Data Security Best Practices

Data Security Best Practices

FACT: The average cost of a data breach in 2023 was USD 4.45 million, which is a 15% increase over the previous three years. (IBM)

Beyond the financial cost, data breaches can have significant consequences on your business.

They can disrupt business operations, erode customer trust, and damage your reputation.

In this post, we’ll discuss data security, why it matters, how breaches happen, and 14 best practices you can implement to secure your organization.

Table of contents:

What is data security?

Data security refers to the set of practices put in place to protect digital information from unauthorized access, theft, corruption, or other forms of data breaches. It involves ensuring the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data across its lifecycle, from creation and storage to transmission and disposal.

To that goal, various security practices and technologies are used, including access controls, authentication mechanisms, firewalls, intrusion detection systems, encryption, and regular security audits. These controls help prevent unauthorized access, modification, or deletion of sensitive data.

Why data security is crucial for the enterprise

Data security protects sensitive information from unauthorized users. Breached data inevitably results in financial losses, reputational damage, and legal penalties. With the increasing amount of data being generated and stored, the potential for security threats has grown, making data security critical for organizations of all sizes.

Data security is no longer just an IT concern but a critical aspect of overall business strategy. A breach will disrupt operations, erode stakeholder confidence, and result in significant costs. By investing in the right data security measures, enterprises can mitigate risks, protect their assets, and maintain a competitive edge.

The five most common causes of data breaches

  1. Weak or Stolen Credentials (Passwords): The overwhelming majority of data breaches involve stolen credentials, often obtained via infostealer malware, third-party breaches, and social engineering. To make matters worse, strong passwords and forced password rotation aren’t effective defenses for leaked passwords.
  2. Malware: This is a broad term that includes many sub-categories, such as viruses, worms, and ransomware. Malware can steal credentials and session tokens, enabling attackers to bypass Multi-factor Authentication (MFA). It can also encrypt files, delete data, and capture screenshots.
  3. Software Vulnerabilities: Typically, there is a delay between the discovery of a software vulnerability and when end users apply the security patch. On average, it takes about 38 days to apply a patch. This provides bad actors with enough time to reverse engineer the patch, create a working exploit, and target servers who haven’t applied the patch yet.
  4. Third-party Breaches: Third-party breaches happen when a vendor holding your organization’s data experiences a security breach. A common scenario is when an employee uses their work email to create an account with on a third-party application. If the employee reuses the same password across multiple applications, malicious users can exploit a third-party breach to gain unauthorized access to your organization.
  5. Social Engineering: Social engineering involves cybercriminals manipulating their victims to reveal confidential information for fraudulent purposes. This technique exploits human psychology rather than relying on technical exploits In cybersecurity, human error is often the weakest link. Attackers exploit phishing scams, pretexting, baiting, vishing, and smashing (on mobile devices) to trick users into disclosing sensitive information or performing certain actions.

RECOMMENDED READING: Data breach causes

14 data security best practices to follow

  1. Maintain an Up-to-Date Asset Inventory: Keep a detailed and up-to-date inventory of all hardware, software, and data assets within your organization. This should include information such as asset type, owner, location, and any associated vulnerabilities.
  2. Implement Strong Access Controls: Ensure that only authorized personnel have access to sensitive data. Use role-based access controls and implement the principle of least privilege, granting users the minimum level of access necessary for their job functions. This also prevents insider threats from escalating privileges.
  3. Use Encryption: Encrypt data both at rest and in transit to protect it from unauthorized access. This is especially important for sensitive information such as financial data, personal identifiable information (PII), and intellectual property.
  4. Regularly Update Software and Systems: Keep all software and systems up to date with the latest security patches and updates. This helps protect against known vulnerabilities that could be exploited by cybercriminals.
  5. Conduct Regular Security Audits and Assessments: Regularly assess your security posture to identify vulnerabilities and gaps in your defenses. This can include penetration testing, vulnerability assessments, and security audits.
  6. Implement Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): MFA adds an extra layer of security by requiring users to provide two or more forms of identification before accessing sensitive data or systems.
  7. Educate Employees on Cybersecurity: Provide regular training and awareness programs to educate employees about the importance of cybersecurity and how to recognize and respond to potential threats, such as phishing attacks.
  8. Develop and Enforce Security Policies: Create comprehensive security policies that outline acceptable use, data handling procedures, and incident response plans. Ensure that all employees understand and adhere to these policies.
  9. Backup Data Regularly: Regularly backup important data to a secure offsite location. Regular backups ensure that data can be recovered in the event of a data breach, ransomware attack, or other disaster.
  10. Monitor and Log Activity: Implement monitoring and logging tools to detect and record suspicious activities or unauthorized access attempts. Regularly review logs for signs of potential security incidents.
  11. Secure Physical Access: Protect physical access to your company’s premises and data centers. Physical security includes measures such as security guards, access cards, and surveillance cameras.
  12. Use Secure Communication Channels: Ensure that communication channels, such as email and messaging apps, are secure and encrypted to protect sensitive information during transmission.
  13. Develop a Comprehensive Incident Response Plan: Have a well-defined incident response plan in place to quickly respond to and recover from security incidents or data breaches.
  14. Monitor for Exposed Data: Use dark web monitoring services to scan the dark web for any exposed company data, such as leaked credentials, sensitive documents, or intellectual property. This can help you identify and mitigate potential threats before they are exploited by cybercriminals.

How Breachsense can help

According to the Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, 86% of breaches use stolen credentials.

From an attacker’s perspective, exploiting leaked usernames and passwords is clearly the simplest way for them to gain access to your network.

To make matters worse, according to the IBM Cost of a Data Breach Report, it takes organizations an average of 204 days to identify a breach.

Even then, in 67% of cases, the breach is reported to the organization by a benign third party or by the attackers themselves.

If you need real-time visibility into your breached data, book a demo to see how Breachsense can help.

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