Every business needs an effective data security strategy. Over the past year alone, 64% of companies worldwide faced some form of cyber attack, with an average cost of $4.24 million per breach — the highest ever recorded.
Modern enterprises must ensure that their systems can resist unauthorized access, stop data breaches and remain secure (while still accessible) for owners and users. Attacks from bad actors occurred less often in the past, but with the types of digital tools out today, your business could become a target if left not protected and exposed.
Costly breaches result from failures in data security, and that can hurt your company’s bottom line. Explore what data security is and how it can safeguard you and your clients’ stored information.
What Is Data Security?
Data security is the practice of protecting sensitive digital information from unwanted access, either in person or online. Device location, security software and organizational practices all contribute to good data security.
It is important to note that data security is distinct from data protection (backing up or copying stored data) and data privacy (the transparent and compliant use of client data). For cybersecurity teams, data security defines any protective measures that limit the negligent or malicious misuse of your collected information by attackers, employees or business rivals.
A comprehensive strategy involves three core principles known as the CIA Triad: confidentiality, integrity and availability.
Secure your data by restricting access to trusted and verified parties, such as employees or clients. Encryption and organization by access rights are two common methods that help you maintain confidentiality.
The integrity of any stored data refers to its validity. Ensure that your data is not tampered with, degraded or deleted at any point. That needs to be true even when it is written, sent, stored or retrieved. Digital signatures, unerasable audit trails and regular backups are all examples of how you can preserve your systems’ data integrity.
Authorized users need access to protected services and should be able to modify their records. Plus, different software applications within an ecosystem require entry to secured data to communicate and interact properly. Best-in-class data security keeps your stored data on hand without trading for integrity and confidentiality.
Why Do We Need Data Security?
Breaches can do far more damage than the initial cost of restoring compromised systems. Bad actors can steal personal information to commit identity theft, blackmail and harassment, with life-changing effects.
Unlike the U.S., Europe has put data security into law with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which imposes harsh fines on anyone who fails to protect collected data. GDPR also means that to provide data services to European entities, third parties must demonstrate a compliant level of data security and data protection.
Data security is fast becoming the minimum standard for online protection and offers several other benefits to adopters.
Improve Your Data Integrity
Unspoiled data allows you to make accurate projections and strategic business decisions. In addition, robust data integrity provides your customers and clients with peace of mind. They know their personal information is protected.
Gain an Edge
You can scale your business with ease when you implement a data security strategy from the start, giving you an edge over others in the market. A massive 75% of consumers said that they would not purchase from companies they don’t trust with their data.
Remain Fully Compliant
Compliance with local data security rules, such as GDPR in Europe or the California Consumer Privacy Act, allows you to trade within those areas. It also lets you be more flexible when regulators enforce security laws in new locations.
Build a Trustworthy Reputation
For a market that is growing more concerned with data security, protecting your customers’ details can help improve client retention. A good name will drive new business.
Reduce Damages and Business Costs
The expenses related to proper data security are minor when compared to the costs of a systems breach. In fact, for small businesses impacted by a data breach, 60% never recover and often go out of business within a year.
For the remaining cohort, the financial impact of a breach (including reputational damage, downtime, crisis management, litigation costs and system migrations) can break your business.
How to Implement a Data Security Strategy
Once you have decided to implement or upgrade data security, where do you start?
The following four-step process can aid any venture at any stage. After all, it’s never too late to invest in your data security.
Step 1: Determine What Is at Risk
Review and list the tools you use to conduct your business, including physical devices, software, databases (including the data itself) and any other software within your systems.
This process will end with a visible inventory of your systems and data. Next, determine what aspects you are legally required to protect. Ensure that you store everything in a compliant manner.
Then, triage the data you will secure based on information sensitivity and its importance to your business. It is unlikely that you can protect every asset. But it’s worth it to attempt to secure things where it will do the most good.
Step 2: Review Your Current Data Security Protocols
Do you have any data security systems currently in place? Do they work? Consider penetration testing to identify existing risks and to help measure your success following any upgrades.
Be sure to review if your system processes are compliant. In-house or third-party auditing can highlight high-risk areas and allow you to address potential culture and education gaps that could elevate your risk.
Any device physically located at the edge of a network (desktops, servers or tablets) is considered an endpoint and is at risk for attack, more so when located off-site. Endpoint protection is a must-have and worth the investment.
When possible, it is good practice to remove stale data. You should install a cleanup process or software that deletes large amounts of outdated, unneeded or duplicate data.
Step 3: Assemble a Data Security Team
Consider building your own internal security team. Smaller enterprises may find outsourcing a more cost-effective way to access expert security workers. Try to blend in-house knowledge with external expertise when possible.
Ensure that you educate your workforce on compliance, as human error can defeat even the best systems. Provide everyone who has system access (including directors and outsourced workers) with the same training to reduce employee issues.
Continue to manage access to your systems with care, and delete any unneeded or outdated user profiles. As workflows shift towards hybrid office spaces, authenticate active users that work remotely.
Once you assemble a team, compile a recovery plan. This should instruct workers on containment methods in the event of any system-wide disaster.
Step 4: Update Your Data Security Approach
After you have determined your company-wide security needs, there are several software solutions you can use to implement your strategy:
Authentication and access management software: Ensure that only authorized users have access to your systems.
Encryption software: Encryption renders your data useless to anyone without the proper key to decrypt it. So, it can help you resist ransomware attacks.
Data masking software: Data masking takes sensitive data and applies a placeholder or mask overtop, preventing misuse (e.g., asterisks that block credit card numbers to the viewer).
Risk assessment software: Service providers like Google offer risk assessment tools that help you audit your network and software security.
If possible, look into learning resources designed to assist businesses with their data security. For example, the National Institute of Standards and Technology provides online learning modules. The Payment Card Industry has resources and training in taking payments securely. Plus, the International Standards Organization has frameworks set out to assist with information security.
Regulated industries such as health care, finance and telecommunications have other compliance needs. Each also has its own set of regulatory publications you must follow. If you operate or trade directly within these industries, lookup their relevant documents to make sure you remain compliant.
Defenses for Today
Having up-to-date software will help protect your business. Without proactive measures towards data security, you put your business and your client information at risk.
Use this guide to adjust your data exposure. Then, take steps to improve your data security as much as possible. Today, threats are constantly on the rise. Taking action to strengthen your security posture makes a difference.