There are some simple steps you can take to enhance your data security and block hackers from accessing sensitive business information. In this article, we will discuss 10 security practices you can follow to protect your small business against a data breach.
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According to Accenture, 43% of attacks are aimed at SMBs, but only 14% of these businesses are prepared to defend themselves. Thus, it is imperative that you protect your company’s data.
Data breaches can have a devastating effect on small businesses, and remote work is a vulnerable vector attack that can be abused by bad actors.
As remote working has risen by 44% in the last five years, the number of small business data breaches has skyrocketed, with over 4,000 incidents in the U.S. in 2022 alone.
Falling victim to targeted attacks could result in:
- Lost productivity and halted operations while you try to recover your systems.
- Having to pay large sums of money for ransom fees or to repair your network. Hackers could also steal money from you if they get into your bank account.
- Reputational damage if a data breach results in customer information being leaked. You may even face legal action if customer data is compromised.
This is not an exhaustive list. The consequences of a security breach are far-reaching for you as a business owner, your employees, and your customers.
- Phishing attack: A type of cyberattack where hackers deceive people into revealing sensitive information or installing malware onto a device.
- Ransomware attack: Malware that stops you from being able to access your business resources by encrypting your data. Hackers will then demand a ransom in exchange for decrypting your data.
What Are Data Breaches?
A data breach is an incident where sensitive information such as banking or credit card details, medical records, customer data, log-ins and credentials, or sensitive files such as intellectual property is stolen from your business.
Data breaches typically involve a hacker or an otherwise ill-intentioned individual breaking into your business system without your knowledge or authorization.
These breaches can result from:
- Cyber attacks: When a hacker uses methods like phishing attacks or malicious software to gain access to your company data.
- Lost or stolen devices: A misplaced hard drive that contains company data could end up in the wrong hands.
- Human error: Employees can accidentally leak or share sensitive data without realizing it.
- Misuse of permissions: Also known as insider attacks, a malicious employee can cause a security breach on purpose.
The Real Cost of Security Breaches
The hotel chain Marriott faced a data breach where over 380 million customer records were stolen due to an unsecured reservation system.
This customer information included passport numbers and credit card details.
The business was fined over $23 million in penalties due to the leak of customer data.
In addition to this costly fine, the company suffered reputational damage as public opinion shifted.
One can imagine how guests will now feel about the hotel after having had their personal information stolen.
What Is Data Network Security?
Data security uses a combination of hardware and software solutions, as well as strategies and rules to ensure your company data is kept secure from cyberthreats.
How does it work?
A security breach can happen anywhere in your network. Usually, there are three different network security controls:
👉 Physical security: This is preventing unauthorized people from gaining access to your network physically. Physical security would include using access control and biometrics to guard against unauthorized access.
👉 Technical security: This is the kind of data protection that is stored on your business network. It is all about taking steps to prevent malicious activity and unauthorized access to your company’s data.
👉 Administrative security: This is having procedures and policies in place to control who has access to your sensitive data, including how your employees are authenticated and how much access they have to your business systems.
Why you need network security practices
You may think that network security is only something that larger companies need to be concerned about. But the truth is, no matter the size of your business, you need to take steps to protect company data.
Data breaches have risen by 70% globally at the end of the last year and this trend will not disappear. This means that there is an ever-increasing number of threats out there, and the chances of your small business being targeted by cybercriminals are high.
Securing your business network from potential threats using network security is crucial if you want to protect your company from the consequences of security breaches.
Next, we will unpack some of the main security measures involved in network security that you can use to protect your small business against potential security incidents.
10 Security Measures to Protect Your Sensitive Data
Now that you know exactly how important data security is for your small business, here are some practical steps you can take to protect your organization against security risks.
1. Develop a data security strategy
A data security strategy is a roadmap that outlines the security practices you will use to protect your business.
This roadmap needs to include steps to protect your data as well as your action plan should your business face a security threat.
What to Include in Your Data Security Strategy:
Your strategy should be exhaustive and should consider every aspect of protecting your business. Here are some things to consider when working on this strategy:
➡️ How you will protect customer information.
➡️ How you will manage employee access or limit access where necessary. You can do this using a business VPN like GoodAccess.
➡️ Policies and procedures that your employees need to follow to ensure data security.
➡️ Your crisis plan that will determine what to do if your business is hacked.
2. Use a cloud business VPN
Using a virtual private network (VPN) that is specifically designed for small businesses like yours is an excellent way to not only protect data against security threats, but also to manage and limit access to your business network.
Using a cloud business VPN like GoodAccess—which can be utilized on both company and personal devices—means you are only three quick steps away from completely securing your organization.
Our product includes security features that have been thoughtfully designed to take care of your security vulnerabilities so that your confidential data will never fall into the wrong hands.
Keep reading to learn more about how a business VPN can protect company data.
3. Consider your passwords
One of the easiest ways to protect your company’s data is to encourage your employees to use strong passwords that would be hard for hackers to guess.
👉 It may be a good idea to run some employee training on how to create strong passwords and avoid using details like birthdates as a password. More on this later.
A part of your data security strategy could be requiring your employees to use password managers. They enable creating strong and unbreakable passwords while simplifying the entire process and eliminating the risk of using similar passwords to different services.
4. Employ two-factor authentication
Two-factor authentication (2FA) is an added security measure that is offered by most software programs and applications.
This type of authentication requires a user to verify their identity before gaining access to something within your corporate network. It places an additional obstacle in an intruder’s path, stopping them from gaining access to your environment even if they have login credentials
Methods of authentication in 2FA include providing a:
➡️ Biometric data like a fingerprint.
➡️ One-time PIN.
Once this additional verification has been provided by an employee, they can access your company’s data.
5. Enable automatic updates for your software
Cyberattacks are constantly evolving, so keeping your software and applications up to date is an essential way to protect your business against them.
Software manufacturers provide updates that protect users against the latest types of security threats.
In some cases, malicious software can be broken or disarmed simply by updating your operating system.
For these reasons, it’s essential that you allow your devices to run automatic updates.
👉 In your employee training programs, explain why team members should never skip an update - or even worse, disable updates.
6. Create a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Policy
In an ideal world, you would want your entire team only to use company devices. Security threats become far more manageable when this is the case.
However, in this work-from-home era, your employees are likely using personal devices, such as their personal devices, to access your business resources, usually remotely.
GoodAccess for All Devices
It’s worth noting that if you have a cloud business VPN in place, you can protect any device—whether it’s a personal or company device—and your business from security threats.
By creating a secure tunnel between a device and a network, employees can access your business securely, regardless of their location. This makes managing data security within remote team environments far more effective.
7. Keep portable devices locked away
It is important that you keep backups of your company’s data. If you suffer a security breach like a ransomware attack, you can use these backups to restore your data and decrease the amount of time your systems are down.
One type of backup you should always keep is a physical copy of your data in the form of a hard drive, for example.
However, using portable devices for storage—like flash drives for your data backup—exposes you to a security threat if they fall into the wrong hands.
For this reason, you may want to keep your portable storage devices in a locked file cabinet so that no one can access them.
8. Properly dispose of your company’s data
There will come a time in every business when you need to get rid of sensitive data. This could include physical copies of your customers’ credit card information, for example. Failing to dispose of these correctly could lead to identity theft.
Here is how to dispose of data correctly:
🗑 Paper records should be destroyed through shredding or burning before they are discarded.
🗑 When you dispose of hardware like laptops and portable storage devices, use software that completely wipes their stored data. Simply deleting files yourself is not enough.
🗑 Make sure your remote employees are disposing of data correctly at home, too.
🗑 Be sure to include your data disposal policy in your security strategy.
9. Educate your employees
As we’ve mentioned before, a security threat can take the form of an employee accidentally clicking the wrong button.
It is important that you spend time training your employees on data security best practices and that you keep them updated on your data security strategy.
If an employee can identify a phishing attack before it happens, for example, they can protect your company’s data from ending up in a hacker’s hands. However, they will only be able to do so with proper training.
10. Scale down confidential data
Of course, no matter your industry, your company will have stored confidential data of some sort.
However, it is a good idea to consider just how much confidential data you truly need to operate your business.
For example, only use social security numbers if they are absolutely necessary and required for legal purposes. Do not use social security numbers as a way to identify customers or employees.
When it comes to customer credit card information, only keep it on file if you absolutely need it. If you do not explicitly need the card number and expiration date to conduct business, it is best not to keep it on record.
Lastly, use the least privilege principle to only allow certain employees access to certain parts of your business, based on what is needed to do their job.
What Is the Principle of Least Privilege?
This is a data security concept that maintains that a user—or employee—should only have access to specific company data that they need to do their job.
For example, you would want your marketing intern to have access to your CRM and email database. But you would not want them to have access to your accounting system.
By implementing least privilege, you are limiting your marketing intern’s access to the resources they need to do their work.
➡️ It is worth noting that GoodAccess allows you to implement the principle of least privilege by enabling zero trust network access (ZTNA).
How a Business VPN Can Protect Your Private Company Data
As we’ve mentioned earlier, a cloud business VPN like GoodAccess is a powerful solution for protecting your company’s data.
What is a VPN?
A VPN creates a secure tunnel between any device and your company's resources.
👉 Your company resources could include software, servers, networks, and assets like printers and copiers.
What is access control?
One of the most effective data security strategies you can use to protect your business is controlling who accesses your business resources.
A business VPN makes sure that only authorized users—your employees—access your business, regardless of their geographical location.
In doing this, you effectively lock unauthorized users out of your business completely. Unless they are connected to your business VPN, they will not be able to access your business resources and data.
What is encryption of company data?
Another way that a VPN protects your company’s data is through something called encryption.
What Is Encryption?
Encryption is when data is scrambled to become unreadable to the outside world.
A VPN translates the data you send into code. It cannot be deciphered by anyone who is not connected to your VPN.
Encryption is one of the most effective ways to protect company data, as your data is effectively made invisible while it is being transmitted from your employee’s device to your business network.
Think about things like login credentials and passwords, customer details, and banking PINs—you would not want this data to travel between an employee’s device and the Internet without protection.
With GoodAccess You Can:
✅ Secure the connection between your employee’s device and your business resources.
✅ Secure your employee’s connection to the Internet.
✅ Control employee access to your company’s data while locking hackers out.
✅ Implement network data security within your business without developing your own infrastructure.
✅ Spend less time worrying about a potential security threat and have more time for running your business.
Wrapping Up on How to Protect Company Data
Security breaches are becoming more advanced and more prevalent by the day. Businesses, no matter their size, cannot afford to ignore the fact that their data may be at risk.
If you want to avoid costly downtime, crippled operations, and lowered revenue, you need to consider how you are going to protect your company against data loss and keep your data safe.
While it is important to have an all-encompassing strategy in place that protects your data and your business resources using the security methods outlined above, it is also vital that you use VPN technology to secure your company.
Using a cloud business VPN like GoodAccess is the reason why thousands of companies are managing to keep their data safe.
Sign up for a free GoodAccess trial and learn why more than 1300 businesses trust us to protect their company’s data.