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Decoding the Hierarchy of Data Protection

By Andreas Rivera
Business.com / Computers / Last Modified: April 23, 2018
Image credit: Wright Studio/Shutterstock

From endpoint protection to cyber insurance and employee education, find out what data protection measures small businesses should prioritize.

More than ever, businesses are being assaulted by thousands of cyberattacks to gain access to their sensitive data or hold it hostage for a quick payday with ransomware. Contrary to headlines proclaiming the latest large corporation (and its customers) involved in a massive data breach, these attacks primarily target small business. Small to medium-size businesses need some form of protection from these attacks. However, they don't always have the resources to fully protect themselves.

In a perfect world, your small business would have a comprehensive solution for data protection that prevents or responds to attacks, accounts for hardware failures and will keep your business running even during emergencies. This requires multiple services and software solutions, however, and can be a tremendous cost for small businesses. So, what are these solutions and what priority should small businesses give them if they can only afford to have a few of them?

1. Employee education

The most important data protection solution is, fortunately, the most affordable and one that every business should practice. One of the most common causes of data breaches or successful malware attacks is caused by human error.

Cyberattackers use social engineering to unleash phishing attacks on employees, deceiving them with convincing emails to get them to open malicious links or attachments or send their login information. According to a data breach study by Verizon, one in five breaches are caused by human error. So no matter how much security software or protection services you have, your system can still be compromised with simple mistakes.

Educating employees on cybersecurity practices should be part of your business's regular training curriculum. Teaching employees not to immediately open attachments and to watch for telltale signs of a phishing email will prevent many disasters. Creating strong, varied passwords is also key to securing your employees' endpoints. Fortunately, there are many affordable and free resources online you can use to train employees. Remember to continually refresh employees' knowledge on cybersecurity throughout the work year. [RELATED: Security Training Programs: How to Set One Up for Your Small Business.]

2. Data backup

Having regularly scheduled backups stored in a secure and trusted location is one of the best defenses to many data breach situations. If your main network is infiltrated by ransomware, rather than pay the ransom, you can wipe the system and turn to your backup. If your servers are damaged by a natural disaster, but your backup was kept in a different location and is fine, then it just takes a short time to get back up and running.

Redundancy is an important practice when it comes to data storage. Having more than one backup exponentially increases the safety net you have for your data, especially if those backups are varied in type and location.

One of the fastest growing types of backup systems are hybrid systems, which involve backing up your data to an on-premises device as well as to a cloud backup service. If one backup is compromised, you can turn to the other one. [RELATED: Best Cloud Storage and Online Backup Services]

3. Endpoint protection

An endpoint is any device or peripheral that connects users to a network as well as to the greater internet. Computers, such as desktops, laptops and servers, are endpoints. Smartphones are endpoints. Even certain internet of things (IoT) devices can be considered endpoints. Without protection, these devices can be infiltrated by hackers who then go after your data or hold it hostage.

Most computers come with an anti-malware or firewall program preinstalled, such as Windows Defender. However, a comprehensive endpoint protection solution is much better protection and can defend against more than run-of-the-mill computer viruses.

Anti-malware and firewalls only counter known threats that are recorded in an online database. Sophisticated endpoint detection and response programs use machine learning to scout for suspicious activity and isolate suspected connections and applications. They then close the endpoint to the network if a connection is suspected to be malicious, protecting the company's system. These programs are usually part of a suite of cybersecurity software and solutions and go much farther than a business anti-malware tool. [RELATED: Best Internet Security & Antivirus Software]

4. Cyber insurance

Sometimes data breaches happen despite best efforts to prevent them. In these cases, it's good to have a safety net for mitigating the costs from fallout. Liability insurance for cybersecurity incidents comes in two types of coverage. First-party coverage helps you recoup your own expenses from downtime, repairs and other lost income. Third-party coverage is perhaps even more important, as it covers claims outside your company, typically from customers and clients who were negatively impacted by the data breach.

Many insurance companies offer services for your customers, such as identity theft services and credit monitoring. Ideally, you want insurance that provides both types of coverage, but to retain your customers and salvage your company's reputation, put customers' privacy concerns first, because you can be held liable for their losses and be taken to court. Certain policies also help you with legal fees and can provide PR resources. [RELATED: Cyber Liability Insurance: Do Businesses Really Need It?]

5. Data recovery

Data recovery software and services can be miracle workers. Data lost due to accidental deletion, malware wreaking havoc or hardware damage can still be recovered. Whenever data is deleted from a hard drive, it doesn't actually go away. Instead, the user's pathway to that data is cut, but the data remains on the hard drive until it's overwritten by new data. Data recovery software can access the hard drive to reverse this data deletion, even if the hard drive was formatted during a factory reset. Data recovery services go further, using forensic techniques in a cleanroom environment to retrieve data from even the most damaged hard drives.

Data recovery software is most effective when it's already installed on your system, since you run the risk of overwriting the data you're trying to recover by installing it after the fact. Ultimately, the fact remains that data recovery is never a sure thing. It's a good fallback if other data-protection methods fail; however, it should be considered a last resort and not a frontline defense, especially when compared to data backup. [RELATED: Data Recovery Services & Software]

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