For 83% of companies, it’s not if a data breach will happen – but when.
According to a 2022 report by IBM, every business is a potential target for data breach attacks, including yours. We don’t want to scare you — it’s just the way things are.
There are also other risks, like accidental data loss that can easily end up costing more than the security itself. Statistics show that 60% of SMBs declare bankruptcy in the aftermath of a data breach. Why? Because they fail to ensure data security and compliance for their business.
But there are ways to prevent that. Here are five simple steps to mitigate data threats and vulnerabilities.
1. Develop a security-focused mindset
The approach to data security can’t be single-sided — it must be multi-faceted and systematic.
For this to work, the security systems, employee training, and data governance policies must become an integral part of daily operations and company culture.
It’s no easy task for the leadership. It’s up to them to grasp and convey the importance of data security to everyone involved in the organization.
So how can you ensure that everyone is paying attention to compliance? To begin with, stop sending your employees to crash courses. They don’t work. Data threats are not periodic, so security training must be a continuous, non-stop practice.
Here’s how that works on a day-to-day level:
- include everyone, from maintenance to CEOs
- routine security drills and exercises
- discuss assessment results during training
- use tools to track progress and reporting.
The correct way to approach security awareness is not as a one-time program but as an ongoing practice. It’s about incorporating something new for the long term rather than ticking a box and forgetting what you’ve learned by the end of the month.
2. Keep tabs on your company data
Your company data is safely stored, but do you know how and where?
The information you keep in-house should be relatively easy to trace, manage, and control, but what about the information you keep off premises?
Also, it’s a data privacy myth that only personal data must be kept private.
System asset inventories and maps can help you keep tabs on all your data — private and public, kept on your company servers or on the cloud.
One of the goals of data mapping is to unify how you collect and store data. It’s a complex process, especially in large organizations. It is critical to start mapping your data before scaling to prevent it from piling up.
Specialized tools can help you trace and integrate data from different sources and channels. The best of them offer advanced mapping for personal data, helping you streamline and automate compliance reporting.
3. Limit who can access your data
In theory, any user account or role within your company can access your organization's sensitive data. This potentially includes various internal and external stakeholders like employees, partners, clients, and customers. Robust access controls, based on individual user roles and permissions, are crucial in safeguarding your data.
Data security should come with zero tolerance for unauthorized data access and privileges. If needed, your IT team can apply a data segregation protocol that scrutinizes each user account and role for identity and intent. This ensures that every new user or role is meticulously vetted before granting specific data access rights.
Authorized user accounts or roles should be given a tailored level of access that limits their interaction with sensitive data and applications. This ensures that they are not exposed to crucial data that isn't necessary for their roles, thereby reducing the risk of data breaches.
Different levels of access should be defined for different employees depending on their roles and rank. Joe from sales doesn’t need access to your bookkeeping software, and Sally from accounting shouldn’t be able to log into your CRM tool.
4. Take the time to vet every vendor
Only two in five companies require potential vendors to submit information regarding their cybersecurity protocols.
You shouldn’t be vetting only the providers of your core software systems and tools you use for critical operations — every single app you keep on your company phones must be vetted for security and compliance.
Again, zero tolerance is the best approach for this.
Every single vendor on your list should have the necessary certifications proving their commitment to data security and compliance. CCPA, GDPR, IAPP, and ISO should be mandatory requirements for all companies you’ll be doing business with.
After ensuring your vendors have the proper certificates, you must learn about their data governance policies. How and where are they collecting, storing, and using data?
Most importantly, are they selling data to anyone?
Certified organizations are legally obliged to answer these questions, so write a list of template questions for all potential vendors. If they fail to respond or meet your data security criteria, they are probably not worth the risk.
5. Get help from compliance automation
All your data protection measures must be up to date, down to the last password. Not only does this take a lot of time, but it also creates bottlenecks and inefficiencies. Plus, as they say, it’s human to make mistakes.
In fact, 88% of data breaches are caused by employee mistakes. You can prevent both of these problems by automating compliance.
Compliance automation software typically relies on AI-driven technology to schedule and perform compliance activities based on specific triggers, such as new regulatory requirements. Some of the key workflows these tools handle are risk assessments, control evaluations, testing, and corrective action planning.
The best compliance automation tools are flexible and integrate easily with your existing applications. They offer built-in compliance workflows for common standards like GDPR, PCI DSS, and HIPAA, which you can then customize according to your internal policies.
In addition, compliance automation provides tools for continuous tracking and monitoring, as well as collecting evidence across different frameworks. It facilitates the compliance part of vendor management and improves employee training.
You can never be too protective of your company data, and it’s never too early to develop practices that work. A security-oriented mindset, airtight data mapping, access control, vendor vetting, and compliance automation are a good start.