Architecture and Hardware

Data Breach Prevention: Strategies For Proactive Cyber Defense

Organizations must protect themselves from malicious actors attempting to steal valuable assets through cyberattacks.

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Data breaches occur at an alarming rate. It is estimated that over 33 billion records were and will be compromised by the end of 2023 due to data breaches and cyberattacks.

It is become increasingly important for organizations of all sizes to invest in proactive defense strategies to mitigate the risk of attacks and defend their networks and sensitive data from malicious actors.

This article will describe various data breach prevention techniques to help businesses reduce existing threats or recognize potential risks before they result in a breach.

Risk Assessment Tools

The first step to prevent a data breach is to assess the risk associated with your organization’s assets and networks.

Risk assessment tools allow organizations to determine what type of data they have, how it is currently being protected, and where hackers could exploit vulnerabilities. Companies can proactively address them before a potential cyber attack occurs.

Here are some examples of the types of tools commonly used for risk assessment:

  • Vulnerability Scanners: As the name implies, these programs scan for potential vulnerabilities in software applications. They can detect known security flaws and alert administrators so they can address the issue before a hacker takes advantage of them.
  • Intrusion Detection Systems: These systems monitor network traffic for suspicious activity. When an attempt to access unauthorized data is detected, it will alert staff members, who can take appropriate action.
  • Security Audits: This form of risk assessment tool is much more comprehensive than vulnerability scanners or intrusion detection systems. Steps such as an external network scan and internal penetration testing are used to identify where hackers may be able to access sensitive data.
  • Antivirus Software: The best antivirus programs are designed to detect and remove malicious code from computer systems. They can also help prevent future infections by blocking suspicious websites and programs.

User-Specific Protection Protocols

User-specific protection protocols are security measures implemented per user, such as password policies or two-factor authentication (2FA).

What’s smart about using these protocols is that you can create unique access rights for each user. This can prevent one employee’s accidental (or purposeful) data breach from leading to a domino effect.  Some examples of user-specific protection protocols include:

  • Password Policies: Creating secure passwords is fundamental to protecting data from unauthorized access. Organizations should implement password requirements that require users to create complex combinations with at least one special character or number in addition to lowercase and uppercase letters.
  • Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): 2FA requires users to provide more than just a username and password when signing into accounts or accessing protected servers or networks. Before approval, they must also enter a unique code delivered via text message or generated by an app like Google Authenticator.
  • Data Access Controls: To ensure that sensitive data does not fall into the wrong hands, organizations should create data access policies restricting who can view and modify particular files and databases. Policies like these should be regularly audited by security personnel to make sure they are being properly enforced. 

Network Segmentation

Network segmentation refers to creating separate networks for different segments of a company’s infrastructure. This method can be used as an effective defense against cyber attackers, since it limits access between systems with confidential information or high levels of risk.

For example, companies can create one network for their personnel computers and another for public-facing websites or customer service applications so unauthorized users cannot access corporate resources directly if one system is breached unexpectedly.

Implementing firewalls between networks can further reduce the risk of a breach.

Encryption Techniques

Encryption is the process of transforming plain-text (readable) data into unintelligible ciphertext (encrypted) using complex algorithms and keys known only by authorized parties.

By encrypting sensitive information before storing it on a digital device or sending it over the internet, organizations can dramatically reduce their chances of falling victim to a successful attack.

There are several types of encryption techniques available that can be used to protect data in transit or at rest, such as symmetric and asymmetric encryption:

  • Symmetric Encryption: This type of encryption uses a single private key, which both sender and receiver will use to encrypt or decrypt the data. While this is considered secure, it may not be suitable for larger networks as it requires individual keys for each user.
  • Asymmetric Encryption: Unlike symmetric encryption, this method utilizes two keys: public (used by anyone) and private (known only to authorized parties). It is often used in financial transactions or online communication due to its greater levels of security.
  • Hashing: This type of encryption is mainly used to verify that data has not been tampered with. It turns readable text into an unintelligible string of numbers and letters (hash value). Should the original message be changed in any way, the hash value would also change, making it easy to detect unauthorized modifications.

SOC 2 Compliance

SOC stands for Service Organization Control and is a security standard created by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Organizations that have achieved SOC 2 compliance demonstrate that they maintain stringent security requirements when storing customer data.

The importance of SOC 2 compliance is often determined by the data type being held and who has access to it. For example, healthcare or financial services companies need strict protocols in place because they process large amounts of sensitive information. Achieving SOC 2 compliance showcases a commitment to security and can help prevent data breaches from occurring within your operations.

Bottom Line

The consequences of a data breach can be catastrophic not just from an operational standpoint, but also from expensive lawsuits if customer information or other confidential data is released into the wrong hands due to poor security protocols.

Organizations must take steps before it’s too late to protect themselves from malicious actors attempting to steal valuable assets through cyberattacks.

For companies to go about their business confidently, they must be comfortable with:

  • Risk assessment tools
  • Configuring user-specific protection protocols
  • Segmenting networks into smaller sections with firewalls between them
  • Encrypting anything stored digitally with cryptographic techniques
  • Obtaining SOC 2 certification

Only then can they feel confident knowing they have done everything possible to protect their data against cyber threats or exploitation.

Alex Tray is a system administrator and cybersecurity consultant with 10 years of experience. He is currently self-employed as a cybersecurity consultant and as a freelance writer.

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