Every day we read and hear more stories about breaches in cybersecurity, systems we have been conditioned to believe are secure. There have been numerous headlines screaming about hackers stealing information. A recent example is the hacking of five million credit and debit cards used at Saks Fifth Avenue, Saks Off 5th and Lord & Taylor stores. An additional example can be found with MyFitness Pal, a fitness-and-nutrition app owned by Under Armour, which announced a recent data breach affecting 150 million users. Not to mention additional breaches that have impacted well-known companies such as Home Depot, Target, Ebay, Equifax, Yahoo, Veterans Administration and The Department Homeland Security (VA).
Compromised data in these breaches included the following:
• Hashed passwords
• User names
• Credit-card information
• Email addresses
• Social Security numbers
• Medical information
It is interesting to note that not all breaches are performed by hackers. Some occur due to our own mistakes. For example, the VA hack of 26.5 million discharged veterans’ records were actually stolen from an employee who “improperly took the material home.” The most common antecedents of these types of leaks are the following:
• Accidentally published information
• An inside job
• A lost or stolen device or media file (in offices, homes, cars)
• Not erasing data when disposing of a device
• Poor security
• Not collecting and shredding sensitive papers from copiers and desks.
These incidents happen every day on every level, continue to impact all of us and are difficult to prevent. As we have come to rely more and more in our businesses on cybertechnology, the need for greater security becomes clearer every day. The following 10 steps are from the Federal Communications Commission tip sheet to protect us from this continuing threat. Of particular interest are the suggestions that deal with creating mobile-device action plans, methods for securing payment and credit card security.
1. Train employees in security principles
Establish basic security practices and policies for employees, such as requiring strong passwords, and establish appropriate internet-use guidelines that detail penalties for violating company cybersecurity policies. Establish rules of behavior describing how to handle and protect customer information and other vital data.
2. Protect information, computers and networks from cyber attacks
Keep clean machines: having the latest security software, web browser and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware and other online threats. Set antivirus software to run a scan after each update. Install other key software updates as soon as they are available.
3. Provide firewall security for your internet connection
A firewall is a set of related programs that prevents outsiders from accessing data on a private network. Make sure the operating system’s firewall is enabled or install free firewall software available online. If employees work from home, ensure that their home system(s) are protected by a firewall.
4. Create a mobile-device action plan
Mobile devices can create significant security and management challenges, especially if they hold confidential information or can access the corporate network. Require users to password-protect their devices, encrypt their data and install security apps to prevent criminals from stealing information while the phone is on public networks. Be sure to set reporting procedures for lost or stolen equipment.
5. Make back up copies of important business data and information
Regularly back up the data on all computers. Critical data includes word-processing documents, electronic spreadsheets, databases, financial files, human-resources files and accounts and files for receivables/payables. Back up data automatically if possible, or at least weekly, and store the copies either offsite or in the cloud.
6. Control physical access to your computers and create user accounts for each employee
Prevent access or use of business computers by unauthorized individuals. Laptops can be particularly easy targets for theft or can be lost, so lock them up when unattended. Make sure a separate user-account is created for each employee and require strong passwords. Administrative privileges should only be given to trusted IT staff and key personnel.
7. Secure your Wi-Fi networks
If you have a Wi-Fi network for your workplace, make sure it is secure, encrypted and hidden. To hide your Wi-Fi network, set up your wireless-access point or router, so it does not broadcast the network name known as the Service Set Identifier (SSID). Password-protect access to the router.
8. Employ best practices on payment cards
Work with banks or processors to ensure the most trusted and validated tools and anti-fraud services are being used. You may have additional security obligations pursuant to agreements with your bank or processor. Isolate payment systems from other, less secure programs and don’t use the same computer to process payments and surf the internet.
9. Limit employee access to data and information, and authority to install software
Do not provide any one employee access to all data systems. Employees should be given access only to the specific data systems that they need for their jobs, and should not be able to install any software without permission. All software should be kept up-to-date.
10. Passwords and authentication
Require employees to use unique passwords and change passwords every three months. Consider implementing multi-factor authentication that requires information beyond a password to gain entry. Check with your vendors who handle sensitive data, especially financial institutions, to see if they offer multi-factor authentication for your account.
What should you do if there is a security breach in your company? Michael Bruemmer, Vice President of the data-breach team at Experian explains, “It is really more of a question of when, than if, when it comes to data breaches. We always recommend having a detailed and thorough data-breach-response plan in place, and not only should that plan be created, but it needs to be practiced and updated on a regular basis to ensure it accounts for the latest threats, including attacks like ransomware.” Bruemmer continues, “Besides the technological aspect, one of the most important ways to recover a company’s reputation and relationship with its customers and clients is to ensure these parties are properly notified and taken care of. Companies should send clear and concise notification letters that help affected parties know what to do and how to protect themselves from identity theft. The breached company should always offer a remedy such as an identity-theft-protection product so they receive free monitoring and access to their credit report as well as assistance with resolving fraud.”
Another option that is somewhat overlooked and that doesn’t involve software is getting cybersecurity insurance. A company’s general-liability policy probably doesn’t cover legal and other fees related to a hack. Some insurance carriers are now offering specific coverage for smaller companies.
All of these areas raise genuine concerns about day-to-day security. Having a security-first mindset is the best thing you can do for your business. Don’t ever assume that a hack can’t happen to a smaller company. Our job as business leaders is to protect employees, customers and ourselves.