The age-old canard, “Trust me, I’m from the government,” has been around for hundreds of years and has been greeted universally with a smirk or a chortle. However, it probably was never used in the context of a data breach discussion. There have been massive data breaches involving individuals’ data coming from governmental entities. These breaches include two noteworthy events from the recent past: the 2012 breach that compromised the personally identifiable information (PII) of 3.6 million South Carolina taxpayers and the 2011 compromise of the PII of more than 8.3 million U.K. citizens when a National Health Service laptop was stolen.

PII is just one data set with identified value. Nations also have nation-state secrets that must be protected. The protection afforded these nation-state secrets has led to their public dissection by a wayward insider or two who opted to break trust and lay before the court of public opinion whether the decisions, actions or intentions of different governments, organizations or leaders were appropriate.

Fast-forward to the business side of the equation, and one would think the lessons introduced by the governmental breaches would provide a sufficient impetus to all businesses, be they large enterprises or small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), to take every possible precaution to protect their sensitive data. Yet the past 12 months have shown that size doesn’t matter when it comes to data breaches. Though an enterprise breach carries a larger footprint than one against an SMB, the data lost has an identical effect on the victims. For those entities that have the misfortune of experiencing a data breach involving PII, their remediation puts their hands deep in their pockets.

According to the Ponemon Institute, remediation on average had businesses ponying up $3.5 million (or $145 per record) when all was said and done. For those entities that lost their intellectual property or trade secrets, quantifying the cost of the loss may not be as cleanly calculated, though it carries the potential of being substantially higher than the cost of losing PII. The loss of one’s intellectual property or trade secrets has the very real potential of putting the affected company out of a market, if not out of business.

The Online Trust Alliance (OTA) recently revealed in its 2015 Data Protection Best Practices and Risk Assessment Guides that more than 90 percent of the 2014 data breaches could have been prevented using available technologies or adherence to basic processes and procedures.

External Intrusions

Networks and devices are constantly being targeted, with the OTA’s study showing 40 percent of data breaches were caused by external intrusions. In the recent slew of retail transaction system data breaches, the cybercriminals used a bit of social engineering and acquired the credentials of a third-party vendor to access the internal network of the targeted entity. Attention must be paid to investing in access controls, especially those afforded access via the side door of the vendor relationship, where visibility into the third party’s ecosystem is not as robust as the organization’s visibility into its own.

Equally important is the need to wrap one’s arms around the personal devices that connect to a company’s networks. One must also address the security of applications used by the company and ensure security considerations are taken into account when designing applications used by clients and customers.

Lost Devices and Social Engineering

As previously mentioned, social engineering of the insider is the fast track to system access. The OTA found that 29 percent of the data breaches were caused by employee error, either by lost devices and documents (18 percent) or social engineering and fraud (11 percent). These are both areas in which an investment in employee education would pay immediate dividends. Ongoing education on phishing techniques and social engineering methodologies are wise investments since the individual with natural access to sensitive data may be the weakest link in the data protection schema. Similarly, ensuring devices and data stores that contain PII or sensitive company documents are encrypted could have largely mitigated the two data breaches discussed above.

Data Breach From Insiders

Far too often, companies expect their employees to protect their data but fail to direct and provide the educational resources on how, exactly, the employee should make that happen. When malicious employees cross the chasm of ethical decision-making, detection largely depends on their exceeding their natural access of behavioral queues evidenced within the workplace. Well-meaning employees who inadvertently put the company at risk are omnipresent. They may share access credentials, leave devices unattended or create their own workaround methodologies that run outside the company’s infrastructure — all in an effort to perform their job more efficiently, with nary a consideration of how their actions put the company at risk.

We’re All in This Together

Regardless of where your entity sits, data must be protected. Investing in security may not remove the possibility of a data breach, but the OTA’s sound advice to have controls designed to prevent, detect, contain and remediate data breaches will move the odds of a data breach occurring closer to zero. After all, who wants to be the one delivering the message, “Oops, I just lost your data!” to customers, clients or the C-suite?

More from Data Protection

Cost of a data breach 2023: Pharmaceutical industry impacts

3 min read - Data breaches are both commonplace and costly in the medical industry.  Two industry verticals that fall under the medical umbrella — healthcare and pharmaceuticals — sit at the top of the list of the highest average cost of a data breach, according to IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach Report 2023. The health industry’s place at the top spot of most costly data breaches is probably not a surprise. With its sensitive and valuable data assets, it is one of…

Cost of a data breach 2023: Financial industry impacts

3 min read - According to the IBM Cost of a Data Breach Report 2023, the global average cost of a data breach in 2023 was $4.45 million, 15% more than in 2020. In response, 51% of organizations plan to increase cybersecurity spending this year. For the financial industry, however, global statistics don’t tell the whole story. Finance firms lose approximately $5.9 million per data breach, 28% higher than the global average. In addition, evolving regulatory concerns play a role in how financial companies…

Advanced analytics can help detect insider threats rapidly

2 min read - While external cyber threats capture headlines, the rise of insider threats from within an organization is a growing concern. In 2023, the average cost of a data breach caused by an insider reached $4.90 million, 9.6% higher than the global average data breach cost of $4.45 million. To effectively combat this danger, integrating advanced analytics into data security software has become a critical and proactive defense strategy. Understanding insider threats Insider threats come from users who abuse authorized access to…

One simple way to cut ransomware recovery costs in half

4 min read - Whichever way you look at the data, it is considerably cheaper to use backups to recover from a ransomware attack than to pay the ransom. The median recovery cost for those that use backups is half the cost incurred by those that paid the ransom, according to a recent study. Similarly, the mean recovery cost is almost $1 million lower for those that used backups. Despite this fact, the use of backups is actually falling. This was one of the…