Data Loss Prevention for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses
- July 31, 2023
- Posted by: admin
- Category: Uncategorized
Hybrid work models and broadly adopted cloud technology disperse operations extensively; data is moved, stored, and accessed from highly distributed locations. Within such a disseminated environment, cybersecurity hygiene concerns businesses and organisations, especially nowadays, where highly skilled cybercriminals become more active, and their attacks are predicted to intensify further and increase the cost at a 15% annual rate.
In today’s digital age, every business, no matter its size, faces increasing cybersecurity threats, including the risk of data loss that can have severe consequences, ranging from financial losses – with annual costs of $10.5 trillion in 2025 – to disrupted operations and reputational damage.
Not only large enterprises but small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) should realise the threat size, its origin, exogenous or from their inner circle, and the potential impact on their assets. Implementing an effective data loss prevention (DLP) strategy to mitigate these cyber threats and safeguard critical data is imperative.
SMBs are in danger
Data loss refers to the unauthorised or accidental destruction, alteration, or exposure of sensitive information. It can occur through various means, such as hardware failure, human error, negligence, or cybercriminal activities. Understanding the data loss threat and the impact of data loss on SMBs is significant.
The theory that cybercriminals, the sharks, go only for the big fish, the large-sized companies, proved faulty. CyberEdge Group’s ninth annual Cyberthreat Defense Report (CDR) highlighted that ransomware attacks’ main target was mid-sized businesses. This is because such an attack will likely avoid confronting large enterprises’ powerful cybersecurity strongholds or drawing the attention of law enforcement agencies.
On the other hand, small-sized companies are also vulnerable to increasing cybercrime and the rapidly evolving threat landscape since they need more resources to hire security professionals and need more expertise.
Data loss can have severe consequences for SMBs, including financial losses, legal liabilities that can lead to significant regulatory penalties, and loss of customer trust. For SMBs with limited budgets and resources, recovering from data loss incidents can be challenging, if not impossible. Data must be protected against exfiltration and exploitation, and SMBs must prioritise DLP programs to safeguard their data.
DLP strategy for SMBs
DLP refers to various techniques that safeguard information against unauthorised access, disclosure, or loss by threats like accidental data leaks, insider risks, and malicious attacks. Many regulations require businesses to implement a reliable and regulation-compliant DLP strategy, which demands an allocation of adequate resources.
To implement an effective DLP programme, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the types and locations of data an organisation manages. This knowledge helps security experts identify the most valuable and vulnerable data and determine the security measures to protect it.
A robust SMB DLP strategy shall incorporate the following:
- Risk Assessment and Data Classification: SMBs should conduct a thorough risk assessment to identify potential vulnerabilities and understand the value and sensitivity of their data. Businesses can prioritise protection efforts by classifying data based on its importance and regulatory requirements.
- Employee Education and Awareness: Human error remains a leading cause of data breaches. SMBs should invest in comprehensive training programs to educate employees about data security best practices, such as strong password management, recognising phishing attempts, and secure file handling.
- Access Controls and Authentication: Implementing strict access controls and multi-factor authentication (MFA) mechanisms can significantly reduce the risk of unauthorised data access. Limiting user privileges to essential functions and regularly reviewing access rights can enhance security.
- Encryption and Data Backup: Encrypting sensitive data in transit and at rest provides additional protection against unauthorised access. Regularly backing up data to secure off-site locations or cloud storage ensures its availability and recoverability in case of data loss.
- Data security and monitoring: SMBs shall deploy robust firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and antivirus software to safeguard their networks from external threats. Furthermore, SMBs shall implement or outsource effective DLP solutions to monitor data at endpoints, networks, and cloud locations, to control access to data in motion, at rest, and in use, analyse patterns of suspicious behavior that can lead to a data breach, alert security professionals, filter traffic based on DLP policies, and provide forensic data.
- Understanding Applicable Regulations: SMBs should know the data protection regulations that apply to them. Adhering to these regulations safeguards sensitive information and prevents any legal consequences.
- Privacy Policies and Consent Management: Developing and implementing clear privacy policies, including obtaining explicit consent for data collection and processing, establishes transparency and builds customer trust. SMBs should regularly review and update policies to align with evolving regulatory requirements.
- Incident Response and Breach Notification: A well-defined incident response plan enables SMBs to respond effectively to data breaches. Establishing protocols for breach notification, both internally and to affected parties, minimises the impact of data loss incidents.
DLP, a top priority for SMBs
Data leaks pose a threat to every organisation, but SMBs are at a higher risk. This is due to their lack of proper security infrastructure and insufficiently trained staff. Cybercriminals don’t overlook SMEs; they heavily target them because they are more vulnerable to data incidents.
Data loss prevention is paramount for small and medium-sized businesses in today’s cybersecurity landscape. Regardless of their size, SMBs must prioritise and implement a robust DLP programme to protect their sensitive data from unauthorised access, no matter how and where it is, maintain the trust of their customers, reduce financial and reputational risks, and ensure ongoing business operations.
About the Author: Christos Flessas is a Communications and Information Systems Engineer with more than 30 years of experience as an Officer of the Hellenic Air Force (HAF). He is an accredited NATO tactical evaluator in the Communication and Information Systems (CIS) area and the National Representative (NatRep) at Signal Intelligence CIS and at Navigation Warfare (NavWar) Working Groups. Christos holds an MSc in Guided Weapon Systems from Cranfield University, UK. He has also attended numerous online courses such as the Palo Alto Networks Academy Cybersecurity Foundation course. His experience covers a wide range of assignments including radar maintenance engineer, software developer for airborne radars, IT systems manager and Project Manager implementing major armament contracts.
Christos is intrigued by new challenges, open minded, and excited for exploring the impact of cybersecurity on industrial, critical infrastructure, telecommunications, financial, aviation, and maritime sectors. Christos is also a writer for Bora.