How to Prevent Data Breaches (A Simple Guide) [Updated in 2023]
Editor's note: This post was originally published on June 29, 2018 and has been revised for clarity and comprehensiveness.
When you’re experiencing a breach, the sheer amount of work that goes into containing it can be overwhelming.
Luckily, having a plan can take away the stress.
As a managed IT service provider (MSP), it’s part of our vision at Intelligent Technical Solutions (ITS) to help companies thrive despite cybersecurity threats. In line with this vision, we’ve prepared a step-by-step guide for preventing and lessening the damage of data breaches.
1. Reevaluate your needs for sensitive data.
Unfortunately, there’s no real way to have no exploitable data, but checking what you’re currently collecting can help you cut down the leakable information you have.
Hackers can't steal what you don't have.
Carefully analyze the information you're collecting and discontinue gathering any information not justified by a legitimate business reason.
2. Create and test an incident response plan.
An incident response plan is one of the most effective ways to mitigate the cost of a data breach. However, 73% of businesses don’t have one, while 37% of those that do didn’t test their plans regularly, according to IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach report.
3. Utilize security AI and automation.
With AI like ChatGPT changing how we live and work, it’s a huge mistake to overlook the power of AI in your cybersecurity. Having AI significantly lowers the time needed to identify and contain the breach, allowing you to put a data breach behind you quickly.
4. Map the lifecycle of your sensitive data.
Your business may collect sensitive data from a wide variety of channels: your website, online ads, point-of-sale devices, apps, and other sources.
To ensure that this sensitive data stays secure, you need to know all the different ways it can enter your system, where it is stored, and how it is eventually removed. When you have the whole picture, you can devise a strategy to protect this information.
5. Implement a Zero Trust security framework.
Zero Trust is a security framework requiring all users, within or outside the organization's network, to be authenticated, authorized, and continuously validated before granting access to any applications and data.
According to the IBM study, organizations that do not deploy Zero Trust architecture incur an average breach cost of $1 million more than those that do. In addition, those with a mature Zero Trust deployment could lower the costs even more, paying $1.5 million less for a breach.
4. Turn to a trusted managed IT services provider.
Intelligent Technical Solutions can develop a comprehensive strategy to protect your sensitive data from the moment it enters your system, and even reduce the likelihood of a data breach. We set up, maintain and secure the technology of small and mid-size businesses. Our mission is to help businesses thrive by managing their technology. Contact ITS today to begin your free cybersecurity audit.
6. Use industry-standard encryption.
Some businesses prefer to use their own proprietary methods to protect sensitive data. But as your company grows, internally developed encryption methods may not be able to stand up to the rapidly evolving cyber threats.
Although it can be a complex process to transition your encryption methods to an industry standard, the result will be better protection for your sensitive information.
Phase 2: During a data breach
While everything seems to be on fire during a data breach, keeping your cool is important. By following these steps, you can minimize the damage hackers do to your system.
1. Contain the breach.
Your highest priority should be to contain the breach and prevent further damage. This may involve shutting down affected systems, disabling user accounts, or disconnecting from the internet.
Bonus: Follow the procedure in your incident response plan.
Eventually, all your preparation will pay off. If you did your due diligence, you’ll have a flow you can simply follow because you already have everything planned. If you find yourself in the unenviable position of dealing with a breach without an incident response plan, go to step two.
2. Contact cybersecurity experts & insurance partners.
After doing basic breach containment, it’s time to immediately contact people who can handle the technical aspects of your cybersecurity. This may be the head of your internal IT or your third-party IT provider.
Then, get in touch with your cyber liability insurance partner, so they can also help cover any financial damage that occurred during the data breach period.
3. Conduct a preliminary investigation.
While the breach is happening, your cybersecurity expert should conduct a preliminary investigation to determine what happened. This may involve reviewing logs, interviewing employees, or hiring a third-party security firm.
4. Notify affected parties.
You should notify all affected parties as soon as possible: including customers, employees, or other stakeholders.
This is crucial in recovering their trust.
The notification should include information about what data was compromised, how the breach occurred, and what steps the company is taking to prevent future breaches.
If the breach involves criminal activity, companies should also notify the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) and cooperate fully with law enforcement agencies.
5. Keep lines of communication open.
Lastly, when experiencing a data breach, you must inform affected parties of your progress in responding to the breach and implementing new security measures.
This may involve issuing periodic updates or establishing a hotline for concerned parties to call.
Overall, the key to responding to a data breach is to act quickly and decisively. By containing the breach, notifying affected parties, and conducting a preliminary investigation, you can minimize the damage your company will experience.
Phase 3: After a data breach
The days after the data breach are just as important as dealing with it while it’s happening. Here are the steps you should take after a breach:
1. Conduct a post-breach assessment.
Companies should thoroughly assess the breach to understand what happened, how it happened, and what data was compromised. This can help the company develop a plan to mitigate the damage and prevent future breaches.
It's time to decide whether you need to do a complete system wipe or not. Your cybersecurity experts will help evaluate where you go from here.
2. Provide a transparency report about the breach.
After the post-breach assessment, companies should notify affected parties about the full details of the breach and their next steps to prevent further data compromise.
3. Enhance security measures.
You’ll now need to enhance your security measures to prevent the breach from happening again. This may involve updating software, implementing more robust access controls, or providing additional security training for employees.
4. Coordinate with your cyber liability insurance provider.
It's essential to stay connected with your cyber liability insurance provider after a data breach for a few key reasons:
- They can offer guidance on navigating the post-breach complexities, ensuring you document everything properly and follow necessary protocols.
- You can assess the financial impact more accurately and expedite the insurance claim process.
- Their expertise can help you enhance your cybersecurity measures to prevent future breaches, showcasing your dedication to managing risks effectively.
Ready to stop the damage of a data breach?
In conclusion, you can protect yourself from data breaches by taking proactive steps to mitigate the risk of data breaches. And while it’s always better to have a plan in place, it’s not too late to recover, even when a breach is already happening.
Here at ITS, we believe all businesses deserve to have safe data, which is why we’ve prepared more helpful guides for your security journey.
To learn more about data breaches, download our eBook: Data Breaches: The Definitive Guide for Business Owners. But if you’re already experiencing a data breach, schedule a meeting with our cybersecurity experts so you can immediately mitigate the damage and prevent it from happening again.