Data Breach Prevention: Tactics, Techniques & Tools

how to prevent data breaches

Data Breach Prevention: 14 Tactics, Techniques & Tools

Chances are, every single person who reads this article has experienced a data breach at least once: a phishing email that looked like a late bill fee but led to identity theft, an accidental email sent including proprietary company or customer data, a parent calling to ask if they should send money to a prince abroad (after the fact), or an open backpack that resulted in the physical theft of a mobile device.

Since the dawn of digital, data breaches have become ubiquitous, cross-industry, department-agnostic occurrences that can inflict severe financial losses and reputational damage to those who suffer them – including the loss of value-defining intellectual property. These breaches occur in many different circumstances, from security system vulnerabilities like weak security practices and unevolved policies to malicious insider threats and even simple, unintended human error.

Cyber threats continue to evolve, and businesses must follow suit. Our table below highlights 14 essential methods your organization can use to prevent data breaches. Each strategy focuses on a specific aspect of a holistic cybersecurity system. Further details about each method can be found below the table.

Implementing one or a few may get your company closer to real digital security, but a concerted effort to deploy all these practices will significantly bolster security posture against unauthorized access, both inside and outside your business.

Implement Strong Access ControlsLimit unauthorized access by using multi-factor authentication (MFA) and role-based access controls (RBAC). Conduct regular user access privilege reviews.
Encrypt Data at Rest and in TransitUse strong encryption algorithms (e.g., AES with 256-bit key) for stored data and protocols like TLS for data in transit.
Regularly Update and Patch SystemsImplement a robust patch management process, including automated tools, to minimize exploitation risks from outdated software.
Use Data Loss Prevention (DLP) ToolsEmploy DLP solutions to identify, classify, and monitor sensitive data in real-time, enforcing security policies and providing actionable insights.
Conduct Regular Security AssessmentsPerform vulnerability scanning and penetration testing regularly to identify and address security flaws proactively.
Implement Data Backup and Recovery MechanismsMaintain consistent, frequent backups of vital data, securely store them, and establish a comprehensive disaster recovery plan.
Develop and Enforce Security PoliciesCreate and implement policies such as Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), Incident Response Plan (IRP), and guidelines for remote access.
Set Up an Insider Risk ProgramMonitor user activity, conduct cybersecurity audits, and educate employees about insider threats to prevent internal security incidents.
Educate and Train EmployeesProvide comprehensive security training, including phishing simulations, to help employees recognize and respond to potential threats.
Secure Mobile DevicesUse Mobile Device Management (MDM) solutions to encrypt data, enforce security policies, and enable remote wiping of lost or stolen devices.
Monitor Network ActivityImplement Intrusion Detection and Prevention Systems (IDPS) and Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) systems to analyze and respond to network threats.
Implement Third-Party Risk ManagementConduct regular risk assessments of vendors and partners, and establish contractual obligations for data security.
Regularly Test and Update Incident Response PlansPerform tabletop exercises to simulate security incidents, and update response plans based on lessons learned and evolving threats.
Implement Network SegmentationDivide the network into isolated parts with separate security controls to limit the impact of potential breaches and contain attacks.

1. Implement Strong Access Controls

Strong access controls are fundamental to data protection: this is digital security 101 in this era of hybrid and remote workforces. Protecting sensitive data from unauthorized access and potential data breaches starts with a proper multi-factor authentication (MFA) approach. 

This simply means a user must provide two or more verification factors for access. Typical MFA inputs include a password—and often both a strong password policy and a password manager—a security token or biometric verification such as fingerprint or facial recognition.

For more advanced security systems, role-based access controls (RBAC) ensure users have the minimum level of access only and as related to their core jobs. Why is this important? Forrester Research recently commented that companies using RBAC had a 55% reduction in unauthorized access incidents. 

Indeed, RBAC reduces breach risk by limiting access to sensitive data and systems. Couple this with regular user access privilege reviews—periodic audits to identify and revoke unnecessary permissions—to create a more predictable access control system for staff and security teams.

2. Encrypt Data at Rest and in Transit

Encrypting your company’s data, wherever it is stored and however it moves, can be daunting. However, encryption ensures sensitive information remains unreadable (and thus protected) without a specific key. Strong encryption algorithms start with an Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) and a unique 256-bit key.

But don’t stop there: encrypting data during transmission is just as important. Are you familiar with the concept of Transport Layer Security (TLS)? TLS is commonly used to encrypt data as it moves between clients and servers, which prevents interception by bad actors. 

Think of financial transactions or PII exchanges: these data have significant value. Encryption protocols like TLS keep company data secure in transit, preventing potential breaches. A 2023 survey conducted by Cybersecurity Ventures found that companies employing robust encryption methods experienced a 40% reduction in data breach attacks.

3. Regularly Update and Patch Systems

Cybercriminals frequently exploit outdated software as an unauthorized person to access internal business networks and information. How do you combat this? With a robust patch management process that includes regular updates to minimize exploitation risk. 

Utilizing automated patch management tools, which can scan systems for missing patches, deploy updates, and even generate detailed, triaged reports, can be very helpful for streamlining timely updates and, when implemented efficiently, reduce IT workloads. 

If you are still unconvinced, consider the 2017 Equifax data breach caused by a failure to patch a known vulnerability. 147 million user accounts suffered from that breach!

4. Use Data Loss Prevention (DLP) Tools

Data loss prevention (DLP) tools are now an option for any company that wants to protect itself from unauthorized users and sensitive data transfer. DLP solutions, at their most basic, identify and classify sensitive organizational data and monitor it in real time to reduce the time to incident response.

A good DLP tool will automatically track and visualize data flows so system admins can easily see when an unusual pattern may indicate the exfiltration or mishandling of sensitive data.

DLP tools also enforce security policies in the context of user behavior and regulatory requirements – which companies often overlook or underestimate in terms of impact/cost of impact. A great DLP solution will provide detailed reports to specific stakeholders and analytics that naturally lead to actionable insights, as defined by the organization. These tools are an easy-to-implement way to avoid a breach, operational stops, and reputation damage.

5. Conduct Regular Security Assessments

Conducting regular security risk assessments is not just a suggestion, it’s a proactive measure that can significantly reduce your organization’s vulnerability to cyberattacks. In 2023, Gartner offered a simple insight: organizations that conducted regular security risk assessments experienced 50% fewer successful cyberattacks relative to those companies that didn’t.

These regular assessments must focus on vulnerability scanning and penetration testing. Vulnerability scanning fundamentally detects flaws in your security systems and ideally prioritizes swift remediation. Penetration testing, conducted by hackers for hire who have experience poking at security systems, simulates a range of real-world attacks to uncover vulnerabilities that automated scans might miss. 

With a deeper understanding of potential threats, the business can adapt before a ransomware attack causes damage, offering invaluable insights into the effectiveness of existing security measures. Specifically, penetration testing should be carried out annually at a minimum or whenever the security team deploys significant changes to the network or applications.

6. Implement Data Backup and Recovery Mechanisms

If your business operations are suspended, you cannot serve your customers. This is the foundational tenet behind business continuity, and it starts with a data backup strategy. Data backup must include consistent, frequent backups of all vital organizational data and the secure storage of this data. Whereas offsite (off-premise) storage protects backups from physical damage or malware attacks, cloud solutions are plentiful and offer scalability and additional security measures.

Next, consider a disaster recovery plan and the following two principles. Create detailed procedures for restoring backups and checking that critical systems operate as expected. Schedule disaster recovery plan tests and poke at potential weaknesses to highlight any adjustments or policies needing emphasis. Backup and recovery are ultimately about proactive protection.

7. Develop and Enforce Security Policies

Guiding employee behavior through security practice is a must in the context of breach prevention. Start with an acceptable use policy (AUP) to define how your organization identifies and uses data so that employees know what is acceptable and what is not. Then, consider an incident response plan (IRP) to outline specific response procedures and coordination, including steps for identification, containment, eradication, and recovery from a range of breach incidents.

Additionally, create and implement governance for remote access – critical in a hybrid workforce model to reduce the risk of unauthorized access. This policy should specify security measures surrounding any remote access application or touchpoint within the corporate network, like virtual private networks (VPNs) and multi-factor authentication (as discussed above).

8. Set Up an Insider Risk Program

Insider threats can be incredibly tricky to detect and address. No company wants to think its employees could threaten the business, particularly in the context of critically valuable intellectual property. However, those employees need legitimate access to systems and data to do their jobs properly. 

So, companies must architect appropriate insider risk programs—coherently designed and communicated to employees and system admins—to avoid the potential for insider threats.

Where does insider risk mitigation start? With basic user activity monitoring, which simply means acquiring and refreshing clear views of user behavior and related analytics from both baseline and anomaly perspectives. This allows for accurate cybersecurity audits to detect suspicious behavior that then becomes input to advanced policies and an overall evolution of security infrastructure that anticipates changes in the threat environment. 

Monitoring and detection also lead to accurate, consistent employee training. Educating employees about the risks of insider threats and encouraging them to report suspicious behavior is proven to help prevent incidents before they escalate.

9. Educate and Train Employees

Employee education is one of any security system’s least emphasized but most important aspects. Often treated as a low-level compliance item, employee training is vital to your cybersecurity strategy. Security training programs teach employees how to recognize and respond to potential threats. 

The reality is that at some point, one of your employees, potentially even an executive, will click the wrong CTA button on an email phishing attack. A common prevention method is phishing simulations. These exercises test employees’ ability to identify phishing attempts, help identify those who need additional training, and reinforce the importance of vigilance.

Finally, make sure any educational training also covers topics such as identifying suspicious emails (crucial), using strong passwords (and avoiding weak passwords), and the basics of protecting sensitive company information in all relevant circumstances.

10. Secure Mobile Devices

Mobile devices contain a lot of sensitive personal data. When used in work contexts, they also accumulate sensitive work and organizational data that can be vulnerable to breaches. Luckily, a bevy of mobile device management (MDM) solutions in the marketplace can help easily enforce established internal security policies.

Simply put, mobile device management tools encrypt data on mobile devices to protect them from unauthorized access. This includes the data stored on the mobile phone and any data transmitted to and from the phone because data in transit is also susceptible to attack. MDM tools generally feature basic device configuration as well as remote data wiping, which is a critical feature in case a physical device is lost or stolen.

11. Monitor Network Activity

For any organization that believes in proactive management of suspicious behavior, whether internal threats or external bad actors, monitoring network activity – and specifically suspicious activity – must be part of your comprehensive security strategy. 

Start with the design of an intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS) to control for malicious activity in real-time terms. IDPS systems automatically analyze network traffic for malicious behavior signals like common attack signatures and malicious links and react to potential threats with blocks or real-time alerts.

Next, consider a security information and event management (SIEM) system. SIEM is now a ubiquitous industry term but not always a ubiquitous security system tool. SIEM systems effectively aggregate and analyze logs from all tagged sources to comprehensively view network activity. 

SIEM tools are also excellent for event correlation across systems. When set up correctly, they automatically alert system admins with event details, like the scope and source of a brute force attack, as well as protocol recommendations.

12. Implement Third-Party Risk Management

Third-party risk management applies to your third-party vendors and partners and fundamentally involves regular, structured risk assessments for both. Why do this? Conducting thorough vendor risk assessments helps identify and mitigate outside vulnerabilities, like those within your supply chain or partner sales network. The last thing your company needs is a leak of intellectual property or customer lists to an unknown portion of your supply chain or vendor network.

These assessments should, at a minimum, evaluate third-party security practices, policies, and any relevant industry compliance status. An easy way to establish this is at the contract level. Use a standardized and legally reviewed template to bake in contractual obligations for data security for all vendors, including definitions for security gaps, how to resolve them, and timelines for resolution before a contractual issue arises. 

This ensures that all your related third parties use the same consistent framework, reducing the dollar and time cost of those third-party reviews. These contracts should strongly consider requirements surrounding data protection, incident response, regulatory compliance, and the accountability of vendors who breach those requirements.

13. Regularly Test and Update Incident Response Plans

Like some of the previous items discussed, incident response plans require regular, structured testing and updating. These plans change as the digital environment evolves, so updates are inevitable. It’s better to test and redesign in advance of an incident than because of one!

Start with the classic tabletop exercise, simulations of relevant security incidents – including physical security –  that allow your team to practice responses and iterate improvements along the entire system. These exercises should include the security team, employees, line managers, and executives so that everyone understands roles and accountability during an actual incident -like a fire drill – and can act precisely to mitigate the damage as a team.

Updating those incident response plans based on tabletop lessons comes next. Whatever your stakeholders, particularly the security experts, learn during the tabletops should be inputs that refine incident procedures and overall company security policy. Regular updates on regular schedules reflect strict attention to the larger security threat landscape’s constant change—whether that be various attack vectors, technological changes, or even regulatory cycles.

14. Implement Network Segmentation

Network segmentation is a powerful, sophisticated cybersecurity strategy approach. And it is quite literally what it sounds like: the separation of critical network assets from less critical ones. Network segmentation divides a whole network into isolated parts, each equipped with its own security controls, protocols, and policies. This approach is highly effective at limiting security breaches impact as attackers cannot easily move around your company’s  network should they gain access. Thus, segmentation is a proactive breach containment.

There are a few fundamental ways to segment your network. Start by implementing firewalls, virtual LANs (VLANs), and access control lists (ACLs). This combination will enforce a strict set of traffic rules and policies while allowing a more targeted security controls system to grow. Consider that isolating critical IT infrastructure should consider regulatory priorities: financial services businesses like banks must prioritize customer account data first and always.

If you are still not convinced, a 2023 Gartner report showed that companies utilizing network segmentation experienced a 35% decrease in breach-related costs. This is a solid reminder that investing in a breach prevention strategy now can produce material financial savings later.


How can data security breaches be prevented?

Data security breaches can be prevented by implementing a comprehensive security framework with strong access controls, encryption, and regular security audits. Employee training on data handling best practices and the use of data loss prevention (DLP) software can further mitigate risks. Keeping systems and software up-to-date with the latest security patches is crucial in preventing breaches.

What are the four common causes of data breaches? 

The four common causes of data breaches are:

  1. Weak or stolen credentials, such as passwords or access keys
  2. Malware attacks, including ransomware and spyware
  3. Human error, such as accidental disclosure or falling for phishing scams
  4. Insider threats, including malicious employees or contractors who misuse their access to sensitive data. By understanding these common causes, organizations can take targeted steps to mitigate the risk of data breaches.

How do you deal with data breaches?

To deal with data breaches, organizations should promptly take steps such as notifying affected parties, conducting a thorough investigation to identify the cause, and implementing measures to prevent future breaches. Collaborating with cybersecurity professionals and legal experts is crucial to handling the situation effectively and minimizing damage.

How can you protect yourself from data leaks?

To protect yourself from data leaks, you can implement strong passwords, use two-factor authentication, avoid clicking on suspicious links or downloading unknown files, and regularly update your software and stay informed about the latest security practices.

How can data leakage be prevented?

Organizations can implement robust security measures such as strong access controls, data encryption, and regular security audits to prevent data leakage. Employee training on data handling best practices and the use of data loss prevention (DLP) software can also help mitigate the risk of data breaches.

What is the best strategy to limit data leaks?

Implementing a comprehensive security framework with strong access controls, encryption, and regular security audits is the best strategy for limiting data leaks. Additionally, employee training on data handling best practices and the use of data loss prevention (DLP) software can further mitigate the risk of data breaches.


Implementing these 14 strategies will not be easy. Luckily, digital solutions encapsulate some or all of the above within the platform and wrap-around services, including expert consulting from design through maintenance.

Any (every) organization should consider how to review, purchase, and deploy one of those solutions to level up against data breach threats: these tools significantly reduce data breach risk and help frame each of the above-suggested tactics as parts of a holistic security system.

Whether securing connected devices and monitoring user behavior and network activity, executing third-party reviews to mitigate vendor risk, or creating an insider risk program to manage unintentional employee error, these practices collectively enhance an organization’s security posture.

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