Data and data security are growing concerns in our increasingly digital world. It doesn’t really matter what your business does, you most likely collect, store and utilize more data than ever before. This includes everything from the information you have on employees, past and present, to financials, operational info, sales, competitor, and product information. All that information might seem harmless, but it is also an opportunity for data breaches.
What is data security and how can small businesses protect themselves and their data? Mohamad Ghannoum, our Security Engineer, offers insights and tips for business owners looking to improve how they handle data..
Data security for business
Data security is the protection of digital info from theft, unauthorized access and even corruption. For a business, it usually refers to the data they have on their employees, their general business data, and data from clients and prospects. Any data you use falls into this category, including company financials, your prospect database, credit card data from processing payments, company emails and even information on former workers. This can quickly add up to a great deal of potentially sensitive data living within your company’s databases.
What is a data breach?
Data breaches are common and actually reached a record high in 2021, jumping 68% year over year. We typically use the term “data breach” to refer to an incident that exposes personal, confidential, sensitive or otherwise protected information. For a business this often means internal data they collect on their workforce, like names, birthdates, social security number and addresses. It also includes all of your internal business data, like your company’s financial information, information you collect on clients and any database you may have.
In reality, any incident that results in your data being compromised is a data breach, even if it is not highly sensitive or confidential. When you look at it in these terms, you may realize that your business has more data to protect than you thought previously.
How do data breaches happen?
Most data breaches come from the following areas:
- Malicious attacks which involve cybercriminals or company insiders.
- Human error, such as careless employees or contractors.
- Systems glitches, including business process failures.
T-Mobile recently had a serious data breach that compromised the data of up to 77 million people. This includes 40 million people that wear not even clients, but former clients and people that applied for credit with the company. The breach included their full names, dates of birth, social security numbers and driver’s license information.
This is just one example of a data breach, and it’s not even one of the largest. When something like this happens, those whose information was compromised have to worry about identity theft and financial loss. The issues can be far-reaching and cause problems for years.
A company that has had a serious data breach may find itself facing financial and legal penalties. In the T-Mobile case, the company admitted to fault but agreed to a $350 million dollar settlement to customers affected by the breach.
Is the threat of a data breach overstated or understated?
It is underrated. Although technical words like cybersecurity and information security have become common for businesses, the threats are as serious as ever. It’s also a very real threat with real repercussions. A data breach could cost the company a lot of money to recover, especially when you consider the potential of lawsuits and a damaged reputation.
Is there an industry that is more likely to experience a data breach?
In reality, all industries are threatened by data breaches, but there are some differences. In terms of business size, small to medium businesses are especially vulnerable. This is because companies in this group often have fewer resources allocated to data security. They may also lack the expertise to sufficiently protect their data, leaving them open to a serious breach.
As for big companies, financial, medical and educational institutions are often targets of attacks and data breaches. This is because these types of organizations require a lot of data from their users. All of this information can then be sold in the deep web or that data could be sold back to the company for ransom, as in ransomware attacks.
Where do most data threats come from?
Most threats come from within a company and it happens due to a lack of knowledge and failure to use best practices. Oftentimes, these threats come in the form of phishing emails. This is especially true for small and medium-sized companies.
What happens if a business does end up losing data due to some type of breach, malicious or otherwise?
From a data recovery point of view, there are two scenarios if a company loses data from a breach:
- If there is a backup, then the businesses can restore the backed-up data. While some data may be lost, depending on when the last backup was made, it’s often no more than a day of data. In this situation, most of the data can be restored.
- If there is no backup, the company needs to rebuild its own database from scratch. This takes a lot of time and is not an ideal situation.
From a legal standpoint, sometimes companies are held accountable for data losses. This is a complicated area of law that requires legal help to resolve. However, since it is a possibility, it makes data security even more important for businesses.
What are the best ways a company can improve the security of their data?
Data security can’t be an afterthought for companies today. It needs to be a central part of how you do business. You should also periodically audit your practices and look for ways to improve them. So while this is a big topic, there are many things you can to improve your data security, including:
- Have an IT Consultant or IT Engineer help set up your environments.
- Establish monthly or bi-weekly education for your IT engineer on the newest cybersecurity reports.
- Practice safe browsing on the internet and ensure that all employees understand red flags.
- Train employees to recognize social engineering and phishing attacks and work to actively prevent phishing emails from your company’s inboxes.
- Back up your information and data in case of any disaster
Final words of advice for businesses?
The weakest link in your data security program will always be employees, so educating your workforce about data security best practices is one of the most important things you can do. It doesn’t matter how much technology you have in place, it just takes one person to create a data breach. So not only do you want to spread awareness, but you want to have regular training and education opportunities. This keeps data security at the top of people’s minds and your network safer.
The material presented here is educational in nature and is not intended to be, nor should be relied upon, as legal or financial advice. Please consult with an attorney or financial professional for advice.