Six steps to protecting your business against data theft

Information security continues to be one of the hottest topics in business with every day seemingly bringing news of another high profile leak or cyber attack at the moment.

While it is the likes of Sony, Anthem and Gemalto grabbing the global headlines, the increasing threat to data should be a concern for everyone.

All organisations have sensitive data that must be protected, whether it’s new product designs, credit card numbers, personal health information or company payroll data, and suffering a data breach could quickly lead to disastrous consequences. Protecting this data can be key to the company’s long-term survival, so it is critical to ensure appropriate steps are taken.

Below are six tips that will help businesses keep their most valuable asset safe:

1. Put data protection at the top of the list

This may seem like a no-brainer, but despite all of the chatter in the C-Suite about cyber security, few companies have meaningful data protection programs in place. They often cite the need to preserve the free flow of information and to not impede worker productivity. But the truth is, there are solutions and approaches that balance the need to protect data with the need to drive rapid innovation. Data protection has to be an executive priority or it won’t get done.

2. Identify your most important data assets

All too often organisations have no idea where this valuable data is stored and who has access to it. Organisations must know what their sensitive data is if they want to prevent it from being stolen. Simply identifying the crown jewels can feel like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Start with your most critical data — the data you know a hacker is after. Get that identified first and then move to the next organisational function.

3. Protect those data assets

This is going to sound very basic, but once sensitive data is identified… label it. Literally mark all critical assets as “internal only” or “confidential.” Whether the document is digital or paper-based, this is the quickest and easiest protection method. It provides employees with a visual cue to treat the document with care, and employees are often the ones targeted by hackers. There are also additional technologies that you can employ to ensure your sensitive data stays safe. From encryption to digital rights management, from persistent document tagging to policy-driven data protection, there are numerous approaches to ensure data flows freely, but only on a need-to-know basis.

4. Think like the cyber criminals

Take a look at all of your business processes to determine where data theft might occur. Assess your data from an outsider’s standpoint — what would you want to steal and how would you do it? Then, set to work plugging those holes. The security pros call it “threat modelling” and it’s one of the most effective ways to ensure security.

5. Improve employee awareness

As mentioned earlier, the weakest link in data defence is the employee — from the C-level executive to the receptionist. Add data protection to manuals and employment agreements, and train them on your policies regarding the use of confidential data. It also helps to perform regular security awareness training and invite your contractors, vendors and partners to participate, as they should be subject to your data protection policies as well.

6. Be prepared if your data is stolen

Have an incident response plan at the ready. Even the organisations that have their data protected can still become victims of breaches. Today, cyber criminals are more nimble and financially motivated than ever before, so it pays to be prepared.

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