WHAT IS NIST? THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE NIST CYBERSECURITY FRAMEWORK
Explore this comprehensive guide on how the NIST Cybersecurity Framework can be applied to your organization.
Why Your Data Security is Failing: Data Leakage Issues
Data is the lifeblood of nearly every business. Whether data about your customers, your industries or the inner workings of your organization, information can be your competitive advantage. But how safe is your data?
Keeping your data secure is essential; data security itself is a competitive advantage. For all that’s discussed about hackers, addressing data leakage issues is equally critical to safeguarding your information.
But first, what is data leakage?
This security issue is defined as the unauthorized transfer or “leak” of confidential company or customer data, from an internal network or computer to the external world. Sensitive data can be compromised through email, lost laptops, USB drives and beyond.
Whether a lack of education or a lack of caring, your employees play a huge role in data leakage. To prevent the potentially devastating impacts of information loss, your company needs a proper data security and IT compliance policy.
While there is no single solution to protect against data leakage, you should always take a strategic approach to data security. And of course, you must continually work to tweak and improve your policies as you move forward.
Free Compliance Policy Template:
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Why Data Leakage Is a Modern Issue
Through the digital age especially, businesses have championed productivity, making information more accessible and sharable. By storing data on their networks and encouraging employees to take advantage of wireless devices and public hotspots, companies have operated far more efficiently.
In fact, 50% of U.S. workers hold a job that allows them to work remotely at least part of the time, according to Global Workplace Analytics. And nearly a quarter of them work remotely at some capacity. But the productivity has come at the cost of data security.
While the increase in productivity is undeniable, the confidential information of companies is more vulnerable than ever before. Protecting such data is exponentially more difficult. And the consequences of data loss has become increasingly damaging.
The leak of intellectual property – whether customer data, financial information or strategic plans – can do far more damage than the loss of the information itself. If you’re found to have poorly handled sensitive customer information based on regulatory requirements, your business could receive a hefty fine. And most importantly, your reputation and brand could be permanently tarnished.
As we’ve discussed previously, small businesses are especially prone to cyber crime and issues. Their relatively miniscule security budgets make them more susceptible. Nonetheless, the financial consequences of data loss can be more costly to a small business. As a Cyber Security Alliance study discovered, 60% of small businesses that suffer a considerable cyber attack often close for good within six months.
How to Protect Your Business against Data Leakage
Safeguarding your information always takes a comprehensive approach. Whether data leakage or cyber security as a whole, many companies overemphasize the role of technology without building a foundation of security processes and policies.
Before making any decisions, you must first evaluate your employees, culture and common behavior. Only after you’ve identified your strengths and weaknesses can you create processes and implement technology to aid in your efforts.
Once you’ve painted a clear picture of your needs, you can take actions such as those detailed below:
Enforce Communication and File Sharing Policies
How do you transfer confidential files? Do your employees follow your IT protocols? With the daily transfer of so much critical data, you must be able to quickly identify your file transfer activity.
Remote workers have access to your company data and can save files to their personal devices and share them however they choose. One of the most prevalent mistakes in file transferring is employees attaching private company documents and data to personal email. It’s simply more convenient and efficient. But these practices put your data at risk.
Your employees may also use USB or other external drives to transfer files. But what happens if he or she should lose the drive? What if it contains confidential information?
You must have a firm policy that outlines how, where and why file sharing takes place. And your strict guidelines must be enforced.
Implement Security Awareness Training
Your employees are often the most vulnerable source of data leakage issues. If they’re not following secure file sharing procedures, they could leave your information at risk without even realizing it was in jeopardy to begin with. Many employees simply don’t understand the risks associated with how they communicate and share information.
Even with a formal file sharing policy, you must fully educate your employees about the consequences of data loss – from executives to interns. Every single employee has a role to play in data security. But they won’t be able to help you protect your information if they don’t have a great understanding of how their actions impact your security.
In your training, you should teach your organization about:
- How to avoid phishing scams
- The requirements for creating and using strong passwords
- The highly insecure methods to avoid when transferring files
- Precautions to take before downloading or using an unsanctioned application
Endpoint Device Protection
While storing and sharing data creates great operational efficiencies, it also makes manipulating and copying data quite easy. Sharing policies can outline explicit parameters for overall user access, but endpoint device protection actually enforces policies on specific devices by tracking operating systems and applications. For example, these technologies can block specific users from copying data to an external drive.
There are consumer-grade data sharing solutions, typically capable of applying broad access permissions. But only specific employees or departments need access to certain kinds of information. Giving company-wide access to all data is an avoidable risk. And these solutions don’t let you control data sharing and operations on a user level.
To avoid jeopardizing information, you truly need password protection and access control on an individual basis, including read and write permissions.
Data Encryption: At Rest and On the Go
Encryption is critical in protecting against hackers. But it’s equally important in the event of data leakage. Encrypting the data in your files ensures that only the sender and intended recipient have access to information inside a file.
Not all encryption is the same, however. At-rest encryption “scrambles” file data on your server, whether the file is encrypted on the recipient’s hard drive or not. Even if someone with malicious intent ever accessed your server, they would not gain access to the encrypted files.
In-transit encryption, on the other hand, is designed to “scramble” files while in transit from the sender to recipient. It prevents information from being transmitted over an unsecured internet connection.
No matter the file sharing solution you implement, make sure it is capable of enforcing the use of the transfer protocols and encryptions below. And you must also have administrative control to completely disable unencrypted access.
- HTTPS (SSL encryption)
- FTPS (SSL encryption)
- SFTP (SSH encryption)
- SCP (SSH encryption)
Mitigating Your Data Leakage Risks
Data leakage issues are prevalent all across the business world. But these risks can be mitigated. The more your organization understands the challenge, the better prepared you will be to prevent losing confidential data.
All of your employees, at all levels, must realize the critical nature of data security. If you can create a culture that not only includes the implementation of corporate policies, but true knowledge and desire, your company will operate significantly more safely.
Take necessary measures to thwart data leakage issues before they even occur. And if you need guidance, look no further than our data security and IT compliance policy template.
Simply click below to download your free policy template and strengthen your company’s IT defenses.
About Martin Horan
Founder of FTP Today and an expert in secure file transfer and Internet protocols. A software and IT geek since a young age, Martin has successfully led his companies through the digital age by spotting market niches and filling them with quality IT services.