The Best Practices to Prevent Data Breaches in Today’s Cyber Threat Landscape

best practices to detect data breaches

From small businesses to the corporate ‘big fish,’ all sorts of companies fear a data breach situation. There are many different kinds of insider threats and cyberattacks that can result in a data breach, where the company loses sensitive data, triggering liabilities and other problems.

So what are some of the top security vulnerabilities that let hackers in, and how do business leaders prevent them? We’ll go through some of the best practices as recommended by cybersecurity experts to keep networks and data safe.

Top Vulnerabilities And How To Prevent Attacks

If you’re wondering about what most often threatens network systems and data assets, here are some of the top troubles that security teams encounter, along with active solutions that foil cyberattacks like these. 

Phishing and Social Engineering

One of the most common types of cyberattacks involves a fundamental vulnerability in any system – human error.

In general, phishing attacks seek to get unwitting users to give up credentials or other data by tricking or deceiving employees into clicking on something, or otherwise allowing hackers to gain access.

Then there’s a particular category of attack called ‘spearphishing’ where hackers do their research and target a specific individual with business system access. When they do this at a high level, for example, to a CEO or department head, it’s sometimes called ‘whaling.’

How do you foil these types of attacks? In any human-in-the-loop system, where people can be the weakest link, it starts with phishing awareness. A well-rounded employee training strategy  reminds everyone of the ways that hackers can exploit them through phishing attacks.

But in many cases, the training isn’t enough. Companies want to be sure that employees have internalized these issues, and know how to ‘just say no’ to the tempting bait in a social engineering attack. Firms can then conduct phishing testing, where simulated phishing attempts are created and sent to employees to test their malicious email identification skills.

Another way to harden any HITL system is to include more prominent warnings in communication software that remind people that hackers may be trying to steal their data.

Ransomware

In the modern age, ransomware is a common type of cyberattack that’s feared around the world. With ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS), where criminals essentially sell digital ransomware ‘kits’ to others, the ransomware attack is unfortunately becoming ubiquitous in business IT systems.

There is one overarching way to deal with ransomware, and that is with comprehensive and regular data backups. If the company has a consistent and secure backup strategy, the ransomware attack may fail, since the backups provide the company with a data safety net that allows operations to continue if it falls victim to a ransomware attack. 

Still, sensitive data might get out. That makes other cybersecurity strategies necessary in order to have a defense that can stand up to modern threats. Traditional measures like firewalls and having employees use a VPN provide additional security. Then, endpoint monitoring can track user and entity (device) behavior to detect compromises. 

Worms  

A type of malware called ‘worms’ has been popular for some time with malicious black hat parties.

For example, there’s the SQL Slammer worm that compromises database operations and can steal data out of a company network.

Companies have found various solutions to many of these software worms including updated antivirus software, system updates and application patches from vendors who have learned how worms target their applications (in the case of SQL Slammer, a Microsoft update will do the trick.)

Remote Desktop Attacks

Remote Desktop is another very common type of cyberattack. It may be accomplished through the use of an insider threat that steals credentials, or by some other means, but once hackers have control of someone’s desktop, they can pillage at will.

Experts recommend a firewall (and the abovementioned VPN) for network activity, in order to keep out hackers who want access to your desktop. Certain endpoint monitoring software can help identify and investigate a remote desktop attack when it offers screen recordings of user desktops

See how endpoint monitoring and user behavior analytics to protect against data breaches

Wireless Hotspots

A wireless hotspot is, in some cases, a big vulnerability for network operators. There is an inherent security risk because it’s operating communications in a public setting.

Appropriate WPA – PSK encryption security or a VPN can help  protect wireless hotspots against abuse no matter where they are set up, for example, in airports or other public places.

Then companies have to train their employees to recognize illegitimate networks that seek access to their data by offering them a free wireless connection.

Personal Devices and BYOD

The bring your own device trend started some years ago when businesses realized people could use their own personal mobile phones and devices to access business data off-site.

But there are many ways that hackers use mobile endpoints to attack a company network. In general, experts talk about endpoint device protection with the term Mobile Device Management or MDM. Best practices include fine-tuning eligibility with identity and access management (IAM), creating whitelists of devices permitted to sign onto the network or restricting the work apps and type of work that can be conducted on personal devices. For instance, some devices may only be able to access company data in specific ways. Another tool is the use of lock-in screens to prevent unauthorized use. 

Cloud Systems and Public Exposure

A private cloud is built for one tenant, and one tenant only. But public cloud systems will often hold the resources of multiple companies together. Although there is supposed to be secure partitioning, security problems can develop. The same is true for hybrid systems where public and private cloud structures may coexist.

One of the best defenses is to always have cloud vendors explain and provide reassurance of specific security practices that will keep your data safe in the cloud. Partner with vendors who implement the same level of security, if not better, that your own company would.  This is a good rule of thumb for businesses to follow to ensure their systems remain protected when working with third parties. If vendors, especially cloud vendors, are unable to provide their own system security information, that’s a huge red flag for data safety. 

Misuse of Credentials

Credential theft and reuse is a major threat to businesses of all sizes, as evident by the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack in 2020. Attacks involving credential misuse are often considered attacks stemming from negligent insiders

Identity and access management protocols are aimed at preventing different kinds of credential abuse. Strong password and biometric data are necessary. Multi-factor authentication helps, as does a single sign-on (SSO) procedure. Companies can also train employees on the threat of ‘shoulder surfing,’ where people are trying to get their credentials in a public setting.

Insecure Apps

Another major source of vulnerability is all of the insecure code that can arise in network-connected applications.

The application programming interface or API has become a very popular conduit for data, through the principle of individual applications connecting to a greater architecture, such as a business network. The API helps programs to “talk” to each other, eliminating silos and streamlining cross-platform communications.

But as different apps communicate through their APIs, this can mean that hackers can get into a system through an insecure application.

Companies have to vet API data in order to keep networks safe.  Any time the API acts as a gateway, the core system needs to be contrasted with what’s inside that app and whether there are any upgrades or fixes for that app so attacks ported through these connections can be eliminated.   

Protect data against application misuse

Internet of Things Vulnerabilities

In somewhat the same way that insecure APIs plague network cybersecurity standards, the Internet of Things is also a tremendous attack surface, and a big source of network and cyberattack vulnerabilities.

Businesses have to guard all of these network-connected endpoint devices, whether they are staff tablets and mobile devices, or something more exotic such as an Internet-connected sensor. In service of this overarching goal, new types of network monitoring are extremely helpful: the pursuit of Network Entity Behavior Management reveals more about how data flows through IoT devices individually, and comprehensive management platforms ensure that things like version controls are up to date. As IP-connected devices proliferate, endpoint management has to evolve accordingly. 

Unsecured Data Repositories

A data warehouse or central data facility is important in a business architecture. Modern businesses need a place to store all of their data assets together, including customer and product data, business intelligence, etc. That said, unsecured data repositories are big welcome signs for hackers. Some companies manage their own data warehouse or data center systems, but many others utilize a third party vendor service to host this core component. 

There’s not a lot that companies can do to foolproof security in a vendor’s system (although they can ask the right questions at sign-up time) but regardless of where the data center is located, firms can still analyze data as it moves in and out of its central repository. Endpoint monitoring solutions can play a role in scrutinizing how users are handling the data held in the repositories. Data encryption standards also apply and provide added security. 

Misconfigured Cloud Servers

Cloud servers need to be properly configured: for example, engineers will look at whether there is vulnerability from unrestricted inbound and outbound ports. Secrets management and secure backups are other relevant goals. 

Companies can pursue protection of cloud servers with strong authentication for data, which can prevent common  events like distributed denial of service attacks. Stakeholders should look for instances of overly permissive access, and make sure that encryption settings are adequate. 

SQL Injection

An SQL injection attack targets database operations. This is a major vulnerability that can be addressed through best practices in data.

One of these is zero trust protocol – that will vet every type of operator request. In general, systems should validate input – in other words, they should look at SQL queries and retrieval practices, and make sure they are aboveboard.

Unpatched Issues

Some security experts refer to these as “zero-day” exploits. The basic premise is that vendors and the security community have not yet caught a new vulnerability in an application or system.

One thing that companies can do is utilize user analytics like those available from Teramind. This method scours network activity for suspicious signs and uses a type of artificial intelligence to figure out where threats may be occurring. By scanning user and entity behavior analytics, those with the responsibility for secure systems can spot where a threat may be latent, or developing. The detailed analysis can leverage past data to predict the vectors of future attacks.

Microsoft Office 365

Here’s another one of the most common vulnerabilities that businesses overlook; nearly any kind of business needs to supply the Microsoft Office suite for their staff. It’s a go-to for any kind of communications commonly involved in modern business – with MS Word, MS Excel spreadsheets, MS PowerPoint for presentations – and much more.

However, shockingly, some studies have found that a full 85% of user businesses experience email data breaches connected to MS Office 365 service.

What can you do? First of all, companies can tweak policies to make this particular attack service more resistant to threats. They can conduct data backups to limit and mitigate the outcomes. Companies also need to be proactive about using available patches: Microsoft routinely offers these fixes as security pros identify common hacker attack vectors. Sitting on these resources can leave companies vulnerable in a big way. 

Conclusion

In a world where the threat of attack rises everyday, cybersecurity is too often overlooked, but these best practices to prevent data breaches can be used to create a well-rounded security strategy that accounts for all types of data loss events.

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