In an era where data is the new gold, protecting it is paramount. That’s true not just for large enterprises but also for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), which have become prime targets for cyber attacks.
Let’s discuss some of the most effective strategies and techniques SMBs can employ to prevent data loss and ensure they continue to thrive in this digital age.
Data Loss Is an Expensive Problem to Have
The term data loss refers to instances when data is destroyed, deleted, or simply goes missing. It’s a scenario that SMBs must strive to avoid as the cost implications can be significant.
Acronis, a provider of award-winning backup software & data protection solutions, revealed that even small instances of data loss, approximating around 100 lost or compromised records, can cost a business between $18,120 to $35,730, dependent on the company size and the data’s value.
Why does data loss come with such a hefty price tag? Because its consequences are far-reaching, and they include:
- Lost productivity: When data disappears, workflows are disrupted. Projects can be delayed, or worse, they may need to be restarted from scratch.
- Broken trust: Customer trust is hard-won and easily lost. A data loss incident can seriously damage the business’s reputation, possibly leading to a decline in clients and revenue.
- Legal action: Depending on the nature of the lost data, companies may face lawsuits, especially if customer information is involved. Legal fees and settlements can quickly escalate.
As if that wasn’t enough, data loss can occur for a number of different reasons, such as:
- Hardware malfunction: Computers aren’t infallible. Hard drives can fail, servers can crash, and data can be lost in the process.
- Human error: Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes, those mistakes can mean accidentally deleting or losing important data.
- Software bugs: Software bugs can corrupt data, making it inaccessible or lost entirely.
- Malware infection: Cyber threats are continually evolving. Malicious software, especially ransomware, can compromise or wipe out business data.
- Targeted attacks: SMBs aren’t immune to intentional cyber attacks. In fact, the 2019 Data Breach Investigations Report by Verizon highlighted that 43% of reported data breaches involved small business victims.
In light of this, it’s clear that SMBs need to take concrete steps to protect their valuable data and ensure the continuity and sustainability of their operations.
6 Critical Cybersecurity Policies Every Organization Must Have
1. Regularly Back Up All Important Data
The first and foremost method to prevent data loss is to make regular backups of all vital data. This may seem straightforward, but it is often overlooked in the whirlwind of daily business operations.
One significant aspect of this is backing up data that’s housed in cloud-based productivity suites like Microsoft 365. Many SMBs mistakenly assume that their data is automatically safe just because it’s in the cloud. While Microsoft 365 does offer some data recovery capabilities, it isn’t a complete backup solution.
Therefore, for comprehensive protection, it’s a good idea to have a third-party backup solution that can quickly restore data if the need arises.
2. Tighten Your Access Controls
While it’s no secret that external attackers are always on the lookout for vulnerabilities to exploit, it’s also critical for SMBs to be aware that threats can originate from within.
Having robust access control measures in place can greatly reduce the chances of a data breach and subsequent data loss, whether the threat is coming from inside or outside the organization. In practice, this means:
- Ensuring that access to sensitive data is granted on a “need-to-know” basis.
- Using strong, unique passwords and storing them in a secure manner.
- Implementing multi-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security.
3. Implement Malware Protection
Malware, short for malicious software, is a broad term that encompasses a range of harmful programs, including viruses, spyware, and ransomware. The last malware type mentioned is especially capable of causing massive data loss because its purpose is to encrypt valuable data, rendering it inaccessible until a ransom is paid to the attacker.
According to a report by Security Boulevard, ransomware attacks were responsible for a staggering 20 percent of all cybercrimes recorded in 2022. The prevalence of such attacks underscores the urgent need for SMBs to implement effective malware protection.
The good news is that Microsoft 365, a popular choice among SMBs, does include built-in mechanisms to prevent malware, including ransomware, from infiltrating its systems. However, it’s not enough just to have these tools available; SMBs must also make sure they are configured correctly to maximize their efficiency and ensure complete protection.
4. Invest in Employee Training
As is often said, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. For many SMBs worried about data loss, that weak link can be the lack of adequate cybersecurity awareness among employees. According to a report by CSO Online, human error accounts for three-quarters of incidents where sensitive data is lost.
A simple click on a fraudulent email or an inadvertent data leak can lead to catastrophic consequences. By investing in comprehensive employee training, SMBs can empower their workforce to be vigilant guardians of data, rather than potential sources of vulnerability.
5. Take Care of Your Hardware
The digital world might be a hotbed for cyber threats capable of causing data loss, but it’s crucial not to overlook the physical aspects of data security. SMBs must ensure that their hardware—the tangible home of their precious data—is taken care of, too.
Specifically, it’s important to:
- Perform regular maintenance to keep hardware in good working order.
- Guard against events like floods, fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes by storing important data in multiple locations (such as the cloud).
- Implement measures for physical protection against theft and vandalism.
6. Keep All Software Updated
Buggy software is unreliable and often vulnerable. According to cybersecurity ratings company BitSight, organizations that fail to keep their software patched are at least two times more likely to suffer a data breach. When it comes to unpatched desktop software, the risk skyrockets by 300 percent.
To prevent data loss caused by sudden crashes and successfully exploited vulnerabilities, SMBs need to implement an effective patch management strategy.
A patch management strategy ensures that all software updates and security patches are systematically tested, approved, and deployed across all systems in the organization. In doing so, it mitigates the risk of incompatibilities or system instabilities that could result from patching efforts and ensures that the most important patches are installed first.
7. Monitor Your Network 24/7
Continuous network monitoring serves as the early warning system for a business’s digital infrastructure. It keeps an eye on the entire network, scrutinizing every activity and spotting unusual patterns that could signal trouble. By doing so, it provides the business with the opportunity to intercept and address threats before they cause any significant damage.
For instance, consider a scenario where a rogue employee starts wiping out a large RAID array, or a piece of malware begins to encrypt files on infected devices. If the network is monitored 24/7, these activities will trigger alerts due to their abnormal nature. IT teams would immediately be notified, enabling them to swiftly investigate and respond to the situation, potentially preventing extensive data loss.
8. Classify Your Data
When discussing data loss prevention, it’s essential to understand that not all data is created equal. Some data is so crucial to an organization’s operations that its loss would be catastrophic, while other data may be less vital. Hence, it’s essential for SMBs to differentiate between the various types of data they handle and accord them the appropriate level of protection.
Microsoft Purview, a comprehensive data governance solution, can significantly aid SMBs in managing and classifying their data across all clouds and platforms.
For example, Purview’s retention labels can be used to manage the retention and disposition of content within an organization. Once applied, they control how long an item will be kept before deletion and whether it should be reviewed prior to deletion.
9. Create a Disaster Recovery Plan
SMBs can implement every data loss prevention strategy in the book, but the sad truth remains: nothing is foolproof. As the saying goes, “Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.”
A disaster recovery plan is a documented, structured approach that outlines how an organization can quickly resume work after an unplanned incident. This is more than just data backup—it’s about having a set procedure to restore operations to normal as swiftly as possible, minimizing the damage to the business.
By anticipating the worst-case scenario and having a strategy to deal with it, SMBs can ensure they’re well-equipped to rebound quickly in the event of a disaster, preventing crippling data loss and minimizing operational disruption.
10. Collaborating with IT Professionals
Preventing data loss isn’t merely about setting up the right tools or implementing the correct procedures. It’s about creating a robust, dynamic defense line that continually evolves to meet ever-changing threats. This is no easy task, especially for SMBs that might not possess the requisite in-house expertise or resources.
That’s where cybersecurity professionals like us at OSIbeyond come into the picture. With our deep knowledge and broad experience, we can guide any SMB in establishing, maintaining, and enhancing a data loss prevention strategy that’s tailored to their unique needs and constraints.
Schedule a free consultation for more information about our managed IT and cybersecurity services.
Conclusion on Data Loss Prevention
The importance of data loss prevention for SMBs can’t be overstated. Given the rising threats and the potential cost implications of data loss, it’s clear that SMBs must take proactive steps to safeguard their digital assets—from regular data backups to creating a robust disaster recovery plan. After all, in a world driven by data, protecting this vital asset is nothing short of a business imperative.
Contact us to learn more about preventing data loss in your business.