As any business owner knows, the need to protect both digital and physical data is paramount in today’s tech-focused environment. With recent breaches in some of the nation’s most well-known brands – impacting millions of Australians – light is now being shined on cybercrime’s impact on our small to medium businesses.
These hackers use sophisticated technology to scan the internet in search of vulnerabilities, identifying businesses en masse that haven’t established the appropriate cyber security policies. As a result, according to the 2022 Thales Global Data Threat Report, 38% of Australian businesses experienced a cyber breach of some kind in 2021. For many, this proved incredibly costly both financially and in reputational damages, with some organisations so impacted that they could not recover to resume operations.
To keep the data collected by your company secure, you must have comprehensive cyber security policies in place. In this article, the team at Clearwater offer some tips on introducing and implementing an effective cyber security policy.
What is Cyber Security?
Cyber security is the practice of protecting your networks, systems, programs and data from unauthorised access, use, disclosure, modification or destruction. It comprises many different strategies and technologies to ensure confidential information remains secure, and those who wish to conduct a malicious digital attack cannot capitalise on a compromised data point to interrupt normal business processes or extort resources.
Cyber security and data protection must combine both hardware and software, such as encryption to safeguard data from unauthorised access or usage, firewalls to prevent malicious attacks, and network segmentation to limit the scope of any breach that does occur. It also involves implementing tailored cyber security policies and procedures about how data is handled and stored, as well as training employees on proper data handling practices. By taking these steps, organisations can ensure that their valuable information remains secure and private.
Why is Cyber Security So Important for Small to Medium Businesses in Australia?
Cyber security is essential for any business, regardless of size. In Australia, small and medium businesses are particularly vulnerable in the face of cyber-attacks due to their limited resources and lack of expertise.
Most organisations operate with some form of digital footprint and data collection process. Whether it is collecting addresses for your email marketing campaigns, financial details like credit card and account numbers, or anything in between, this data is not only crucial for your daily business operations – it is also valuable to cyber criminals looking to exploit it.
Cyber security threats such as malware, ransomware, phishing, and data breaches can devastate a business’s finances and reputation in the industry. When cyber criminals gain access to a business’s computers or networks with malicious intent, they can steal sensitive data, such as financial information or intellectual property, or manipulate systems and machines for their own purposes.
Don’t forget, there is also the risk of environmental damage and mechanical failures that can lead to detrimental impacts on your business. If you keep critical information and intellectual property in isolation – say, important blueprints saved to just one desktop – any form of an outage, disruption or damage could potentially erase these points from your system.
What are the Different Types of Business Data Security Threats?
- Internal Theft: One of the biggest threats to business data security. Internal theft occurs when employees misuse or steal confidential information for their own financial gain, such as stealing customer data to make a sale.
- Cyber Attack: Cyber attacks occur when hackers attempt to gain access to secure networks and systems without authorisation. These attacks range from simple password-guessing attempts to more sophisticated methods such as phishing emails and malware infections.
- Power Loss: Power outages can result in lost data or disruption of system processes due to hardware failure caused by power surges or other electrical problems.
- Technological Failure: This type of failure occurs when existing systems or hardware become outdated or malfunction, leading to data loss.
- Environmental Damage: Environmental damage is a security threat that can occur due to natural disasters such as floods and fires, as well as other environmental hazards like dust build-up. This can lead to physical damage to equipment and servers, resulting in damaged data and lost information.
- Human Error: When employees make mistakes, such as leaving confidential information accessible on unsecured networks, it can result in stolen data or malicious attacks from hackers.
Methods to Protect Your Business Data
To protect your business from breaches, hacks, and other malicious activities, here are some useful methods you can introduce to beef up your cyber security policies:
Establish a Cyber Security Strategy
Before making any changes to your operations, every business should first organise a robust cyber security strategy to better achieve the rollout. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, but you should outline the measures and technology you plan to introduce, detailing what protective steps you’ll take and who will be responsible for managing those measures.
Your strategy should also outline how your team will respond to any incidents or breaches. Instead of making rash, poorly thought-out decisions that could worsen matters, your team will understand their responsibilities and the methods to enact a faster resolution.
This strategy isn’t set in stone, either. As changes occur within the industry, ensure to continually update, review and refine your measures to maintain a cyber security policy that offers dependable data protection.
Introduce Foundational Cyber Security Measures
With your strategy in place, you can progress to installing the necessary technical protocols that offer foundational protection. Before you move on to the more sophisticated methods of cyber security, it helps to begin with the basics, such as:
- Introduce security software and firewalls to protect your devices against spyware, identity theft, viruses, hacking, and other forms of malicious content
- Utilise anti-spam software to identify and mitigate dangerous emails
- Use password managers, ensuring employees make strong selections and regularly update them
- Control access to all devices and systems
- Invest in professional web development services to build reliable online platforms
- Maintain regular backups of vital business data
- Train employees on common cybersecurity strategies and threats
Conduct Training & Education Sessions for Employees
While most businesses will look outwards for threats to their cyber security, it is actually the people within their organisation that create the most significant risk. Approximately 55% of all data breaches can be linked to employee errors.
As such, educating employees on cyber security policies and compliance regulations within frequent, tailored training sessions can go a long way to minimising and mitigating breaches or incidents. The subject matter within these sessions can range from how to spot suspicious emails, the importance of updating multiple passwords, and protecting their devices from malware to prevent costly breaches.
Furthermore, the devices used by employees must have up-to-date safety features installed at all times, and the employees themselves need to have the skills and knowledge to direct their own compliance.
Maintain a Culture of Data Protection & Cyber Security Best Practices
Skills and knowledge within the world of cyber security mean little if they aren’t regularly put into practice. When revolutionising how you protect your business’s data and digital systems, be conscious of shifting your company’s culture to embrace these best practice measures.
Creating a culture where cybersecurity is prioritised will go a long way in protecting company data. Businesses should promote open communication between teams, encourage regular audits of security systems, and reward top performers who adopt these measures to protect data. Additionally, employees should be discouraged from sharing confidential data with those who are not authorised to have access.
Regularly Back Up Your Data
A common gripe of many small and medium-sized businesses is that there just isn’t enough time to complete all of your work. In addition to servicing clients or developing products, there are also tasks related to marketing, invoicing, lead qualification, administrative duties, and so on. To get it all done, teams sometimes cut corners.
This cannot occur with data protection.
Data is constantly being collected through these processes, and stored in various locations across your systems. Unfortunately, workers rarely find the short amount of time required to back up their data. In fact, 62% of organisations fail to back up their data, even with automation tools available.
Backing up your data is a crucial part of any data protection strategy. Regular backups ensure that if the primary system fails, you still have access to an up-to-date copy of your files and can quickly restore them without loss. It is also advised to store these backups in a secure location away from the main network to prevent attackers from gaining access. The phrase, ‘don’t keep all your eggs in one basket,’ springs to mind.
Utilise Cloud Technology Where Possible
While backing up your data on a physical hardware device is advisable, including cloud technology in your cyber security policy also pays off.
Cloud technology offers a secure, online storage platform with multiple levels of encryption that can protect sensitive data from malicious actors. As this is typically a third-party system, many organisations might be hesitant about uploading their information, as they aren’t in direct control of the security measures. What you will likely find, however, is that your provider offers regular software updates to introduce the latest security measures, far exceeding those found within on-site servers. In addition, cloud-based systems are easier to scale as they require minimal maintenance and include automated backups.
Ensure Employees Comply with BYOD Policies
On the back of the COVID-19 pandemic, many modern organisations have realised the benefits of working from home. They can save on expensive office space, employees have more work-life balance, and teams can select from a greater pool of talent across the world.
A common feature of these working arrangements is for team members to use their own devices to complete workloads, commonly referred to as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies. While convenient, this creates a risk of sensitive data being readily available on personal devices from outside the business premises and potentially causing a breach.
BYOD policies should include restrictions around what type of data can be accessed outside of the company itself, as well as the technology or software available for teams to safeguard their devices. This allows businesses to enable remote working capabilities while still preserving security protocols over devices owned by individual employees. To protect data, these policies should detail the type of devices allowed to access company data and the security measures that must be implemented on those devices.
Organise Internal Control Systems
Internal control systems are a great way to manage who has access to which data and determine the level of access each employee should have. It’s great to have trust in your team, but this separation of power is integral in limiting the risk of fraud and theft. Employees need to have access to information based on their position, and go through the appropriate channels to request further access when needed. This includes monitoring a log of activity, which, in an organised system, will help to identify any suspicious behaviours early and revoke access or privileges to the perpetrator.
Have a Safe Approach for Disposing of Data
When disposing of old hardware, ensure all sensitive data stored on them is securely wiped first. This doesn’t mean simply deleting files, as there is technology available that can restore the information. If you have an IT partner on-hand, they will be able to help appropriately overwrite the data to guarantee it is unrecoverable.
Integrate a Response Mechanism
Prevention is the best approach, but if all efforts fail, you must know how to respond.
Having an incident response plan in place can help businesses quickly react to any potential threats. This plan should include steps to assess the scope of any threat, define roles and responsibilities for responding teams, determine remediation tactics, and monitor progress during recovery. Doing so will ensure that your business is prepared for any situation and that you can mitigate the damage done to you and your stakeholders.
Data security breaches are costly, but by implanting these measures above, you can significantly reduce your risk of attack and ensure your data remains secure.