With the UK’s first free cyber incident response helpline having supported 100 enquiries since it was launched in 2020, the Scottish Business Resilience Centre (SBRC)…
SBRC members, DataRush, have put together a blog on effective ways to protect your business data.
Ways to Protect and Secure Your Business Data
For businesses competing in today’s digital marketplace, cybersecurity is essential. There is little doubt that hackers and fraudsters continue to become more innovative in their ruses. Although computer networks are now ubiquitous, there are still some companies and public organisations whose business data could be unduly or unwittingly exposed to loss or theft. Usually, data breach incidents involve attempts to access, change or destroy confidential or sensitive information.
Alternatively, the perpetrators may attempt to extort money from users or interrupt business processes. Given the prevalence and complexity of the threats and the potential damage to profitability and reputation, the importance of protecting IT systems against data security breaches is all too clear. The message is stark: severe cases might threaten the very survival of a company. If you are a decision-maker or responsible for IT security, we invite you to continue reading. Below, we review how your business can prevent data breaches.
Physical and information security
Essential in the workplace, physical security measures cover access control and proof of identity – especially in and near computer communications or server rooms. In contrast, information security measures protect your data and business systems from external and insider attack. Notoriously, such attacks involve the perpetrator(s) seeking to access, change or destroy sensitive information.
Alternatively, they might aim to interrupt normal business processes or to extort money from users. Currently, possible threats include ransomware, sabotage and industrial espionage as well as the theft of commercial secrets and confidential or sensitive details. Countermeasures involve deploying the latest safeguards for business computer systems, local networks, software programs and data files.
Malware and phishing scams
Turning to some specific threats, infiltration scams usually aim to perpetrate fraud. In this context, malware is software code designed to gain unauthorised access or cause damage such as loss of files within a network of business computers.
Similarly, phishing scams are becoming increasingly common. Using fraudulent or impostor emails that resemble reputable sources, sometimes so closely that it is vital to exercise considerable care, the instigators invariably seek to steal user or corporate data. Typically, the sender(s) will attempt to download confidential details including, but not limited to: passwords, full names, addresses and bank or credit card account numbers.
Ransomware, a type of malicious code, encrypts a file or folder(s) without the users’ or owner’s knowledge or permission. Once the offending code has inhibited access to the business data, it threatens to wreak havoc unless the computer user or company pays a ransom demand.
Unfortunately, however, paying the ransom does not necessarily guarantee the recovery of the affected data, nor the restoration of the business system. Whereas some anti-ransomware and anti-malware packages look to block intrusions from the outset, other protection methodologies use grey lists to scan for suspicious behaviour. However, because cybersecurity threats evolve continually, such defences require regular updates. Thus, rigorously ensuring effective cybersecurity to address such risks can be a demanding task without the appropriate expertise.
Used by technical experts, network port scanners can quickly uncover unprotected workstations or outdated operating systems. In the wrong hands, this gadgetry enables malevolent people to exploit vulnerabilities. In contrast, in the right hands, computer security specialists can scan network ports to check for weaknesses and, if necessary, prevent data breaches by locking the hardware down to secure the computer system concerned.
Consequences of data loss
Apart from time-consuming rectification, where this is possible, or minimisation of damage incurred, episodes of unauthorised access to data can cause embarrassing complications. Over recent years, news reports have detailed the disastrous consequences that have affected private enterprises and public authorities and institutions alike – from banks and telecommunication services to NHS hospitals.
Logically, to minimise damage to corporate reputations, some cases go unreported. Thus, those data breaches that make it into news reports probably represent only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Nonetheless, the hacking of Sony Corporation computer networks and theft of confidential details relating to tens of millions of PlayStation games network users concerned audiences and customers across the globe. Significantly, in the healthcare and financial services spheres, breaches can be ruinous.
Consequently, maximum care is necessary.
Businesses from start-ups and SMEs to large enterprises should adopt layers of protection that complement each other, including:
- Secure email
- Up-to-date firewalls and anti-virus measures
- Effective anti-malware packages
- DNS (Domain Name Server) filtering
- IDS and IPS detection and protection
- Data log management
Worryingly, a data breach could also come about with the theft of a smartphone or tablet PC if it does not have a boot-up password to protect files already downloaded into its memory. Furthermore, if passwords have been stored, almost anyone might gain access to sensitive systems or email accounts with relative ease.
Even what appears to be commonplace detail or routine information should be protected from compromise. When accumulated, personal information could facilitate identity theft and wrongful access to accounts. Semi-public wireless networks of the type often available in hotels or airports are not secure.
Thus, visits to personal or business banking sites or other confidential areas are not advisable when connected to them. Even on more secure office networks, it is advisable to delete browsing history and private data from mobile devices, to minimise risk, inconvenience and expense.
No two data breach incidents are precisely the same; prevention measures and responses need to be tailored to remedy the situation and minimise fallout in the interests of the organisation, its customers and employees. Last but not least: to ensure the secure day-to-day operation of the IT system and continuity in the event of data loss, regular back-ups are vital.
Levels of access
To minimise threats to data security, it is advisable to carry out regular reviews of who can log on and use your computers. Beware of logon accounts including suppliers and ex-employees with a high level of access to systems, particularly administrator privileges. Although thankfully unlikely and undoubtedly unethical, a miscreant individual might be able to change vital network, data or program settings. Review logins and file access permissions, therefore, whenever there are changes of location, team or employment status.
Given the increase in teleworking seen since the COVID-19 health alert and lockdown, data security is more important than ever. Fortunately, two-factor authentication (2FA) improves computer login and system access, thus making fraud and theft more difficult.
As an active security measure, it confirms users’ identities, regardless of permission levels and physical location. Usefully, 2FA is easy to activate and cost-effective. Additionally, organisations that use this security measure tend to attract respect, trust and higher reputation ratings. As part of a portfolio of business information security measures, therefore, 2FA delivers clear business benefits.
Protect your data: support and advice
To prevent the theft of intellectual property, loss of commercial information and the risk of civil liability or financial loss, we have seen that it is essential to avoid data theft and stop unauthorised access to business computer systems.
For more information on DataRush, visit their website.