7 Steps to Data Leak Prevention For Your Organization

Leaky Data Faucet

Data theft or leaks are increasingly common in today's interconnected world. For most businesses, collaborating with external users is essential. Whether you’re sending clients confidential documents for signatures or sharing a report with external stakeholders, keeping data secure is essential. However, the idea of data leak prevention is often daunting for organizations, especially when you are not sure where to begin.

Where Do Data Leaks Happen?

Data leaks can begin in many ways, sometimes even by accident or without malicious intent. When working with external users, the risk of data leaks increases due to online file and information sharing. The most common cause of data breaches leading to losses are innocent mistakes from internal or external users, hackers, and those with malicious intent.

All three causes can be of concern when you are working with external users. Whether it be a previous client with malicious intent, an external user who accidentally shares information or an external user falling victim to a phishing scam. Even large companies such as T-Mobile, with extensive IT departments, are prone to data breaches. The severity and increased occurrence of data breaches highlight the need for all companies involved in file or information sharing to take steps to protect themselves and their clients from data loss. All of these scenarios are common but can be prevented with the right action plan in place.

7-Step Guide to Prevent a Data Leak

Using a file-sharing platform is often the solution that organizations choose to implement to protect their data. However, popular file-sharing platforms such as Dropbox and MOVEit are not as secure as they promise. In 2023, MOVEit experienced a data breach from hackers that stole users' data and leaked it to the public. How does this happen? In this particular case, the lack of security on the file-sharing platforms left users vulnerable to hackers with malicious intent. However, data leaks happen in many ways. These are our tips to prevent a data leak.

1. Audit your data

Knowing where to begin is always the hardest step. With data leak prevention, the best place to start is by understanding what data you need to protect from leaks. You should audit what sensitive data you possess, where it is stored, and who - both internally and externally - has access to the data. Through regular audits, you can gain insights into the accessibility, usage, and movement of your sensitive information, helping you understand where weaknesses lie.

  • Within your internal team, you are looking to identify and mitigate risks that come from an employee's actions and ensure everyone complies with your security. Things you may want to consider are:
    • Are employees using proper file-sharing protocols?
    • Are employees sharing passwords or other sensitive information through email?
    • Who is downloading files?
    • Does everyone who has access to that group need access?

With external users, you should also regularly audit which information they have access to and determine if there are any areas where you can minimize your risk. This may include revoking access or removing users from specific groups.

By understanding the full lifecycle of your data, you can proactively address any gaps and implement the necessary solutions to prevent a data leak before it occurs.

2. Train staff on the importance of data protection

Training your staff to not only be vigilant but to take action to prevent data leaks is essential, especially when they are interacting with people outside your organization. Within your organization, your employees are your first line of defence against data leaks, so keeping them informed will help protect you from threats originating within your organization. Training sessions will empower your employees to understand the significance of safeguarding sensitive information, adhering to your security protocols, and recognizing phishing attempts or malicious activities. They may also help you identify areas where you have weaknesses. For example, Dark IT practices, where employees use unauthorized software is a common and dangerous occurrence in organizations that may be resolved through proper education.

3. Practice safe data sharing: secure file transfer protocol (STFP)

Having a secure file transfer protocol (STFP) in place is crucial to prevent the accidental and malicious leaking of data. The best way to implement a secure file transfer protocol is to implement a data portal, where information can be shared securely. Sharing files in emails or through insecure file-sharing websites is a leading cause of data breaches. In a survey of IT professionals, 83% of them indicated that data breaches originated from employees accidentally sharing secure information. These breaches occurred through email, messaging apps, and insecure file-sharing platforms.

Secure data portals, such as the Extranet User Manager Data Room, prevent employees and external users from sharing sensitive information through insecure channels. It safeguards data in transit, preventing interception or unauthorized access during transmission. This is particularly useful when sharing confidential information with external users such as clients or stakeholders. Implementing a secure data portal not only mitigates the risk of data leaks resulting from human error or insider threats but also establishes a robust defence against external cyber threats such as interception, unauthorized access, or data tampering.

4. Keep hardware and software updated

Keeping your hardware and software updated is critical to protecting your organization against data breaches both internally and externally. Outdated systems may contain vulnerabilities that can be exploited by malicious insiders, leading to data leaks. Updated hardware with the latest security features reduces your risk of an internal data leak.

Maintaining up-to-date software versions protects you against the threat of external cybercriminals who target outdated systems. Software companies are constantly updating their systems to outsmart hackers. By keeping all of your hardware and software updated, you are minimizing your risk of internal or external data leaks in the face of evolving cyber threats.

5. Monitor user activity

Monitoring your user activity, from both internal and external users, is an important step in preventing a data leak. Tracking the user activity of your internal employees allows you to get ahead of any malicious activity from disgruntled employees. You can start by identifying any unusual activity or behaviour that might indicate an employee has the potential to mishandle your information.

Tracking your external user activity is also beneficial by allowing you to check who is accessing your data, and acting swiftly to prevent any unwanted access. User activity monitoring is an indispensable element in creating a proactive and resilient cybersecurity strategy that safeguards against the multifaceted challenges posed by data breaches.

6. Use multifactor authentication (MFA)

To protect against unauthorized users entering your secure portal, it is important to take every precaution necessary. Often, organizations opt for multifactor authentication (MFA). We all know that annoying feeling that comes when reaching for your phone to get a code to log into an account. And despite that moment of annoyance, MFAs are an incredibly important tool in keeping unauthorized users out. By having two steps in your login process, you can prevent 99% of account compromisations. That momentary feeling of annoyance is nothing compared to the long, expensive, and drawn-out process that follows a data breach stemming from a compromised account.

7. Create a response plan

Finally, even though we all hope a data breach never happens, it is always better to be prepared. In the event of a data breach, having a well-defined response plan ensures a swift and coordinated reaction from your team, minimizing the potential impact on your business operations, reputation, and the confidentiality of your clients as well as your data. Your response plan should guide your teams through identification, containment, investigation, and recovery, allowing you to effectively mitigate the breach's impact and prevent future incidents.

So, what are you doing to protect your data? Contact us if you would like to learn more about Data Room, our secure document exchange tool.

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