How to protect a small business from a data breach: a guide to data breach best practices

The number of enterprise data breaches has grown exponentially. However, small businesses still fail to pay attention to it.

There are many ways businesses can prevent security breaches, but owners of small companies tend to ignore it because they don’t believe that it could happen to them. Small businesses also fail to implement data breach protection protocols because of tight budget constraints and a lack of tech talent. 

According to research, as much as 29% of small businesses spent less $1,000 on cybersecurity, annually. At the same time, 80% of these same companies also stated that security was a top priority.

While the headlines focus on security incidents at multinational corporations, almost half of all cybercrime is targeted at small businesses. According to Verizon’s 2019 Data Breach Investigations Report, 43% of all cyberattacks still focus on small enterprises. 

Furthermore, according to a new report from Bank of America Merchant Services, almost 30% of consumers surveyed stated that they wouldn’t use a small business that suffered a data breach, ever again.

So what are the ways to prevent data breaches? 

There are several ways to mitigate both internal and external threats to organizations, but before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s define it.

What is a data breach?

A data breach occurs when hackers gain unauthorized access to enterprise infrastructure to steal sensitive information stored in databases. This data can be anything from passwords to credit card numbers to drivers’ license numbers.

The goal here is to use this information to engage in identity theft and fraud. These types of nefarious activities are done by physically accessing computers on business premises or by remotely breaching the network.

Some popular hacking techniques used by bad actors are as follows:

  • Exfiltration (by breaching and using one computer on the network to attack the rest)
  • Research (to identify weaknesses in security protocols – network, staff, or systems)
  • Social engineering (like phishing schemes and ransomware attacks)
  • So how do businesses prevent security breaches?

According to the founder and CEO of Artmotion, Mateo Meier, “protecting your valuable digital assets starts with formulating security best practices that can be easily understood and followed by everyone in the organization.”

Let’s take a look at the following data breach best practices that can help secure enterprise digital assets and ensure business continuity. 

1. Develop a data breach prevention plan

Best practices to prevent a data breach starts with a lot of planning. You have to get organized and map out what you want to achieve and how you’re going to do it.

Your data breach prevention plan can also be something you refer back to whenever you’re dealing with potential data breach issues. 

However, it’s crucial to note that it can’t be a static data breach solution. It has to be highly adaptable to help mitigate continuously evolving threats. Your data breach prevention plan should also include all the best practices covered in this article.

2. Improve awareness of security risks

There’s no such thing as data breach prevention software, so small business owners (and startup founders) should make a conscious effort to boost awareness across the company of both security threats and cyber security prevention techniques.

Because of the nature of small businesses, this can sometimes be difficult. However, in today’s new threat landscape, we can’t afford to place profit over security.

Some hackers, for example, might be looking to initiate ransomware attacks to make a quick buck. Others might try to steal sensitive customer data to sell on the dark web.

So it’ll be essential to ensure that your employees are aware of the types of security breaches (listed above).

3. Engage in regular employee training

Employee negligence is one of the main factors that lead to data breaches. According to a study conducted by Shred-it, as much as 47% of business leaders stated that human error was the primary cause of a data breach (at their organization).

So small businesses should engage in regular employee training workshops to remind them of the evolving security threats. You have to do this regularly because people aren’t going to remember the information you shared a year ago.

With training, your staff will be alert to spoofing scams, phishing schemes, and more. They will also know how to securely transfer files, encrypt emails, communicate safely across platforms.  

Training also has the potential to improve awareness of physical preventative measures against data breaches and handle enterprise hardware (like laptops, tablets, and external hard drives) with care. 

For the most part, most small businesses have policies and best practices in place to protect their data. However, because of infrequent training, these efforts are rendered useless.

4. Keep personal and business hardware separate

Unlike most companies, small businesses are a little different. They don’t have many resources, so there is always a temptation to use the same laptop for both business and personal use. However, this can significantly increase your exposure to risk.

Instead, it’s better to use a dedicated computer for your company and purchase another to share with family. This approach can go a long way in protecting your data from data breaches. You can also take it a step further and encrypt the data on both machines. 

5. Encrypt sensitive data

While we don’t have any data breach prevention software, there are ways of preventing security breaches using technology. Companies of all sizes can now encrypt sensitive, personally identifiable information, and mitigate risk.

Encryption can also be your savior in the event of a security incident. This is because any data stolen by a hacker will be scrambled and rendered meaningless. Meier agrees, “encryption is your best friend! It can be your savior if bad actors manage to breach your security protocols. If used correctly, any data stolen by hackers will be useless.”

There are three different types of encryption technologies that can be leveraged by small businesses:

  1. Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)
  2. 256-bit encryption
  3. XTS block cipher

It also helps if small business owners find ways to engage in real-time monitoring and robust authentication techniques whenever possible.

While the question of  “how to prevent a data breach?” comes up quite often, it’s also important to ask yourself  “what to do after a data breach?”

Again, you should have a plan!

Your plan should include the following:

  • Steps to find out what was stolen
  • Protocols to change passwords across the organization
  • Assigned responsibilities to contact all affected parties (including financial institutions)
  • Established rules to continue monitoring IT infrastructure

In the digital age, data breaches are the new norm. While data breach protection might seem expensive, the cost of a security incident can be far-reaching. For example, the global average cost of a data breach is a whopping $3.92 million. 

If you don’t have the necessary resources, one of the best ways to enhance your security posture is to engage a cloud security company.

This is because you can gain immediate access to cutting edge technology, encryption protocols, security experts, real-time monitoring, and more for an affordable monthly commitment.

To learn more about achieving enhanced data breach protection in the cloud, schedule a commitment-free consultation


This post was originally featured on Business 2 Community.

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