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12 Ways to Mitigate Data Breach Risks in Your Organization

Whatever the size of your organization, it will always face a certain data breach risk. Data breaches occur when cybercriminals gain access to your company’s information. It also happens when a human error or corruption occurs in the system where you store your data.

While data breach risks never fully disappear, there are steps your business can take to mitigate them. Even employees without IT security knowledge can take part in protecting your organization.

1. Educate Employees

One way to mitigate data breach risks is through employee education. Human error is often a contributing factor in security incidents. In fact, 74% of breaches that occurred involved human errors, according to Verizon’s Data Breach Investigations Report. Building a culture of awareness is key and teaching employees about this topic is a fundamental prevention strategy.

This method involves regular training sessions that cover the basics of data security, recognizing phishing attempts and safe internet practices. Your staff should also understand the value of the information they handle and the consequences of a breach. Encourage a policy of “think before you click” and ensure every team member knows who to contact if they suspect a security threat.

2. Regularly Update and Patch Systems

System patches and updates are crucial for mitigating data breach risks. Your IT systems are the barrier that keeps your data protected. However, it must be maintained and strengthened to defend against new threats. Hackers are always looking for weak spots and outdated software gives them the perfect opportunity to attack.

Regularly updating and patching your network fixes these weak spots. Software companies often release patches when they discover vulnerabilities. Ensure you set up a schedule for checking and installing updates for all your software and systems to prevent attacks.

3. Conduct Risk Assessments

Risk assessments are key in identifying where your organization is most vulnerable to data breaches. This process involves examining your IT environment to identify and address vulnerabilities. Conducting these is important, considering that over 800 incidents were recorded in 2019, and they keep increasing every year.

In 2019, the average cost per data breach was $3.92 million and increased to $4.45 million in 2023. When you conduct a thorough risk assessment, you do more than pinpoint existing weaknesses — you also forecast potential future threats.

4. Use Multi-Factor Authentication

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) ensures another layer of security for your organization’s data. When using MFA, users must provide two or more verification factors to gain access to a resource. Doing so makes it more challenging for an attacker to breach your systems.

While adding this extra step may seem like a hassle, it is worth it because this strategy ensures the person logging in is the right one. With MFA, make sure you go to your settings and turn this feature on. It will prompt you to use texts, phone calls, emails or Face ID. Even if a password does fall into the wrong hands, MFA can stop intruders in their tracks.

5. Encrypt Sensitive Data

When you encrypt sensitive data, you put your most important information in a vault. The data is scrambled to ensure only those with the right key can make sense of it.

Encryption is like a secret language, so only you and authorized members of your organization know what it says. Whether it’s customers’ details or financial records, encryption ensures this information remains confidential.

6. Limit Access to Sensitive Data

Many organizations know to store their data securely. However, limiting the amount of people who can access it is critical. When you restrict data access, you create fewer opportunities for breaches to occur.

One way you can approach this is through role-based access control (RBAC). This method assigns access based on an individual’s role within the organization. Only those whose jobs require it should have access to sensitive data.

7. Implement Strong Password Policies

Implementing strong password policies is key to defending your organization against data breaches. When using strong passwords, you make it hard for hackers to pick the lock to your system.

Start by establishing rules for creating passwords. They should be long, with a mix of letters, numbers and symbols. Essentially, they should be difficult to guess, so avoid using passwords like birthdays or common words.

It is also important to change these passwords often. That makes it more challenging for cybercriminals to guess moving forward.

8. Monitor Networks and Systems

Keeping an eye on your IT networks is essential because it allows you to look for signals of a cyber attack or unauthorized activity. That way, you can detect and respond to threats before they become major breaches.

To ensure you are constantly monitoring your IT systems, consider using an intrusion detection system (IDS). IDS act as surveillance, scanning for any suspicious behavior on your network.

You could also conduct regular audits. Periodic checks can reveal if there are any authorized changes or updates to your systems.

9. Secure Physical Access

Securing the physical parts of your facility and hardware is just as important as safeguarding your digital assets. When you build a solid barrier, you guarantee stronger protection for your organization.

There are plenty of ways to protect your physical space. Consider controlling your entry points by using key cards or biometric scanners. Only authorized personnel can enter sensitive areas. Another way to protect your hardware is by installing cameras and other surveillance equipment around the most critical areas. Make sure employees lock up their computers and devices at the end of the day to keep workstations secure.

10. Develop and Enforce Security Policies

Policies are the foundation upon which a secure environment is built. You ensure consistency in following the rules and everyone stays on the same page. When creating these policies, ensure they are clear and cover all security aspects. Involve employees of every level so your entire team understands to take them seriously. Then, enforce them by reminding employees of these policies regularly through team meetings and your organization’s employee handbook.

11. Incident Response Planning

An incident response plan is an emergency action playbook for when a data breach occurs. It is an organized approach to addressing and managing the aftermath of a security breach. Having a well-thought-out plan ensures everyone knows what to do during a breach. You reduce the damage and cost of one drastically.

When creating an incident response plan, ensure you assign roles to team members during an incident. Have communication plans and tools ready to go. Then, set up systems to detect breaches quickly. The faster you know about an incident, the quicker you can act. You should also have a plan on how to contain and eradicate the breach and ensure you have an approach to recovery.

12. Regularly Backup Data

Routine backups are crucial because they ensure you always have a copy of your sensitive data. In case of a data breach or loss, you can restore from a backup quickly, ensuring business continuity and minimizing downtime.

To keep backup copies of your data, consider using cloud services. These services offer data management, enhanced security and better accessibility to your data. Ensure you schedule regular backups and test them to determine if you can recover the data.

Rid Your Organization of Data Breach Risks

Mitigating data breach risks is critical for organizational integrity. Implementing these strategies can shield your entire company from hackers. When you commit to these practices, your organization becomes a fortress in the face of cyber threats.

Eleanor Hecks is editor-in-chief at Designerly Magazine. She was the creative director at a digital marketing agency before becoming a full-time freelance designer. Eleanor lives in Philly with her husband and pup, Bear.

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