Six steps to avoid becoming a data breach statistic

In the first half of 2015, 246 million records were breached globally and 82% were classed as mega-breaches, because of the numbers of records hacked. Often, the first an organisation knows of their systems being compromised is when an external party tells them.

Even where this isn’t the case, data breach notification obligations mean businesses can’t always remain silent about a breach while they deal with the fallout. As a result, rarely a month goes by without a news story on a high profile data breach emerging.

Whether from malicious hackers, an insider job or employee errors, there are a number of proactive steps organisations can take to mitigate the risk avoid becoming one of this year’s data breach statistics.

Address authentication

Stolen credentials are a prime entry point to systems for hackers. Introducing Identity and Access Management (IAM) technology means that regardless of how a network and data is being accessed, it’s being accessed securely through correct identity mapping, correct access assignments and robust authentication flows.

> See also: A retailer's guide to cyber security

Enterprise IAM solutions can even provide real-time, continuous risk analysis on users, detailing who has access to what, who has access to privileged resources, their activity and summarising their behaviour and access rights with a risk score per user.

Enhance security around applications

Building on this, one of the best practices for securing data is extending security around applications by using multi-factor authentication – providing several separate items of evidence to be authenticated – right across systems.

This can mean, for example, proving identity through possession of a hardware token in addition to the user’s password. Multi-factor authentication should particularly be used for granting access to privileged users.

Limit access to systems and applications and apply fine grained controls

However, the fact that someone has established his or her identity as an employee should not result in unfettered access. It’s important to work on the principle of least privilege here to ensure employees only have access to the services they really need.

Should everyone have root access to server? Should everyone have access to every system? Routing access through a single point, role based access can be used to limit who has right to use to which systems and applications. In general, businesses need to be more rigorous on who has access to what.

Finally, businesses should consider provisioning and de-provisioning systems to help with automating new hire enrolment and performing necessary clean up tasks when employees leave. No one wants a disgruntled employee using their old account to hack into the company network.

Test, monitor and learn on a daily basis

The most common means of hacker into a company’s network are through exploiting system vulnerabilities, default passwords, SQL injections, and targeted malware attacks and these need to be continually monitored for.

Constantly testing how robust systems and services are, phishing and probing for weak points and possible points of entry should form part of the IT team’s daily tasks. Monitoring and auditing is useful not only in ‘after the fact’ analysis of how the business was breached but also as an upfront real-time proactive measure to help an organisation avoid breaches in the first place.

IT systems provide a plethora of data every day that can be analysed and used to mitigate breaches before they happen. This should include regular checks on control systems such as password settings, firewall configuration, public facing server configuration, open ports, reducing opportunities of exposure.

Any public facing SSH servers that are vital for business operations should be locked behind firewalls just like other public facing systems with root access disabled. Any server with port 22 open will likely be bombarded by brute force password attempts from XOR.DDoS botnets and so an IP restriction policy needs to be imposed or the server placed behind an SSH gateway that can monitor and protect access to the critical servers behind.

If the worst does happen, data leak prevention software can help even once a hacker is in to prevent, block and alert access of sensitive data.

Password management and self service

Password management and self-service solutions can also be part of an organisation’s security arsenal and help mitigate against data breaches.

Access to the network may be well locked down with applications secured behind firewalls and DMZ’s or perimeter network, authentication and IAM in place, but one element that can be lacking is security from the end user’s perspective in the form of a password policy and password management.

> See also: Companies should NOT force companies to keep changing their passwords – GCHQ

Passwords are so commonplace that people can become complacent with their use. Repeated, simple, low entropy passwords can result in increased attack vectors.

Password self-service solutions can help combat identity theft, account hacking, data theft and improve security practices of end users by introducing strong password policies with the ability for a user to self-reset should they forget.

Hackers rely heavily on mining information from social networking sites, so employees should avoid using the same passwords on social sites as they do on accessing company resources.

Create a security-aware culture

There is one final element that is less to do with systems, authentication and access, but can make a huge difference to how successfully an organisation can stand up to a potential hack – culture. Best practice in network, systems and data security needs to be enshrined in a strong and well communicated security policy.

It needs to be embedded with a company’s culture, rigorously monitored and taken seriously at every level – from the CEO down.

Key protocols here include having unified data protection policies that cross the entire organisation, and a consistent policy across all servers, networks, computers, devices to help reduce risk.

A prevent and response plan needs to be constantly updated, outlining critical actions in the event of a breach, for example locking and moving sensitive information.

While reports of data breaches might be appear to be getting more frequent and the hackers ever more sophisticated, the reality is that most data breaches are low level in their complexity and are often the result of simple employee error.

Following these steps and employing security best practices throughout the organisation covering everything from office security to password, authentication and access policies will go a long way to reducing the chances of a breach.

Sourced from Lee Painter, CEO Hypersocket Software

Avatar photo

Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

Related Topics