Can Data Breaches Be Avoided?

In today’s highly connected world, data breaches have become rampant.  In the first quarter of 2020, the number of data breaches ticked up by a whopping 273% compared to 2019, according to a study highlighted by CNBC.  The breaches ranged from island hopping and ransomware to identify theft and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.

No one is immune to data breaches. Big conglomerates like hotel chain Marriott and consumer electronics giant Nintendo have been hit, dwarfing cases where startups like EatStreet were targeted. 2020 stats paint a rather gloomy picture for small businesses, a segment that accounts for about 43% of all reported data breaches.

When it comes to data breaches, an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure. Putting the right preventive measures in place can save companies financial, reputational, and organizational heartaches. The question is: Can data breaches be avoided?

This guide takes a quick look at what businesses, companies, and individuals must know about data breaches and how to prevent them.

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What Is a Data Breach?

A data breach (or data leak) is a cyber-security scenario in which sensitive information is accessed and retrieved by an unauthorized party, such as a software system, a group of hackers, or an individual. It can be an intentional or unintentional release of contact info, bank details, or other sensitive pieces of data into the wrong hands.

Why Should I Care About a Data Breach?

Everyone is vulnerable. When a cyber-security breach hits the headlines, it typically involves a big multinational company such as Equifax, Uber, or Facebook. That may give startups and small businesses a false sense of immunity.

In reality, data breaches affect small organizations as often as they do big businesses. A Verizon investigative report reveals that roughly 43% of cyber threats affect small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Even more worrying, 60% of SMEs that fall prey to cyber attacks shut up shop within six months of the episode, as per Inc. Magazine.

Individuals also have vital data cybercriminals can use to carry out identity theft and other fraudulent activities. These include first & last names, social security numbers (SSNs), and birth dates. These pieces of information collectively denote what’s known as personally identifiable information (PII).

In a digital world, both small and large organizations collect and store sensitive client information, such as passwords, email addresses, and telephone numbers. Companies that process payments may also keep credit card details and bank account numbers.

Data breaches can damage your reputation. Corporations suffering a data leak can result in a PR nightmare. Specifically, SMEs may struggle to regain customer trust and loyalty, making it difficult for them to recover from reputation and goodwill lost through a data breach.

If clients or customers lose faith in your business, the reputational and financial impact can be pretty severe. This is particularly true if perpetrators steal financial information such as credit card numbers, as was the case with Equifax and Uber.

Financial losses can be staggering. IBM estimates the average cost of a data breach to be $4.24 million. What’s more, 54% of data breaches cost organizations well over $500,000. The situation doesn’t have to reach this level for SMEs to feel the heat.

To err is human. You’d be surprised to learn that most data breaches affecting small businesses, startups, and medium-sized enterprises result from a human error. In most cases (or roughly 47% of reported incidents), the breach occurs due to negligence by employees. That is highly concerning given that only a third of SMEs say they have readied their employees for the task of preventing data breaches.

Data breaches result in expensive downtimes and operational hiccups. Operational downtime is one of the most overlooked effects of a data breach. Each minute of downtime related to cybersecurity breaches costs healthcare organizations an average of $8,851. Figures also reveal that 40% of SMEs that have experienced a data breach went offline for more than eight hours.

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How Do Data Breaches Happen?

When sensitive information gets into the wrong hands, a data breach has already taken place. So, before you think about strategies you can use to prevent data breaches, it would be best to learn how they happen in the first place.

Here are three major causes of data breaches:

  • Physical Access or Actions

A data breach doesn’t have to involve a sophisticated cyber-attack or elaborate remote access to data. In most cases, it involves someone gaining physical access to something such as your bank statement, laptop, phone, or hard disk. They might also gain physical access to your building and copy data from your computers.

  • Social Engineering

In cyberspace, social engineering is the most common way hackers gain access to information. You have probably heard of phishing, which involves hackers sending malicious emails or creating fake web pages to gain access to sensitive information.

For instance, hackers can create a fake PayPal page, only to steal your username and password when you try to log in. This can also come in the form of a scam phone call, Facebook chat, or even an SMS text.

  • Human Error

Again, human error plays a massive role in most cases of data breaches. Malicious attacks are responsible for around half of the breaches; human negligence accounts for the rest. If you accidentally leave your email open or fail to log off from Facebook on a public computer, you are opening yourself to a possible data breach.

How Do I Prevent A Data Breach?

Data breaches occur primarily because of weaknesses in physical security, user behavior, or technology. It’s essential to focus your preventive measures on these three target areas to effectively keep data breaches at bay.  To avoid data breaches, here are some steps companies can take to teach employees preventive behaviors:

  • Train and educate employees on cybersecurity and data protection best practices.
  • Create awareness – Make sure your employees, clients, and other stakeholders know how data breaches occur.
  • Invest in remote monitoring – Having greater visibility of your IT infrastructure and data can help you identify and quickly fix any exploitable cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
  • Ensure your software is always up-to-date

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Conclusion

Data breaches can have far-reaching and dire effects, including financial, reputational, and operational consequences. Invest in a remote monitoring system, educate your staff, and create awareness to avoid data breaches.

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