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How to Defend Against Data Hacks (Even If You’re Not an IT Specialist)

Heather Mueller
September 3, 2020
Min Read

If you find yourself losing sleep over cybersecurity concerns, you’re far from alone.

Data security breaches cost companies an estimated $380,000 per incident. And these days, no one is immune.

Just one set of stolen credentials could eviscerate an enterprise budget, and attacks against small and medium-sized businesses are more frequent and sophisticated than ever before. Throw in a global pandemic or unanticipated widespread disruption, and the risks multiply four-fold as hackers prey on anxiety and confusion to trick users into parting with highly sensitive information.

Yes, it’s scary. But there are ways to keep your business assets protected. Once you understand where the dangers lurk, you can begin to take the necessary steps to increase security.

Understanding the different types of data security threats

Before you can begin to protect against a data security breach, it helps to understand some of the most common methods hackers use to steal data.

Malware is malicious software that, once installed, can be used to compromise data. Spyware, keyloggers, and viruses are all examples of malware. These programs can be installed when a user is tricked into clicking a link or hitting a download button, or when an operating system hasn’t been updated with the latest security upgrades. Once installed, the malware is used to track activity, record sensitive information, and ultimately steal your data.

Phishing is a type of scam where fake emails masquerade as legitimate messages. Phishing emails often appear to come from a familiar sender, such as the recipient’s bank or an online shopping platform, but contain slight modifications that can be easy to overlook at a glance. They usually convey a sense of urgency and use scare tactics to compel recipients to take action, such as entering sensitive data into a site they’ve been led to believe comes from their financial institution or other trusted source.

Smishing is similar to phishing, but is used to trick people into providing private information through an SMS message. According to anti-virus software company Norton, smishing is particularly scary because “sometimes people tend to be more inclined to trust a text message than an email.”

Unsecured networks have long been a known concern among business professionals, but are becoming increasingly important as more employees work remotely. Unsecured networks are most typically found in public spaces such as coffee shops, airports, and libraries. Because they lack many of the most important security features that come with corporate networks, it’s easy for hackers to intercept information that flows through public WiFi.

These aren’t the only threats to corporate security, but they’re some of the most prominent. Which is why, if you’re going to help keep data security breaches at bay, you’ll need to start taking steps to defend against them.

3 key steps to defending against data security breaches

No matter what industry you’re in or how big (or small) your business is, there are several critical steps every company should take to defend against hacking attempts.

1. Data security training

Your users are your first line of defense, so it’s critically important that anyone who works for your company—full-time employees, part-time staff, temporary hires, and even contractors—knows what red flags to watch for.

Cybercriminals are getting more sophisticated, and many scams can be difficult to detect. Recent studies show that six in 10 people are at risk of falling for phishing scams. For the fast-moving employee who doesn’t have time to stop and analyze every email and text message, all it takes is one click on an unsafe link for sensitive information to leak.

Whether you conduct formal training, bring in a consultant, or provide easy-to-use guidelines, providing training on the basics of data security should be a top priority.

2. Data encryption

The sheer volume of data that’s transmitted over the internet means there’s a wealth of information at risk—every second of every day.

The world was already capturing 2.5 quintillion bytes of data a day before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that 50% of Americans are working from home, even more information is being shared through Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other business apps. Left unsecured, your intellectual property could be easy to intercept.

To help keep sensitive data from prying eyes, using data encryption is essential. Put simply, this process scrambles content into an unreadable format until it reaches the intended recipient for decryption, making sensitive information undecipherable to anyone else.

3. Choose apps carefully

This is one of the easiest steps to overlook. Which is important to note, since it’s also one of the most critical.

The average business uses anywhere from 102 to 288 different SaaS apps. Given their widespread use, it can be easy to assume popular web-based applications come with all of the necessary security features you need built right in.

Unfortunately, data protection is not always a given.

Now that 43% of data security breaches are attacks on web apps, it’s more important than ever to do your due diligence when selecting vendors. Before signing up for a new subscription, check for key features such as data encryption, email encryption, and compliance standards.

These three steps aren’t the only ways to safeguard sensitive data, but they’re some of the most important. As you begin to address them, keep in mind that any measures you put in place should be easy for your employees to adopt. The last thing you want to do is complicate the user experience with too many security-related restrictions, since this can lead employees to look for their own risky workarounds.

Everyone at your organization plays an important role in the fight against cybercrime. And with the right set of security solutions in place, you can all work together to help keep security breaches at bay.

Looking for a way to increase security, without complicating or confusing the employee experience? See how Formstack’s security features help you ensure data protection and privacy—and keep productivity flowing.


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Heather Mueller
Heather is a website copywriter and digital content strategist who loves helping brands generate leads through the power of the written word—especially when using Formstack. Connect with Heather on Twitter @heathermueller.
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