Data Protection: Your Best Line of Defense Starts Inside

Data Protection: Your Best Line of Defense Starts Inside

Investing in information security has never been more critical. The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the way we work, stressing our systems, connections, and networks. Cyberattacks continue to make headlines, and physical data breaches remain a concern.

The results of a 2021 survey of North American business leaders and consumers conducted by Shred-it, a Stericycle solution, emphasize how important it is that security leaders understand the high stakes at play -not only to protect their business performance, but also to safeguard their reputation and retain their customers.

The survey revealed that 4 out of 10 business leaders rate the risk of an attempted data breach in the next 12 months as a '4' or '5' on a 5-point risk scale, with '5' being the highest risk. This may leave businesses unprepared, as more than half of those surveyed do not have an incident response plan. At the same time, research tells us that the stakes have never been higher. More than 80% of consumers, for example, said they decide whom to do business with based on a company's reputation for data security.

While much focus is spent staving off malicious outsiders’ attempts to compromise systems and gain unauthorized access to data, the most significant risk revealed in the survey – and the most cited cause of a breach – is internal. A majority of breaches were attributed to malicious insiders (53%), followed by trusted external partners (40%), and employee error (22%).

Your Best Line of Defense
Without the proper knowledge, business processes, and controls, employees and trusted vendors are susceptible to attacks by malicious actors, leaving organizations vulnerable. Despite policies and training, employees struggle to put learnings into practice. Fifty percent (50%) of business leaders surveyed indicated that the lack of understanding of the threats and risks to the organization is the biggest barrier to employees following information security policies.

Therefore, your best line of defense starts inside.

The Playbook for Building Information Security and Accountability
Equip your employees as well as trusted vendors and partners to become ambassadors for information security by focusing on these seven critical steps:

  1. Establish clear internal communication lines. In order to effectively protect against threats, an organization first needs to be able to detect, collect information about, and investigate anomalies. To do this, strong collaboration and communication between business operations, the IT department, and Security is critical.
  2. Employ an incident response plan. Once an issue is identified, an incident response plan is mission-critical to your ability to respond to and mitigate the damage in the event of a breach. Build and implement a response plan that is both cross-functional and that is customized to the needs of your organization. Participation from all areas of the business (HR, Finance, Operations, IT, Legal, etc.) is key to ensuring that business impacts are identified, major issues are addressed, and that nothing goes overlooked.
  3. Implement controls to protect against insider threats. Protecting against potentially malicious parties inside the organization is challenging, so a variety of steps are necessary, beginning with pre-employment HR background checks. The organization may also find it necessary to conduct periodic and ongoing background checks where applicable, on key roles that have access to critical financial data or intellectual property. In addition, segregation of duties, along with other administrative controls must be employed for critical business processes to reduce the risk of a single party being responsible for theft and/or deliberate or accidental loss of data.
  4. Train your team to be a viable front line of defense. Employ a variety of training initiatives to supplement web-based training, such as phishing simulations or other interactive exercises (contests, quizzes, etc.). While training courses encourage vigilance and promote adherence, simulations allow employees to practice identifying and reporting threats, and therefore, improve over time.
  5. Create a security-minded corporate culture. Data is the lifeblood of your organization, and employees must fully understand their roles and responsibilities in protecting it. A data breach may not only impact day-to-day business, but it could potentially impact their job security. Therefore, accompany training with “tone at the top” messaging from leadership explaining why these efforts are important and how their actions make a difference.
  6. Evaluate and update your document protection policies. Institute policies that require employees to understand how to properly handle and retain documents and records. Clean desk, document destruction services, and remote work policies will take the guesswork out of secure document handling and help to reduce the risk of human error. Consistently reinforce the consequences and steps to take when violations occur.
  7. Consider investing in cyber insurance. These services can help cover the cost of legal services and advice, as well as crisis management services.

Do You Have the Right Team?
Many businesses realize that they cannot do it alone. Three-quarters of business leaders in the US have hired a third-party security expert to evaluate security practices. To help ensure you have visibility to the rapidly changing threat landscape and the strategies available to combat it, consider partnering with an expert service provider to help you bridge gaps.

About the Author

Michael V. Borromeo has over 20 years of broad and diversified experience in the fields of Privacy and Cybersecurity. He has designed Privacy strategies and implemented compliance programs, which include creating and/or enhancing IT and business processes, developing policies and standards, and employing technology solutions. Michael has a depth of knowledge and skill in the areas of information governance, policy and regulatory compliance, information security strategy and architecture, and IT security risk management.

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