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Top 10 Data Security Best Practices to Safeguard Your Data

Anna Szentgyorgyi-Siklosi | 13 min read| Updated On - April 12, 2024

Data Security Best Practices

In today’s world, data security has become a top priority for businesses of all sizes. With cyberattacks and data breaches becoming increasingly common, it’s more important than ever to implement effective data security best practices to protect sensitive information.

In this blog, we’ll be sharing our top 10 data security best practices that you can implement to safeguard your data from potential threats. By following the steps in this article, you can minimize the risk of data loss, theft, and unauthorized access, and ensure that your business remains secure and compliant with industry regulations.

So, let’s dive into the top 10 data security best practices that you need to know.

Best Practices for Data Security

Implementing the following ten data security best practices will help to protect your sensitive data and the reputation of your company, and comply with the relevant data security regulations.

1. Discover and classify your critical data

Knowing what data you store, and where it is located is a crucial best practice of data security. By classifying data, organizations can implement appropriate security controls that align with the level of sensitivity of the information they store. Data classification also helps organizations comply with regulatory requirements and standards, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

2. Establish and enforce a strong password policy

Developing a strong password policy and applying it consistently is a crucial best practice for preventing data breaches. Companies should also keep track of login activity and receive real-time alerts when anomalous account access is detected. As a loose rule of thumb, passwords should be at least 8 characters long and should contain uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. Users should not use the same password for multiple accounts and they should change their passwords every 90 days or less.

3. Use multi-factor authentication

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) provides an extra layer of security beyond just a username and password. With single-factor authentication, if someone gains access to your password, they can easily access your account. However, with MFA, even if someone knows your password, they still need access to another factor (such as a code sent to your phone) to gain access to your account. This significantly reduces the risk of unauthorized access and helps to protect sensitive information, which is why it’s a necessary best practice for data security.

4. Adhere to the principle of least privilege

To prevent data breaches, organizations should follow the principle of least privilege (PoLP) by limiting employee access to systems and data based on the requirements of their job. By regularly reviewing and reducing permissions, organizations can mitigate the impact of data breaches caused by social engineering attacks, job restructuring, and employee turnover. It is also best practice to monitor any changes to permissions, as unwanted or unauthorized changes might lead to permissions sprawl.

5. Monitoring access to sensitive data

According to a report by Forrester Research, 58 percent of sensitive data security incidents in 2022 resulted from insider threats. Monitoring access to sensitive data is one of the most important best practices for data security.

Monitoring access to sensitive data involves keeping track of who has accessed the data, when it was accessed, and from where. This is typically done through the use of access logs and audit trails. By monitoring access to sensitive data, organizations can quickly identify any unauthorized access attempts and take appropriate action to prevent further damage.

One way in which monitoring access to sensitive data helps improve cloud data protection is by allowing organizations to detect and respond to security breaches in a timely manner. If an unauthorized user gains access to sensitive data, monitoring tools can alert security personnel so that they can take action to contain the breach and prevent further damage.

Another way in which monitoring access to sensitive data improves cloud data protection is by enabling organizations to enforce access controls. Access controls are policies that limit who can access sensitive data and what they can do with it. By monitoring access to sensitive data, organizations can ensure that access controls are being followed and that any violations are detected and addressed.

In addition, monitoring access to sensitive data can help organizations comply with data protection regulations and standards. Many regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), require organizations to keep track of who has accessed sensitive data and when. By monitoring access to sensitive data, organizations can demonstrate compliance with these regulations and avoid costly fines and penalties.

6. Streamline incident response procedures

You will need a tried and tested incident response plan (IRP) in place to reduce the time between detecting and responding to data breaches. An effective IRP should have a clear set of well-defined procedures that are followed for each type of threat or breach that is identified. Additionally, it should have designated roles and responsibilities for key personnel such as IT staff and executives. It should also include external factors, such as coordination with law enforcement or third-party vendors, to ensure the best possible outcome. Finally, a good IRP should include regular testing and training to ensure that everyone is prepared to respond quickly and effectively in the event of a breach or attack.

7. Ensure physical protection of data

When it comes to securing data, physical security measures are frequently disregarded. It is advisable to secure server rooms with locks, alarms, and cameras, and lock your workstations when you’re away to prevent theft of data. Another recommended best practice for data security is to set a BIOS password, which will help to prevent cybercriminals from gaining access to your operating system. Additionally, it is necessary to take measures to secure portable devices such as USB drives, tablets, and laptops.

8. Use endpoint security systems to protect your data

Secure your data using endpoint security systems by implementing measures such as anti-virus software, pop-up blockers, firewalls, and intrusion prevention systems. These tools prevent malware from infecting your devices, block unwanted pop-ups, and provide a barrier against cyber criminals. It is important to regularly scan and maintain the health of your system to mitigate the risk of data breaches.

9. Document your cybersecurity policies

Reliance on informal sharing of information and gut instincts is not advisable for ensuring cybersecurity. It is essential to meticulously document your cybersecurity guidelines, standards, and procedures, as this will ensure effective training, checklists, and communication of relevant knowledge to all the concerned parties.

10. Conduct security awareness training

Provide your staff with cybersecurity training, which teaches them about your company’s policies and best practices for keeping data secure. Keep them informed through routine meetings about any updated protocols or changes being implemented around the globe. Use actual examples of security breaches to illustrate what can happen, and request their input on the state of your security posture.

Common Threats to Data

Understanding and addressing the common threats to your businesses data can substantially minimize the risks associated with data breaches and ensure the confidentiality and integrity of your valuable assets. Below are some of the most notable threats to be aware of;

Insider Threats: Corporate data can be compromised by insiders such as employees, contractors, or partners either intentionally or inadvertently. Malicious insiders may steal sensitive information, sabotage systems, or leak data for personal gain. According to the 2023 Data Breach Investigations Report by Verizon, 74% of all data breaches include a human element. Preventive measures include access control, proper segregation of duties, robust employee screening processes, and implementing monitoring tools to detect unusual behavior patterns promptly.

Malware Attacks: Malware, including viruses, worms, ransomware, and trojans, continues to pose significant threats to corporate data security. These malicious programs can infiltrate systems, disrupt operations, steal sensitive information, and cause substantial financial losses. SonicWall’s 2023 Cyber Threat Report reveals that malware witnessed its first rise since 2018, reaching 5.5 billion attacks, signifying a 2% growth compared to the previous year. To mitigate such threats, companies must employ the latest antivirus software, regularly update their systems, and educate employees about safe online practices.

Phishing and Social Engineering: Phishing attacks leverage deceptive emails, messages, or phone calls to trick employees into revealing sensitive information or gaining unauthorized access. Social engineering techniques typically try to manipulate individuals into divulging confidential data. According to a report by Cisco, phishing continues to be the top cyber attack method, with roughly 3.4 billion spam emails sent on a daily basis. Organizations must enhance employee awareness and train them to identify and report suspicious activities. Adopting email filtering systems, multi-factor authentication, and implementing strong password policies can also bolster protection against these attacks.

Data Leakage: During the first quarter of 2023, over six million data records were compromised globally via data breaches, according to Statista. Data leakage can occur through unintentional actions, technical glitches, or hacking incidents. It often leads to reputational damage, compliance violations, and financial losses. Businesses should implement strong encryption techniques, access controls, and data loss prevention (DLP) tools to prevent unauthorized access, exfiltration, or accidental data leakage. Regular data backups, coupled with off-site or cloud storage facilities, can help companies restore data in case of emergencies.

Third-Party Risks: With the increasing reliance on third-party vendors or cloud service providers, businesses inadvertently expose themselves to potential threats. Data breaches in third-party systems can lead to corporate data compromise. According to the 2022 Third Party Breach Report by BlackKite, software publishers are responsible for the majority of third-party breaches. Organizations must be diligent when installing new software, establish secure connections and contracts, and periodically assess third-party security systems.

Physical Security: While technological advancements have increased the focus on cybersecurity, neglecting physical security aspects can still pose significant risks. Unauthorized access to servers, storage devices, or confidential documents can result in data theft or manipulation.

Businesses observed a 28% increase in physical security incidents in 2022, according to the following article. Organizations must ensure restricted access to sensitive areas, implement video surveillance, use secure storage facilities, and establish protocols for the destruction of physical documents.

Key Data Security Principles

When talking about data security principals, some will point to the CIA triad, which relates to the Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability of sensitive data. However, in this article I will focus on the 7 data protection principles as defined by the GDPR, which also includes elements of the CIA triad. These principles are as follows:

1. Lawfulness, fairness and transparency: The principle of lawfulness, fairness, and transparency in data processing requires that personal data is collected and processed with a valid legal basis, in the best interest of the individual, and with clear communication about the purpose and methods of processing. This can be achieved by obtaining consent, only collecting necessary data, ensuring any information shared is relevant, and providing a clear privacy policy and contact information for inquiries.

2. Purpose limitation: The principle of purpose limitation states that personal data should only be used for the original intended purpose and not for other purposes. For example, if a newsletter collects IP addresses for consent documentation, it cannot be used to send customized content based on geographical location. However, if the purpose is clearly stated, targeted emails may be allowed, but strict requirements must be followed. It is important to educate employees about privacy issues to prevent misuse of personal data.

3. Data minimization: When it comes to data, many of us tend to collect more than we actually need. However, according to the third principle of the GDPR, it is important to minimize the amount of personal data collected and only gather what is necessary. For example, when collecting data for a newsletter, it is not necessary to gather information like job titles, even though it might be nice to have. Implementing data minimization not only helps with GDPR compliance, but also reduces the impact of a potential data breach.

4. Accuracy: The principle of accuracy in data processing requires that personal data be correct and up to date. Data controllers and processors are responsible for taking reasonable measures to ensure this accuracy. This principle is only relevant when the accuracy of the data is important to the individual it pertains to. For example, if a subscriber changes jobs and their old email address is no longer valid, the data controller should provide a way for the subscriber to update their information. Using a CRM or email marketing system can help identify and update invalid email addresses. If data is found to be inaccurate or incorrect, it should either be updated or deleted as there is no reason to continue handling it.

5. Storage limitations: This principle states that personal data should be deleted when it is no longer needed for its intended purpose. This principle is similar to the data minimization principle, and many organizations view deleting old data as a way to minimize data. Implementing a secure process for data destruction helps ensure that unnecessary data is truly removed and does not pose a security risk. In our example, storage limitations would involve deleting the personal data of users who unsubscribe from a newsletter or if the organization decides to stop sending newsletters. There are some cases where it may be necessary to keep data for a period of time or anonymize it for statistical or historical purposes, but these exceptions should be carefully considered.

6. Integrity and confidentiality: This principle emphasizes the importance of ensuring personal data is correct, protected from manipulation, and only accessed by authorized individuals. Integrity is about maintaining the accuracy, consistency, and completeness of data by preventing unauthorized modification, deletion, or corruption. Confidentiality is about ensuring that sensitive data is accessible only to authorized individuals and protected from unauthorized access or disclosure. For example, in the context of a newsletter, only necessary personnel should have access to subscriber information, and measures should be taken to prevent data manipulation. The principles of integrity and other GDPR principles also apply to the safe sharing of media online.

7. Accountability: The accountability principle in GDPR requires individuals or organizations responsible for processing personal data to be responsible for ensuring compliance with GDPR rules and properly handling the data. This includes documenting the steps taken to comply with GDPR requirements. Examples of accountability include documenting consent for processing personal data and providing training to employees on data handling principles. By fulfilling and documenting these measures, organizations demonstrate compliance with GDPR.

How Lepide helps to Secure your Data

The Lepide Data Security Platform will discover and classify your critical assets and supports a wide range of file types, including Word, text, and Excel documents. It can also classify data at the point of creation/modification. Via the intuitive dashboard, you can identify excessive permissions and see how those permissions are being granted. You will also receive recommendations for changes based on who is accessing the data.

In addition, the Lepide platform monitors changes to permissions in real-time to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive data and can automatically respond to changes that deviate beyond a given baseline or threshold. With over 300 pre-defined reports and real-time alerts, you’ll never miss a critical change that can affect your security and compliance posture. With hundreds of pre-defined audit reports, the Lepide platform is perfect for meeting GDPR, HIPAA, CCPA, SOX, PCI, FISMA, GLBA, and more.

If you’d like to see how the Lepide Data Security Platform can help you keep your sensitive data secure, schedule a demo with one of our engineers or start your free trial today.

Anna Szentgyorgyi-Siklosi
Anna Szentgyorgyi-Siklosi

Anna is an experienced Customer Success Manager with a demonstrated history of working in the SaaS industry. She is currently working to ensure that Lepide customers achieve the highest level of customer service.

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