The number of data breaches is dropping globally, but the ones that still happen are more severe and expensive for businesses. According to one report, more than 3,800 publicly disclosed breaches occurred in the first six months of 2019, exposing 4.1 billion records.
Cybersecurity is more critical than ever. Yet businesses may not know what steps to take to keep their data and networks secure.
Discover the seven cybersecurity practices that every company should implement.
1. Data Encryption
Sensitive data — like passwords, credit card numbers, names, birth dates and other identifying information — should be encrypted. A strong policy is essential if you're handling customer information or large amounts of data in general.
Encryption is flexible, able to work with many different systems. It doesn't need to disturb existing workflows or consume resources.
It doesn't guarantee information will be safe in the event of a breach. However, 96 percent of breaches in 2016 targeted data that was not encrypted. Simply safeguarding your personal information can be enough to deter hackers.
2. Staff Training
One major data breach — the Yahoo! fiasco of 2014 — was the result of a spear-phishing scheme. Hackers sent fraudulent emails designed to look legitimate. They tricked employees with passwords, network access and confidential information into downloading malicious files and offering critical information.
Unfortunately, the signs of a phishing scheme aren't always apparent to those without cybersecurity training. Hackers have a lot of technical know-how, but they're also social engineers. They take advantage of employees with little computer knowledge and practice. While anti-phishing software exists, it's safer to count on excellent training.
Implement a training program for employees with little or no technical background. With a sound system in place, you can ensure the staff makes safe online choices, even when IT professionals aren't around to answer questions.
3. Network Access
You can secure your network by implementing the principle of least privilege — only giving employees the permissions needed to complete work. If you give every employee access to the whole system, it dramatically increases the chance of a successful attack. Restricting access to data or parts of the network can significantly reduce the risk of a breach.
High-level staff may expect high-level network access, even if they don't need the privileges for work purposes. However, strict controls can be a boon in defending sensitive company data. If necessary, start a discussion about cybersecurity and why you need it in the workplace. Most employees will understand the need for the procedure.
4. Password Management
What's easier to guess? The name of your co-worker's dog or a unique, nonsensical code? Strong, unique passwords are hard to crack. To protect your employees against cyber attacks, set up password requirements they must adhere to.
Experts advise you to steer clear of passwords that are common, expected or compromised. If you've had a previous breach, don't use an old password. Avoid using common words you can find in a dictionary. Veto anything that has the name of the organization, service or employee in it. You should also warn against repetition in numbers or characters.
Advanced password protection measures like two-factor authentication can also help, but they aren't infallible. SIM swaps and phishing attacks can deliver security codes to hackers, even without control of the devices.
5. The Internet of Things
Internet of Things (IoT) devices are becoming a common sight in offices. These devices range from smart thermostats and coffee makers to digital assistants, like Amazon Alexa or Google Home. If a business markets a device as smart — or if it connects to the internet — there's a good chance it's an IoT device.
IoT devices can automate processes and make employee's lives more convenient. However, they're also an added security risk. To ensure each piece of equipment is secure, make sure you update it to the latest software and firmware versions. Be mindful of what network permissions you grant them. Digital assistants, for example, have full access to the microphone, even when you're not speaking.
6. Mobile Devices
In the U.S., 94 percent of people own a mobile phone. These devices hook up to emails and are at risk of infection from malware and adware. Workers will bring mobile devices into work, possibly connecting to the network. A sound cybersecurity policy plans for mobile devices.
Your cybersecurity or IT team can regulate the access mobile devices have to the office network. Network controls that limit what personal devices can see will limit the angles of approach available to hackers without limiting employees at work.
7. Regularly Back-Up Data
Data breaches are possible, even when you take all proper precautions. Back-ups ensure that, in the event of a breach, you won't lose significant amounts of data.
Physical back-ups will keep all of your data on-site but can be costly to maintain. Many cloud computing services offer data backup services that are more convenient and easier to scale.
How to Strengthen Your Cybersecurity Strategy
Data breaches remain a considerable threat to businesses. As a result, cybersecurity is a top priority.
The best practices aren't complicated. Still, having them will protect your business against attack. No security measure is 100 percent hacker-proof. However, a combination of security techniques can deter hackers, decrease the chance of a breach and giving your security team more time to respond if your measures aren't enough.
Encrypting data, managing network access and training employees in common cyber threats are some of the most effective ways to defend against cybercrime.