What is a data breach? How to protect your company’s information

In April 2021, a hacker stole and published hundreds of millions of Facebook users’ personal information online. No Facebook accounts were compromised as a result of this massive data breach, and yet sensitive information such as names, email addresses, and phone numbers for more than 500 million people in over 100 countries became freely available to cybercriminals!

While a huge data breach may seem like “big company problems,” the truth is, in today’s digital landscape, everyone is at risk and can be negatively affected by cyber breaches.

When hackers or even unethical marketers have individuals’ personal information, they can send emails and SMS messages to unwitting recipients. At best, they are annoying spam and are quickly deleted. At worst, this information could be used for phishing and other cyber attacks.

When we think about data breaches, most of us immediately imagine scenarios like this, where hackers steal from big companies. However, that’s not the only way our data is put at risk.

What is a data breach?

Most people assume data breaches only involve identity theft, financial information, or trade secrets, but it’s actually much wider than that. The term “data breach” is used whenever sensitive or confidential data is copied, shared, stolen, or seen by an unauthorized party.

The key phrase here is “unauthorized.” Data breaches don’t just happen from hacking, they can occur whenever someone has access to information they shouldn’t. It can even happen by accident!

For example, if you are in charge of your company’s payroll and you walk away from your computer with the employee’s private information up on your computer, then that data can be seen by whoever happens to walk by. Another example is if your co-worker needs login information and you decide to help out by emailing the username and password to them, instead of sending it securely. Most people don’t realize that email isn’t secure, and inadvertently send confidential or sensitive information in this way.

The unauthorized individual who just happened upon the data could end up doing nothing with it, with little consequence to the company. However, these unnecessary and preventable risks leave you and your data vulnerable, and the potential cost and inconvenience is just not worth the risk.

How to protect your business from a data breach

Unfortunately, data breaches happen all the time. Sometimes it is due to a hack where information is being stolen, but many other times data is breached due to human error such as logging into a database using someone else’s credentials or leaving a sensitive document on the photocopier in a busy office.

The absolute best way to protect yourself and your business from data breaches is to stay vigilant. In your business, this means implementing policies around data protection and training your staff on best practices. To keep up with the ever-changing nature of cybersecurity, training should be regularly updated so employees know what to watch out for while working online.

Other ways to prevent data breaches:

  • Create complex passwords
  • Use multi-factor authentication whenever it is available
  • Check your bank and credit card statements for unauthorized charges
  • Take steps to prevent identity theft

Another way to prevent data breaches is by hiring a technology company to provide your business with cybersecurity audits and monitoring. These steps may help to identify weaknesses and ensure your network has robust security configurations in place.

There are a few steps to follow if you’ve experienced a data breach. If you partner with an IT company, make sure to let them know right away so they can advise you on the best course of action and help you investigate and remedy the situation.

Once you’ve stopped the leak, take the next logical steps. If financial or personal information was put at risk, then contact your financial institutions and monitor your statements. If your email or website has been put at risk, change all passwords immediately, identify and fix weaknesses, and remove the hack. Depending on the severity of the breach you may also need to contact your insurance provider and work together to resolve the issue.

Keeping data safe is everyone’s responsibility, and implementing a few best practices can help you prevent the majority of data breaches.

If you’re wondering if your company is at risk, or if you’re ready to increase your data protection then please get in touch. At Clearbridge Business Solutions, we’re cybersecurity experts and passionate about helping you do your best work by keeping your data safe.