Data breaches have been an issue as long as computer networks have existed, and we’ve seen a massive increase in incidents during the Covid-19 pandemic. Spammers and hackers seeking confidential information search for vulnerabilities in people’s computer systems. The Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent rapid increase in remote working means that those vulnerabilities have multiplied, making many computer networks open doors for cybercriminals.
Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and 5G are all playing a part in making our world more convenient. However, they are also allowing hackers to use more sophisticated methods to access unauthorized data. According to Forbes, 2020 was a record-breaking year for data breaches. That year, for example, the US Federal Trade Commission received 1.4 million reports of identity theft, which is double the figure for 2019. Again comparing 2019 with 2020, malware increased by 358%.
While everyone is a potential target for cybercrime, this doesn’t mean that we should lay down our smartphones and surrender. We can do plenty of things to protect ourselves, our businesses, and our loved ones from data breaches.
8 Ways to Reduce the Risk of a Data Breach
- Perform an audit
You won’t know what needs to change until you take stock of your current system. Whether personal or business, try to identify gaps in your security. Examine your passwords, backups, and threat-detection software, or your lack thereof. Consider what data is mission-critical and where you keep confidential information.
- Back up regularly
Being able to restore critical data is essential for peace of mind and to keep a business running in the event of a data breach or data loss for any other reason. Cloud technology can help you recover valuable data quickly no matter where you are.
- Create a written procedure for how to respond to a data breach
Businesses suffering from a data breach or data loss often lose more money than necessary because they have to think afterward about how to respond. Note who is responsible for network security, who to contact for help, which clients to notify, and how and where to access backups.
The organizations that do best during emergencies have already considered the possibilities and may even have role-played the situation. It helps to have a managed IT service or an IT department to run through a potential data breach with you, but a small business or individual can also prepare for a potential data breach.
- Upgrade your software
When you install software, it’s typically not long before the software developers offer you a free update. Often, these updates are intended to address security vulnerabilities. Ignoring these notifications can lead to hackers gaining unauthorized access to your system.
Generally speaking, the older your software, the more likely it is to have some vulnerabilities that could expose you to a data breach. Even if your current software is working, consider at least upgrading it to the latest version.
- Update your threat-detection software
Now is not the time to be going without virus checkers and firewalls. Keep these systems running constantly. As with the rest of your software, make sure that you are using the latest versions. Threat detection and protection software will update more often than other software and for a good reason. Let the software developers help you stay ahead of hackers seeking vulnerabilities.
- Limit access to sensitive files
The more people with access to confidential files, the more chance there is of the files being compromised. If only one profile can access customer financial accounts, it’s easier to track the source of a data breach. In many businesses, however, multiple staff members of various levels have access to sensitive information. This is like giving every bank employee access to the vault. It’s unnecessary and weakens security.
- Learn to recognize and report anything suspicious
A lot of cybercrime takes the form of malware (malicious software that can corrupt data or otherwise infect a system) or phishing (in which cybercriminals try to gather personal or confidential information with which to commit fraud). You can reduce the risk of data breach by knowing what makes a communication suspicious. If you have an IT person or department, develop a culture of reporting such incidents to protect you, your colleagues, and your clients.
Spam tends to be badly written – these messages typically contain shocking spelling mistakes and typos. If you spot a glaring grammatical issue or misspelling, this is a strong sign that the message is not only unprofessional but could also contain malware or be a prelude to fraud.
Fake or misleading business names – anyone claiming to be from “thefacebookcompany” or “microsooftt” should be treated with suspicion. Spammers often use fake or deliberately misleading business names to give them an air of authenticity.
Urgency – while implying scarcity is a marketing tactic, a direct email that requests the immediate transfer of funds or personal information suggests fraudulent activity. Professionals do not contact people without prelude and do not demand urgent transfers.
If you spot any of the signs above or you are otherwise suspicious of an email, don’t click on any links or images. Report it to IT, mark it as spam, and/or block the sender. If you are unsure whether a sender is genuine or whether a message constitutes a threat, you can also use Nuwber to confirm or disprove his or her identity.
- Use strong passwords and change them regularly
One of the resources at the disposal of hackers is a brute force attack, which is where a program tries permutations of alphanumeric characters and symbols to break into a password-protected account. Using a combination of letters, capitalization, numbers, and symbols makes a brute force attack less effective. For the same reason, longer passwords are more likely to be secure than shorter passwords. And words that are not found in the dictionary will provide better protection.
While it’s true that no one is safe from the data breach epidemic, you can follow these tips to make yourself and your business as secure as possible. If you’re unsure of the provenance of an email or direct message, don’t click any links! Stay alert, train staff to spot suspicious communications, and keep your systems updated to safeguard your confidential and critical information.