How SMBs Can Achieve Fortune 500 Data Security

Data security is a central concern among enterprises worldwide – and for good reason. Hackers and other cybercriminals consistently infiltrate corporate networks, breaking in through undetected backdoors to steal sensitive data or simply wreak havoc. These digital incursions carry very real consequences for both businesses and their customers. While patrons lose their payment and personal identification information, organizations surrender immense amounts to cover breach mitigation activities and the lost opportunity costs that come along with losing customers. Companies victim to nefarious third-party actors paid an average of $3.62 million per breach last year, according to research from IBM and the Ponemon Institute. 

This amount is hard to swallow for more small businesses. However, so are the expenses that come along with adopting Fortune 500-level data security protections. How can SMBs protect their customers and themselves without taking out loans to cover top-of-the-line digital defenses? Luckily, there are workarounds that don't involve investing in a massive network monitoring system or declaring bankruptcy in the wake of an immense data breach.

Secure communication channels
Hackers tend to target communication channels, as the continuous flow of information not only shields them from detection but also makes it easy collect data. Unfortunately, many SMBs continue to use antiquated communication methods based on outmoded and easy-to-hack technology, Small Business Trends reported. Simply upgrading or enhancing these processes and related systems or tools can make an immense difference. This may necessitate stepping up device monitoring practices or switching to an email client with more secure data security protections. It can also involve cracking down on non-secure employee behaviors such as public Wi-Fi use or, surprisingly, embracing older technologies like the fax machine.

"When a document is sent by fax it's converted into binary code sent over the telephone network and then reassembled at the other end," Karol Waldron, director of strategic channels for enterprise file exchange solutions provider XMedius, told Small Business Trends. "Hacking into the telephone network would require direct manual access to the telephone line, and even if a file were intercepted it would present itself as nothing but noise, making it virtually impossible to interpret [or] read."

"Simply upgrading or enhancing communication channels and related systems or tools can make an immense difference."

Empower employees
Employees constitute the first line of defense in any data security strategy. Why? Their behaviors make or break internal networks. For instance, if an enterprise user accidentally installs malware via a nefarious email message or application, he or she compromises the entire corporate network. With this in mind, businesses must offer training programs that equip workers with the skills they need to use enterprise platforms safely, Security Magazine reported. Where is the best place to start? Passwords, of course.

Despite the development of password drafting techniques and management systems, computer users continue to struggle with this topic. Many reuse passwords multiple times or create easy-to-remember phrases that are equally easy to decrypt or simply guess. While these behaviors may seem slightly humorous on the surface, they actually pose major problems for organizations. Stolen passwords were used in more than 80 percent of hacking-related system intrusions last year, according to research from Verizon Wireless. SMBs that want to step up their data security efforts must meaningfully address this issue via workplace training sessions and strict information technology policies.

Of course, ineffective password drafting habits are just the tip of the iceberg. For instance, many employees knowingly access malware-laden emails because they cannot differentiate them from legitimate, work-safe messages. Companies have to educate their workers and shore up their initial defenses.

Modernize IT infrastructure
While the methods above can certainly bolster data security within the enterprise, IT modernization may be the best solution. Many vendors no longer support legacy systems, meaning a large number of firms – especially cash-strapped SMBs – are working with outdated software that simply cannot stand up to modern cybercriminals.

To have any real chance of staving off hackers, businesses must update or swap out these systems for modern alternatives, CNET reported. Those with slightly outdated software can search for and apply updated security patches to shut off any backdoors. However, enterprises with completely obsolete systems should pursue long-term IT modernization strategies. This might entail rebuilding mission-critical applications from the ground up or abandoning on-premises servers for cloud services.

By implementing one or more of these strategies, SMBs can better secure their data in today's technology-driven marketplace.

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