We hear a lot of talk about data security because of the constant threat of cyber attacks and hacking. News of data breaches are extremely common. As a result, we are exceptionally concerned about the branding and reputational consequences of a data breach. However, there are other events which could occur that make our data inaccessible.
It is important to know you are doing the best you can to protect against cyber attacks, ransomware and other forms of data theft, but data security goes beyond that. Instead, let’s look at data from a broader perspective. You should always be concerned about protecting your data from any event that has consequences for your customers. Concerns about data theft are too narrow. A number of different events will have an impact on customers and pose a threat to your brand, as well as your ability to provide services.
If we look at data from a customer perspective, any event that restricts the access to their data and leads to disruption of their routine business with you is a serious problem. For example, what are you doing to ensure that your data will be accessible in the event of some disaster? What if you lost all power or internet access? In both of these cases, your capacity to provide service and respond to any customer needs that necessitate data access would be stopped cold. How would you continue your business and respond to daily required customer demands that require routine access to data? Would you be out of luck?
In this blog, we’ll take a look at a more holistic approach to data security that includes not only avoiding damage to, or theft of, your data, but addresses the broad range of events that would limit data access.
Threats to data
There are numerous ways data can be put at risk.
1. External Bad Actors – Clearly, this is the risk that gets the most headlines. Cyberattacks from hackers, foreign governments and entities with bad intentions are a serious, ongoing threat. Ransomware viruses, for instance, are data kidnapping schemes that freeze access to your data until you pay a ransom. These are especially difficult, because once you have been hit, using an after-the-fact antivirus program will offer no help. Additionally there are phishing scams and other malware that can damage and or steal your data.
2. Human Error – One of the major causes of successful cyber attack and malware attacks is employee error. Opening emails with attachments that download viruses or links to web pages that mimic real sites are common mistakes people make. For example, employees who find a thumb drive and, curious about its contents, insert into the USB of their computer. All if these errors are generally preventable with sufficient training. But, too few businesses recognize the severity of the threat. Employees need to be trained to recognize phishing scams.
3. Insufficient Hardware and Software Protections – There are two categories here.
a) Software: Constantly updated antivirus applications are a requirement, not just on servers, but on every device that connects to your communications network. Additionally, it is important to consistently upgrade all of your software whenever upgrades are released. Many upgrades are released to specifically address a vulnerability that exposes
the user to a new virus.
b) Backups: Failure to have a well-designed backup procedure for all of your data can mean your don’t have accurate backups if something happens. If your IT staff is limited, this is an area where consultation with an outside managed service provider may be of particular value. A daily, or weekly, backup to an external hard drive that is kept in a drawer is not sufficient. Also, not having plans for a quick swap-out for failed hardware
can leave you dead in the water until new hardware can be ordered, delivered, and configured.
4. External Events – Your customer’s data can be carefully protected against theft, hardware failure and human error, but it isn’t of much value if you cannot access it. The final step in protecting customer data is addressing the conditions that would limit your ability to use that data to serve your customers. Examples of these risks include natural disasters, terror attacks, and human-created events, each of which could cause physical damage to your business site, or limit physical access to it. Such events can also create power, broadband, and/or telephony outages that make your data inaccessible, even if you have remote access.
What you can do?
Seeing a list of all these threats to your data can be pretty discouraging. That said, there are a range of solutions, some of which can be money-saving, that can help mitigate risk.
1. Employee Training – Your employees remain the first line of defense against cyber criminals. Teaching them proper data hygiene is important. Every firm should have ongoing training that identifies possible risks that employees face. Discuss how to identify phishing scams and, if they have suspicions, never open a link they receive in an email. Looking at the URL of any site they visit via a link can be a real tip-off to a “spoofed” site. Some larger firms have even gone so far as to send out “faked” phishing emails to all of their employees as a teaching tool. They identify who opened them and send along additional tips to ID scams. Also, password policies should be put into place as well as rules forbidding the sharing of passwords.
2. Cloud Storage – While many feel their data is safer protected on-site, that may not be true. Using cloud storage for your data can resolve several of the threats discussed above.
a) Backups and hardware failures: With cloud storage, you eliminate the need for a great deal of onsite hardware for storage. Hardware you don’t have can’t break.
b) Access during a major disaster: When you select a cloud storage solution, you create redundancy. Rather than stored onsite hardware which is vulnerable to any number of events, all of your data is stored on redundant servers, most likely in at least dual locations around a very wide geographic region, such as the territorial United States. If there is a hardware failure, natural disaster or other major event, your data remains safe
and accessible from an alternate site.
c) Cyber-security: Choosing a cloud storage solution most likely increases your data security. Huge data server farms have strong physical security, but they also are probably encrypting your data which is a level of protection you probably cannot provide using onsite storage. Additionally, cloud storage providers are going to be utilizing the latest and most sophisticated data protections available certainly far beyond what a mid-size firm could create for itself.
3. Software as a Service (SaaS) – Software as a Service is part of the cloud storage model. Instead of purchasing a software application and downloading to your own hardware, such as a desktop PC, server or tablet, you purchase a subscription to the application. The attraction of this model is that you are buying access to the application over the internet from whichever device you happen to want to use at any one time. Access to the software is no longer limited to the physical device on which it is installed. This also creates better security because you lose the responsibility to download new security releases in a timely fashion. This is all done behind the scenes for you. It also means you can access your data via remote locations. If your business location becomes inaccessible, you can login and use remotely stored software to continue working.
4. Bring Your Own Devices Policies – BYOD policies are important. Whenever you introduce new hardware to your communications network, you open another access door. BYOD is very popular and can be a real driver of productivity. However, it dramatically complicates the job of securing all of the devices that can access your network, and thus makes it more likely that some crack in the armor will be overlooked. Consequently you need a very tightly and intelligently defined policy for handling all aspects of BYOD. This includes not only defining which type and models of devices will be permitted, but also procedures for handling software downloads and upgrades, as well as lost or stolen devices.
In summary, data security is important, but one main facet of data security is accessibility. Safe data is of no use to anyone if it becomes inaccessible. So as you make plans to defend against events which could threaten data security; plan to defend against events which would limit the use of that data to conduct your daily business operations. Take a holistic approach to data from the perspective of the customer. Remember, anything which affects data usage to meet your customer’s needs will affect your brand, reputation, and your bottom line.