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How to prevent data breaches in your small business

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Safeguarding your business from costly issues in cybersecurity

Data breaches and cyber attacks are an increasing concern for businesses and companies across many industries. Data breaches occur when sensitive information is taken from a system without approval or authorization. A cyber attack is defined as an attempt by hackers or cybercriminals to damage, destroy, or access a computer network or information system.

The rise in the occurrence of cybercrime is rooted mainly in the expansion of technology, human error, and the storage of personal data or sensitive data on accessible networks. Notably, with the increase of remote work during the pandemic, many more small business owners have to come to rely on virtual networks. While convenient, without the proper security measures in place, there may be existing vulnerabilities for hackers.

A concern for all business types

In the first quarter of 2018, cyber attacks were up 32% from the previous year. Since then, the National Cyber Security Alliance has worked to promote internet security and safety while educating on cyber risk and cybersecurity statistics.

One major trend to be aware of is that cybercrime is not just a problem for big businesses. Though news reports often focus on data security issues for larger corporations, security breaches are also quite common for small businesses. Typically, small companies invest less in training employees on cybersecurity or don’t purchase liability insurance that covers cybercrime. As a result, hackers know that they may have an advantage in breaching data for smaller organizations.

How do data breaches happen?

Data breaches can occur when a hacker or cybercriminal is able to access a data source for a company that holds important or sensitive information. Cybercriminals have advanced techniques in how to steal files or bypass password prompts to data sources. Data breaches occur remotely when hackers can enter the systems off-site.

Data breaches are hard to stop or track because hackers are able to develop new methods that infiltrate existing IT security systems. When new cybersecurity threats emerge, companies will often develop new parts of their software systems for extra protection. However, if all users don’t update their systems, vulnerabilities or gaps in security will persist.

Additionally, some systems are older and inherently more vulnerable to attack because they have not been updated with firewalls or authentication options. In this case, viruses might wipe out system data, leaving companies, especially healthcare companies, with a big problem. Or, sometimes, the problem is rooted in human error. For example an employee leaves sensitive data out in the open on their computer and then the computer is stolen.

What types of data breaches exist?

The number of data breaches that exist is extensive. However, below are three of the most common incidences of data vulnerabilities or cyberattacks.

Lost or stolen passwords. Passwords are a huge liability for company cybersecurity. If employees or users do not use strong passwords, hackers may easily guess the password and access the system. Alternatively, some people store their password information in easy to access places (for example, on their desk). Leaving password information is the open is a huge risk to the infiltration of company systems.

  • Phishing. Phishing is the practice of sending emails from what appears to be a trusted source with the goal of the receiver revealing personal information. The scammer will try and replicate a trusted source so that the receiver believes the email is legitimate. They may end up revealing credit card information, passwords, or other data points that will give cybercriminals the information they want to take advantage of. Another popular form of phishing is sending an attachment for someone to download on their computer. This can result in a remote hacker having access to data on the computer system.
  • Ransomware. Similar to a virus, ransomware attacks are a form of malware that hijacks the computer system entirely. When this type of scam occurs, the employee or user will no longer have access to their information. Then, in exchange for the restoration of the data, the hacker may demand a ransom. This type of data breach exemplifies the importance of antivirus software and the practice of backing up files.

How to prevent data breaches

The most important step in preventing data breaches is to complete an assessment of your security systems and any potential gaps that hackers could access. This process involves thinking through every data point in your system, for example, how is customer data stored? How are employees able to access this data? What password requirements does your company have? Are computers locked when not in use? Having a sense of your entire system will help build the proper approach to protecting your data.

Other important aspects to review for security and data protection include:

  • Investing in the right security software. Having an IT team committed to cybersecurity is essential. You will want a team of professionals who understand the best software for your data protection needs. Small businesses or medium-sized businesses may need different types of software depending on the scope of protection. While investing in security software may be expensive, it is likely less than the average cost it takes to recover from a cyberattack. Moreover, software offers important innovations in security measures. For example, newer software often requires multi-factor authentication to ensure it is the employee accessing the computer system.
  • Reviewing what employees have access to when leaving the company. When employees leave the organization, it is essential to ensure they no longer have access to any possible system at the company. Changing passwords, eliminating former usernames, and adjusting protocols may help avoid system access vulnerable to past employees.
  • Promoting a culture of security. Training is the heart of what makes a security system work. Employees have to buy into keeping information safe. Your company must provide security training so employees have the best practices on hand to avoid data breaches. Providing details about small business cybersecurity can help employees maintain education about the issue and be the best advocates in preventing small business data breaches.

Steps to take when a data breach occurs

Ideally, your company will not have to face a data breach. However, recognizing the steps to take in case this happens is crucial. If your company experiences a cyber attack, here are the basic steps to follow.

  1. Reach out to law enforcement to make a report. A report is essential, especially if other businesses have come under the same cyberattack.
  2. Notify the customer base. For any customers impacted by the data breach, it is required by many state regulations that customers know about the impact to their data. You may also consider announcing the breach and how you are responding to the attack as well.
  3. Investigate breaches and identify issues. It is essential to know what data was compromised and how the breach occurred. A business owner can complete the investigation, or a professional security consultant can help gather information and make recommendations on changes , in the established security systems.
  4. Employ a credit monitoring company. At this point in the process, it is important that the impacted customers have access to ID theft prevention services since their data was leaked. This can help mitigate potential problems in the future for the customer, especially if their identity information was stolen and potentially used by cybercriminals.
  5. Train, train, train. Following a data breach, it is important to educate your team about how it occurred and how to prevent data breaches in the future. Information about phishing, password security, and overall cybersecurity could be critical topics to review.

Next steps

Are you ready to optimize your IT security to prevent data breaches? Are you in need of amplifying your approach to data breach prevention?

Heartland is ready to help.

Heartland helps nearly 1,000,000 entrepreneurs make and move money, manage employees and engage customers with human-centered technology solutions that allow them to rise above the daily grind and lead their businesses into a brighter future. Learn more at heartland.us