The Ultimate Guide to Protect Your Business From a Data Breach

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Data breaches happen daily, and Australian businesses are now more aware that cyber security is no longer an option but a necessity in this era. Smaller companies have taken longer than many larger organisations to take action in many cases, as many haven’t had affordable access to advanced security tools that are now becoming more readily available. 

A combination of prohibitive costs and a general lack of awareness about the best course of action has left many small businesses more vulnerable. With a rise in cyber crime targeting access to sensitive information, it’s become necessary for all businesses to develop robust cyber security strategies.

Thankfully, there are a number of ways you can significantly minimise the occurrence of a business data breach. Many of them are simple to implement or highly cost-effective to have a trusted third party take care of for you.

We've written this blog to be especially relevant for Australian small business owners who want to prevent data breaches and have the correct security measures to minimise their risk levels greatly.

So, what is a business data breach?

A business data breach is any unauthorised access to data protected under privacy laws or individual industry guidelines. Twenty years ago, this generally would happen if someone took paper files or could access a hard copy of electronic data.

With the popularity of the internet, emails and cloud-based apps came many new ways to share, store and access data. Small business owners have become more aware of online data security threats in recent years after many public cyber security breaches that led to data exposure.

A business data breach can range from a lost, unlocked work laptop with sensitive data to a full-scale cyber attack, like a DoS attack or ransomware incident. Data privacy laws are in place to ensure the safety of personal details shared by individuals to businesses and to prevent issues like fraud or identity theft.

Small business owners are facing increasing regulations and stricter penalties as various agencies move to protect the privacy of the individual. The Australian Cyber Security Centre has clear guidelines in place for small businesses regarding Cyber Security, which means that every company must be proactive when protecting stored data - especially when it is more sensitive - such as medical records or financial information.

What types of business data breaches can occur?

Nowadays, there are so many ways that sensitive data and business information can be used for profit. To minimise your risk, it's vital to address all aspects of your cyber security thoroughly.

Here are some common business data breaches to consider:

  • Financial details, such as credit card or banking details, may be used fraudulently in case of a customer data breach. They may also be used to extort or blackmail a business.
  • Personal data accessed via a compromised database, including identification, phone numbers and addresses, can be sold to allow identity theft or access to credit files.
  • Proprietary data can be used to steal business models or trade secrets
  • Stolen or accessed information may be sold, used for malicious purposes, disposed of, or leaked online through the dark web.

How can a business protect itself from a data breach?

Many factors go into preventing a business data breach because cyber threats come in many forms. Private data held on computer systems and devices, within emails and cloud storage systems, are generally the main areas targeted through various methods.

There is no bulletproof method to protect your business from every current and emerging cyber threat, but there are multiple ways to minimise the likelihood of being affected by one.

To minimise the chances of a business data breach, you can:

Ensure your computers and systems have sufficient protection and monitoring in place, and that they meet the recommendations of the ACSC

    This means using quality antivirus, anti-malware, firewalls and a highly responsive monitoring program to handle any possible threats swiftly. The Australian Cyber Security Centre has clear guidelines on the Essential Eight cyber security policies which serve as a baseline for Australian small business. Implementing data encryption and a managed detection and response service will ensure you have robust, layered protection in place.

    Secure all devices, including BYO and implement access control across devices

        To protect your business from security breaches, every device with access to your business data network must be secured like your office PCs are. This means mobile devices, tablets, and laptops used by staff to do their work should all have the same level of security as devices provided on the job.

        This may require a combination of 2FA or MFA, data encryption and strong passwords on all connected devices. Many companies employ a ' Remote Data Wipe' option for lost devices that may be compromised by unauthorised access.

        Educate your employees

            When it comes to data breaches, human error is, hands down, the number one cause of data breaches in this era. Hackers and cybercriminals may try for months to access your business systems with no luck due to good security measures in place. But what happens if the admin staff accidentally respond to a fake email or your sales guy downloads some malware while trying to edit a PDF online for free?

            These sorts of incidents pose a surprisingly high level of cyber security risk to businesses. Accidental responses to email phishing attempts and downloading a corrupted file - minor incidents like this can make gaining access to company data much easier for cybercriminals.

            Educating employees to understand what a data or privacy breach looks like and how to avoid and identify incoming risks is imperative. That's why we recommend Employee Awareness Training as a priority for small businesses - because it is the best way to empower your team to avoid security breaches that begin internally. It seems evident that using multi-factor authentication and complex passwords are an excellent foundation for business data safety. Yet, in many workplaces Australia-wide, basic steps like this are frequently neglected.

            Protect your cloud and data

                Sensitive data is no longer stored in locked filing cabinets; it's often sent and held daily across multiple on-premise and cloud systems. Is your cloud storage provider secured? Are your emails able to be accessed by third parties? Is your file share app up to the task of protecting sensitive information? These are all vital questions to answer as you prioritise your data security.

                It's a good idea to audit your current systems and data security processes to prevent future data breaches caused by insecure transmission of information or storage protocols.

                Keep your systems updated & patched

                  Updates and patches come out when software makers identify security vulnerabilities. While keeping systems updated can be inconvenient (or occasionally break something!), generally, they are created to keep your system more secure or make a program run better. Ensure that your systems and software are updated with regular in-house or externally sourced maintenance.

                  Get cyber liability insurance

                    This last one obviously won't be prohibitive to a data breach occurring, but it does offer peace of mind and can make a cyber incident much easier to manage financially. Obtaining cyber insurance can take some work, so it's a good idea to understand the requirements as early as possible and start working towards achieving them. 

                    What to do if your business experiences a security breach

                    First, you must take immediate action to work out what has gone wrong and remedy it if possible. Many Australian businesses have been caught in a situation where they are unprepared, or underprepared, to respond effectively - or haven't known what to do after a data breach.

                    This helps to have a solid, well-developed cybersecurity response plan. If you have one in place, start working through the steps as quickly and thoroughly as possible. If you don't, you'll probably need to enlist expert assistance to manage a cyber security attack.

                    You may not be able to identify the source and extent of the breach straight away, but the sooner you do, the better your business will likely fare. It's been common in Australia for companies to take up to a year to identify or respond to cyber incidents, which has only created further issues to be dealt with later on.

                    In many cases, it won't have been a massive data breach, but if sensitive information has been leaked, you may be legally obligated to contact anyone that has been impacted. As you identify how data has been compromised, you must consider if leaked or stolen data has affected your customers, suppliers or other parties and ensure you meet any legal compliance obligations sufficiently. 

                    Understand Your Business's Legal Obligations

                    The size of your business, your industry and specific business contracts or tender obligations will define the level of security you must have in place when managing your company data.

                    If you work in finance, health and human services, medicine or other industries with high access levels to sensitive data, you will be bound by more stringent Federal and State Law requirements.

                    Evaluate Security Procedures & Create a Cyber Response Plan

                    Look at your current cyber policies and create or update a data breach response plan. This will help ensure that any potential data breach can be detected earlier or responded to as efficiently as possible.

                    Small businesses sometimes neglect these areas, as they don't feel like the most pressing concern. Many hope that using good antivirus software will help to identify security threats without understanding the many elements that go into effective cyber security management. It's imperative to have the best safeguards in place and a robust and actionable plan ready to be executed in case of a data breach.

                    If a data breach occurs, and you have a solid plan to respond, you can minimise the stress of the experience and get back to business much sooner.

                    Take Security To The Next Level

                    Managing cyber security alone or without the proper support can be overwhelming. Having a proactively managed technology and security partner ensures you have a backup team in place if things go wrong, and all bases are covered when it comes to protecting your business from a data breach.

                    If you have experienced a business data breach or would like to learn more about how to protect your business from a data breach,  we welcome you to get in touch with our technology specialists today.

                    You can also download our free guide here - the 'Ultimate Guide to Cyber Security for Small Business Owners' - which covers the Top 6 Cyber Security Threats and how to avoid them.

                    Disclaimer: This is general information only. Please get in touch with us for further guidance or seek independent legal advice that considers your unique personal situation before making any decisions based on the information in this communication.