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What Measures Should Businesses Take to Prevent Insider Data Breaches?

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Companies often look at external threats to their assets. However, data breaches sometimes occur from the inside. For example, a disgruntled former employee gains access to sensitive files. A dishonest current worker chooses to use personal details for their own gain.

How can companies keep proprietary information and customer data confidential from those who work with it every day? Start by putting a plan in place and following through a few simple steps to protect everyone.

1. Ramp Up Password Policies

Spend time perfecting your company’s password policies. Strong passwords prevent an insider from gaining access to sensitive files by guessing the characters. Some rules to consider instituting include:

  • Changing passwords frequently.
  • Implementing two-factor authentication.
  • Using capital and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols.
  • Using only unique passwords not used elsewhere.
  • Never sharing details with anyone else.
  • Training employees on how to keep others from seeing details when logging in.

It’s best to stick to a strict password policy. Pull anyone into human resources who doesn’t abide by it.

2. Use Encryption

Using data encryption offers an extra level of security for data that’s being sent and received. Anyone who isn’t authorized to read a message can’t understand what it says when it’s encrypted. You can use encryption for:

  • Communications between department heads.
  • Limiting how long someone can see sensitive files.
  • Emails between co-workers.
  • Protecting proprietary data from prying eyes.
  • Offering authorization only to certain people or machines.

Only those authorized to read a message can understand what it says with encryption technology.

3. Remove Users Immediately

When an employee leaves the company, it’s crucial to remove their access to all company data immediately. This way, you can prevent the chances of employees accessing sensitive information once they no longer need it. Even leading up to an employee leaving, you can begin limiting access to certain files and changing logins and passwords. Additionally, have your IT staff scan for backdoor access someone might install before leaving.

4. Hire IT Experts

Your IT department serves as a buffer between dishonest employees and your trade secrets. With the help of IT experts, you can make sure your systems are consistently monitored for any anomalies. A few user actions your in-house or third-party security experts can watch for include:

  • Sudden searches for customer data.
  • Accessing files irrelevant to the user’s role.
  • Saving files to new locations.
  • Adding code to the website or servers.
  • Internet searches for topics such as stealing customer information.

It’s far easier to be proactive than to deal with a data breach after the fact.

5. Protect Sensitive Data

Technology is changing rapidly. The increase in machine learning and use of artificial intelligence opens the door to security breaches. Fortunately, there are numerous ways to protect information from inside and outside threats.

  • Install the latest virus and malware protection.
  • Conduct regular scans for attacks.
  • Check permissions frequently to ensure only the right individuals have access.
  • Place someone in charge of authorizations to prevent confusion on who should be able to see what.
  • Invest in software that manages levels of access.
  • Immediately delete information you no longer need, such as customer credit card numbers.

Put practices in place to ensure the system is updated frequently. With a bit of extra attention, you can reduce the chance of an internal data breach.

6. Conduct Audits

Frequent audits give you a chance to remove any users who shouldn’t be in the system and fix potential issues. Companies with remote workers may find they need to audit their systems more frequently. These are audit steps you can take on a regular basis:

  • Attempt to get into files the user shouldn’t have access to.
  • Try to change levels of permission in user mode rather than administrator mode.
  • Run checks on the system to find any flaws.
  • Check for backdoor programs that might give an employee access after they leave.
  • See what IPs access the system frequently.
  • Make sure remote employees can only open the files needed to do their work.

Audits give you an opportunity to discover flaws in the system you might not otherwise know about.

7. Offer Anonymous Reporting

Encourage employees to say something if they notice concerning behavior. If they feel like a co-worker might be stealing or sharing information, they should be able to come to their manager or someone higher up in the company and report it without fear of retaliation.

Train workers on the things that should be reported and why. You can also create an anonymous tips box, where employees can anonymously submit concerns they have. Find ways to reward those who look out for the company’s best interests.

8. Install Data Loss Prevent (DLP) Tools

Companies can install software to prevent the loss or theft of data. DLP measures usually combine methods such as firewalls and monitoring. While programs automatically stop outside attacks, insider attacks can look normal.The best way to prevent data loss is to combine:

  • Firewalls
  • Antivirus software
  • Malware prevention
  • Real-time monitoring
  • Machine scanning for anything outside the typical job scope

By having machines monitor for anomalies, you can spot someone accessing files outside their normal scope of work.

9. Train Human Resources (HR) in Best Practices

HR vets new employees and has the power to stop potential thieves from entering the business in the first place. At a minimum, they should:

  • Check references.
  • Run a criminal history report.
  • Train employees about what is considered blue-collar crime.
  • Have new employees sign a nondisclosure form.

The organization should fully prosecute anyone who tries to steal and sell inside information. A strong front against data breaches can send this zero-tolerance signal to others.

Avoid Data Breaches with Smart Practices

Insider data breaches may not be as common as hackers gaining access to the system, but they can occur at any time. Take the time to ensure you have strong policies, regular audits and a plan to implement should the worst happen. While the majority of your staff would never steal information, it only takes one incident to derail your progress. Put your focus on protecting your assets from both inside and outside threats to keep momentum going and find success.

237-slide PowerPoint presentation
Introducing the Ultimate Cybersecurity and IT Security Toolkit: Safeguarding Your Digital Fortresses In today's interconnected world, cybersecurity is more critical than ever. The ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats demands robust protection measures for individuals and organizations alike. [read more]

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Digital Transformation is being embraced by organizations of all sizes across most industries. In the Digital Age today, technology creates new opportunities and fundamentally transforms businesses in all aspects—operations, business models, strategies. It not only enables the business, but also drives its growth and can be a source of Competitive Advantage.

For many industries, COVID-19 has accelerated the timeline for Digital Transformation Programs by multiple years. Digital Transformation has become a necessity. Now, to survive in the Low Touch Economy—characterized by social distancing and a minimization of in-person activities—organizations must go digital. This includes offering digital solutions for both employees (e.g. Remote Work, Virtual Teams, Enterprise Cloud, etc.) and customers (e.g. E-commerce, Social Media, Mobile Apps, etc.).

Learn about our Digital Transformation Best Practice Frameworks here.

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About Eleanor Hecks

Eleanor Hecks is the editor-in-chief of Designerly Magazine. She’s also a web design consultant with a focus on customer experience and UI. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and pups, Bear and Lucy. Connect with her about marketing, design and/or tea on LinkedIn.


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