By: George Sucher, Partner
In my role, I have a unique vantage point from which to observe and influence the way our organization approaches data security. In an increasingly digital world, it’s an understatement to say that data breaches are a growing concern.
Efforts to prevent lost, adulterated, misused, or stolen data have to come from the top down and the bottom up. Employees are the first line of defense against data breaches. Integrating cybersecurity training into onboarding processes and providing ongoing education for all employees promotes awareness of phishing attacks, safe password practices, and the proper handling of sensitive information. By empowering employees with knowledge, we can reduce the risk of human error leading to a breach.
To do that, we first need to arm the entire organization with forward-looking guidance and cutting-edge tools, knowledge and equipment to fight data breaches and maintain a security posture capable of mitigating the growing list of cyberthreats. Yet, despite our best efforts, the risk of data breaches can never be eliminated completely. Which is why it’s so important to remain vigilant and informed about the data threats facing every business today.
The Most Common Types of Cybersecurity Breaches
Cybersecurity breaches can take many forms, but the most sophisticated and prevalent risk vector today is phishing attacks.
Cunning attackers use social engineering strategies and tools to send fraudulent emails or messages that appear to be from legitimate sources to trick recipients into revealing sensitive information or clicking on malicious links that install malware (e.g. viruses, worms, trojans, or ransomware). It’s why phishing awareness training and simulated phishing tests are becoming standard practice across industries.
Credential stuffing is another common type of attack where automated tools rapidly try many username and password combinations (often obtained from previous data breaches) in an attempt to gain unauthorized access to user accounts.
Tracking down the source of a breach can be challenging, as they can stem from both accidental and malicious user behavior.
These are employees or other individuals with legitimate access to the organization’s systems and data who unintentionally cause a data breach, often as a result of human error or lack of knowledge. Examples of such incidents include inadvertently sending sensitive information to the wrong recipient, misconfiguring security settings, or falling victim to phishing attacks.
This category, on the other hand, refers to individuals who deliberately exploit their access to an organization’s systems and data for personal gain or other motives. They wrongfully leverage their legitimate credentials to steal sensitive information, sabotage systems, or facilitate unauthorized access for external actors. A tech CEO helps mitigate the risk of malicious insider breaches by working closely with HR, IT, and security teams to develop and enforce strict access controls, monitor for suspicious activity, and establish clear policies and consequences for violations.
Lost or stolen laptops, smartphones, or removable storage media can lead to data breaches when they contain sensitive information that is not adequately protected. CEOs limit the risk from stolen devices by enforcing BYOD security policies, encryption, and remote wiping capabilities, as well as by educating employees on the importance of physical security and best practices for safeguarding devices, such as not leaving them unattended in public places.
Insider threats and accidental mistakes can cause significant harm, but few breach vectors cause more downtime and loss of productivity than organized cyber attackers. They target vulnerable systems and data with the specific intent to cause harm, steal information, or disrupt operations. And, as mentioned above, phishing has been their most commonly used cyberweapon for the last few years.
Vulnerabilities to Monitor
Easily guessable passwords or insufficient access controls massively enlarge an organization’s attack surface. They allow attackers to gain unauthorized access to systems and data with minimal effort. Reused passwords, easy passwords, and a lack of Multifactor Authentication are weak links in the organization’s defensive posture.
Access obtained through methods such as phishing attacks or data breaches are another vulnerability that can be exploited by malicious actors. In this case, attackers use legitimate credentials to bypass security measures.
Infected systems or devices can be used by criminals as a foothold to gain further access to an organization’s network and data. This can occur when malware or other malicious software is installed on a device, often through phishing attacks or exploiting known vulnerabilities.
Smartphones, laptops, and tablets are a target for cybercriminals due to the increasing amount of sensitive data they hold and the variety of threats they face. Attackers may exploit vulnerabilities in mobile apps, operating systems, or device hardware to compromise data or gain unauthorized access.
Attackers often target vendors or partners with weak security postures to compromise a larger organization. They exploit these weak points in the supply chain to gain unauthorized access.
Company-wide Breach Prevention Tools and Strategies
Cybersecurity can be improved to prevent data breaches by adopting a comprehensive approach that includes people, methods, and technology. A CEO plays a significant role in this process, as we are responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations and ensuring that our organization’s resources are allocated effectively.
Foster a Security-Minded Culture
A CEO must promote security across the organization, including practices like using high-grade encryption for sensitive data, both at rest and in transit. Encryption protects data by rendering it unreadable to unauthorized users.
Enforce Regular Updates and Patches
One of the fundamental best practices for avoiding a data breach is to promptly patch and update software as soon as new versions become available (and to sunset systems that are no longer being supported). This is because attackers often exploit known vulnerabilities in outdated software. It’s vital to work closely with the IT department to ensure that patch management and software updates are prioritized and executed in a timely manner.
Promote Employee Training and Awareness
The C-Suite, HR, and the security team have to work in concert to integrate cybersecurity training into the onboarding process and to provide ongoing education for all employees. This includes promoting awareness of phishing attacks, safe password practices, the importance of Multifactor Authentication, and the proper handling of sensitive information.
Adopt a Risk-Based Approach
From the top of the organization, it’s easier to see the overview and support the implementation of a risk-based approach to cybersecurity that identifies the most critical assets and prioritizes their protection. This includes conducting regular risk assessments, implementing appropriate security controls, and continuously monitoring and updating the organization’s security posture.
Monitor All Vendors
CEOs work with procurement and legal teams to establish guidelines for evaluating the security practices of potential vendors and incorporating security requirements into contracts. Additionally, continuous monitoring and assessment of the security posture of suppliers and partners can help minimize the risk of a data breach originating from the supply chain.
Incident Response Planning
Lastly, if a breach does occur, organizational leaders must have a practical and well-defined incident response plan in place, with clear roles and responsibilities for all stakeholders. This requires close collaboration with all relevant departments to develop, test, and maintain the plan, as well as conducting regular drills to ensure preparedness in the event of a breach.