and systems, use secure communication protocols like HTTPS (using SSL/TLS), SSH, and VPNs.

Prevent data breaches with Endpoint Protector

In identifying strategies for how to prevent a data breach, DLP solutions emerge as an advanced data security tool. Endpoint Protector is an industry-leading DLP that works across Windows, macOS, and Linux endpoints. Capabilities that help prevent data breaches include monitoring, controlling, and blocking file transfers, enforced encryption, and discovery of sensitive data at rest.


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