Don’t keep what you don’t need. Most businesses hang on to too much data for too long. And it’s often data that they don’t need. Or worse, didn’t realize they even had. So do a spring-cleaning. Do an inventory of all your data and everywhere you keep it. Identify what you don’t need, then get rid of it forever. And not by simply hitting the Delete key, but overwriting it to military standards or shredding it. When it comes to data breaches, you can’t lose what you don’t have.
What you do keep, know where it is. So many data breaches result from data being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like highly sensitive customer or employee information being carried around town or across the world on an unprotected laptop. As part of your inventory you need to know where your data is at all times so that you can protect it at all times. That means checking servers, desktops, laptops, websites, tablets, phones, removable storage, filing cabinets, storage lockers, warehouses, third parties and anywhere else it might be hiding.
Classify your information. Not all information is created equal. And understanding that you can’t protect all data all the time, you have to focus on the stuff that’s worth protecting. That’s where data classification comes in. There are a number of different ways to classify data, but they’re usually a series of three to five categories of importance – from top secret to simply private and confidential. By assigning a security classification to your data, you make it easier for employees to instantly understand how they need to handle that data.
Encrypt. In most states, you get an almost free pass on data breaches if the breached data was encrypted. That’s how good encryption is at making data useless to hackers. Encryption is getting much easier to implement and afford. Encryption isn’t just for credit cards and online transactions. In any business you can easily encrypt files, folders, hard drives, texts, phone calls and emails, photos and videos, and just about any kind of data.
Comply with PCI. The credit card companies are pretty good when it comes to protecting information, which is why PCI compliance is a great baseline. It’s not perfect and not a guarantee, but you should never be without it.
Lock down your website. Many of today’s breaches start with the exploitation of poorly protected and patched websites. Which is really a shame because it’s so easy to protect your website. Make sure you’re using some kind of web scanning or monitoring service that will find and fix security holes before hackers do.
Turn every employee into a data sentry. Technology only goes so far when it comes to preventing data breaches. People fill that gap, and the most important people are your employees. Every employee needs to understand the value of data, the risks of breaches, and how their choices can make all the difference
Try not to move it. If you know where your data is and you don’t plan to move it any time soon, then it’s very easy to lock it in place. But data is at its most vulnerable when it’s on the move – like stored on a traveling laptop or phone, sent on tape to a third party like a payroll processor, or even being emailed between employees.
Don’t forget paper records. It’s estimated that one in every five data breaches involves paper records. That means documents stolen from a briefcase or in a burglary, dumped without shredding, or simply mislaid. So as part of your inventory you need to go through the piles of information in every office, pick what you have no more need for, and shred it.
Use layers of security. While antivirus software is important, it’s not enough. While website security is essential, it’s not enough. While good passwords are a must, still not enough. Hackers after your data are relying on the fact that you might be relying on just one or two layers of security between them and your data. Good security is about creating multiple security perimeters that convince hackers that you’re just not worth their time and energy.