Improved security standards helped prevent many data breaches in 2018. Despite the improvements, cybercriminals accessed about 5 billion sensitive records. Clearly, companies need straightforward, actionable ways to prevent data breaches. No matter how much you improve security, though, data breaches can happen. In this article, you’ll learn the following:

  1. How to prevent data breaches
  2. Four smart ways to respond after a breach happens

How do you Prevent Data Breaches?

Train Your Employees to Recognize Phishing Emails

Unless you already have a robust security training program, your employees provide easy access points to data.

Research shows that phishing attempts make up about 1 out of 99 emails. Perhaps even more concerning, default security protocols only block 30% of phishing emails. Phishing is a hacking technique where criminals send fraudulent emails to thousands of even millions of people. If one person falls for the trick, then cybercriminals can gain access to data.

If your employees don’t know how to recognize common signs of phishing attacks, then any cybercriminal could gain access to your data. After all, it only takes one person to compromise an entire system.

The right security training can help employees spot phishing attempts and dangerous links. Make sure your workers know to look for signs like:

  • Poor grammar or misspellings.
  • Anonymous messages that don’t identify the employee by name.
  • Emails that come from free domains like Gmail.com or Yahoo.com.
  • Emails that include web links instead of text-based messages.
  • Unsolicited attachments that could carry malware.
  • Domain names that don’t match the company’s name (Fedx.com instead of Fedex.com, for example).

You can also use phishing simulators like Infosec IQ, Gophish, and LUCY to test your employees' ability to spot fraudulent emails. When you find knowledge gaps, you can include new information in your next training session.

Keep your employees updated about the most recent phishing trends, and encourage them to report suspicious emails to their managers.

Use Security Levels to Limit Access to Sensitive Data 

Only a few of your employees need access to sensitive data such as client payment info and business development plans. A customer service worker, for example, doesn’t need to know a client’s credit card number, so don’t let that person access the sensitive information.

Set a security level for each person so you can limit their access to systems. Doing so will make it harder for a hacker to steal data while using an employee’s profile.

Most operating systems and major software apps make it easy to set security levels. Microsoft, for instance, uses sensitivity labels that encrypt files and folders. Only users with permission can view the folder’s contents. Everyone else will see encrypted files containing random letters and numbers.

Update Your Software and OS to Remove Vulnerabilities

Cybercriminals and software developers play a constant game of cat-and-mouse. When developers release new products, hackers start looking for vulnerabilities they can use to infiltrate user systems. In response, developers have to write new code that blocks the vulnerabilities that hackers find.

Ideally, your software and operating system will update automatically. Windows, for instance, will look for an OS update at least once a day.

Some software doesn’t update on its own, though. Make sure your IT team knows to look for new versions. Otherwise, someone could target vulnerabilities in old software to steal data from your network.

Run Anti-Virus Programs to Find Malware

Anti-virus companies often know about the latest malware before other software developers. Running anti-virus software, therefore, could catch data-stealing apps before they cause significant damage.

Some of the most respected anti-virus programs include Carbon Black Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, Norton AntiVirus Plus, and F-Secure SAFE.

Encrypt Data With a Virtual Private Network (VPN)

When you need to transmit sensitive data to other people or companies, use a VPN that will encrypt the en-route information. Even if someone manages to eavesdrop on your transmission, they won't be able to decipher the data you want to protect. If you are one of our clients, you can also use Field Level Encryption; which allows you to encrypt and decrypt sensitive data on our ETL platform.

Use Penetration Testing to Find Vulnerabilities in Your Network

Penetration testing, also called pen testing, helps you find any existing weaknesses in your system. Numerous penetration testing tools will scan your system and generate a report that lists each vulnerability by category and severity.

You can perform a pen test at any time to probe your system for weaknesses. Some of the most important times for a pen test, however, include when you:

  • Connect a new office to your network.
  • Upgrade or add applications to your system.
  • Add new infrastructure to your network.
  • Change your security policies.

You can hire a security team to test your system, or if you don’t have room in your budget to hire security contractors, you can use open-source tools like:

  • Metasploit Project, a comprehensive penetration testing framework that looks for the oldest and newest vulnerabilities.
  • Wireshark, which analyzes your network protocols and gives you a security report.
  • John the Ripper, which will try to crack your passwords.

For the best results, use a combination of pen testing tools to probe your system.

What You Should Do After a Data Breach?

1. Let Clients Know That the Data Breach May Affect Them

Most states in the U.S. have laws requiring you to inform clients of data breaches that may affect them.

More importantly, clients deserve to know that a criminal may have their personal data. Depending on the kind of information stolen from you, clients may need to notify their banks, check their credit reports, order new credit cards, or take other actions.

Keeping people informed will also help limit the PR nightmare your company faces.

Have no doubt about it; people will be angry with you for letting someone steal their information.

Trying to hide the theft only makes the situation worse. When you keep customers informed, you can let them know the extent of the breach, how they can protect themselves, and what steps you’re taking to fix the problem.

2. Determine How the Data Breach Happened

You need to know how a data breaches happened before you can prevent future attacks. Your penetration testing tools should show you how the cybercriminal infiltrated your network.

If pen testing doesn’t reveal the exploit, then you need to hire a network security expert with forensic experience. The hacker may have used a new exploit that your tools can’t identify. A security professional, however, should know how to track the hacker’s steps to discover the entry point.

3. Take Action to Limit Further Data Loss

Once you know how someone stole data from your system, you must take action to limit further loss. If you don’t plug the hole, then the criminal will keep stealing from you.

With some luck, your penetration testing or security expert can show you how to patch the weakness in your system. If that isn’t possible, take your network offline until you can find and fix the vulnerability.

4. Implement New Security Standards to Prevent Future Data Breaches

Data breaches give you an opportunity to re-evaluate your security standards. After reviewing the situation, you may decide that it’s time to:

  • Update your employee security training to include new trends.
  • Purchase new network hardware that meets the latest security standards.
  • Start encrypting more of your data instead of assuming that criminals won’t target you.
  • Get security software that knows how to scan your network for the most recent types of attacks.
  • Reconsider which employees and managers need access to sensitive files.
  • Replace unsecured apps with better options.
  • Get security certifications like SOC 2 and comply with their guidelines.

Before you start a new data integration project, invest in an application that will make the job easy and secure.

Final Thoughts

Data breaches can harm your brand and make it impossible for businesses to finish projects. Companies of all sizes need to keep up with the latest security trends so they can avoid breaches. Without the right tools and training, there's a good chance that a hacker will target your network, eventually. It's also a good business tactic to know what common security threats you should be aware of.  

With Xplenty, you can trust that we follow the necessary data compliance laws (HIPAA, GDPR, CCPA) and strive for data security. Xplenty is a cloud-based ETL solution that makes it easy to create and visualize data pipelines from a variety of sources and destinations. Plus, we uses the latest security protocols to keep unauthorized users away from your information. 

Request a free demo today to learn more about the data integration and security benefits that you get from using Xplenty as your ETL platform.