How to Reduce the Risk of Data Breaches Caused by Human Error


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In today’s data-centric world, cyber attacks are an unfortunate and common occurrence. We regularly hear news of globally-recognized companies like Twitter or Microsoft being compromised by data breaches. This exposure of our personal data is scary, and always seems to be carried out by cunning and skilled hackers. But there’s one unsuspecting, yet dangerous, group that is sometimes overlooked — it’s your own employees. 

Data Privacy Week this January 22 – 28 is a good opportunity to share how dangerous employees can be to the cybersecurity of organizations. We can all benefit from being more careful and protective of the data they handle every day. And that starts with education on why errors occur so often and how each of us can do our part to minimize the chances of making a costly mistake.

The dangers of human error

According to the Verizon 2022 Data Breach Investigation Report, human error caused 82% of cybersecurity breaches. Even more concerning, the IBM 2022 Cost of a Data Breach Report found that, on average, data breaches cost organizations over $4 million in 2022. This is an alarmingly large number simply due to unintentional negligence of unaware employees. How can this be?

Data breaches can occur when the everyday employee make simple, seemingly innocent mistakes, such as:

  • Using basic passwords because they’re easier to remember
  • Clicking on attachments in emails even though it seems suspicious
  • Not thinking twice about leaving files unattended on their computer or desk
  • Working remotely and connecting to public Wi-Fi instead of using a secure VPN
  • Being careless about who can see data or where you’re sending it
  • Accidentally sending, deleting, or misplacing sensitive data

Unfortunately, the potential for a data breach is all around us. No matter how strong security measures may be, your organization will only be as secure as your weakest link — and that all too often is your employees. While no organization can’t fully escape the risks, we can take proactive steps to ensure that the data in our care stays as secure as possible.

4 ways to minimize data breach risks

Let’s look at the main ways you and your organization can work together to reduce the risk of data breaches caused by human error.

Regularly provide security awareness training

In many cases, human error is the result of unawareness or misunderstanding of data security protocols by an employee. If you want your organization to become more secure from the inside out, you must start fostering a culture of data privacy. Begin with routine security awareness training for employees on your security policies, how to spot common hacking attempts, how to properly handle data, and staying alert for potential threats.

Part of security training should also be ensuring employees follow strict password protocols. This can include two-factor authentication to strengthen login security. It can also include specific training on how to create strong passwords and secure password management. Be sure it is clear that passwords should never be shared or reused.

Restrict data access to only necessary employees

Practicing the principle of “data minimization” is also a best practice for organizations to follow. From the point of data collection, only ask for data that is relevant and necessary to accomplish its intended purpose. From here, your administrator or IT manager should limit or deny access to data by default to all employees in your organization. You should only grant privileges to data when its access is necessary for an employee to complete their job.

Most employees within an organization will not need access to large amounts of data. For example, a secure data collection platform like FormAssembly provides comprehensive administrative controls that can easily be customized to each employee’s job function. You only need to grant access where they need it most, and leave everything else denied. Overall, by limiting access to this sensitive information, you can help prevent data leaks, deletion, misplacement, or breaches caused by human error.

Enhance and enforce data security policies

Your security policies and procedures should be clear on how your organization handles sensitive data, data collection and processing, data storage, cyber incidents, and more. Security policies are the standard you can reference when training employees, vetting third-party vendors, and partnering with other organizations.

Your policies should also cover the steps your organization will take in the event of a data hack or breach. These cyber breach response plans can cover your procedures for backing up and recovering data. There is no guarantee a breach will not happen at your organization, so it is better to be fully prepared for any disaster, whether natural or man made.

Audit, monitor, and update business software

Unauthorized or outdated software can be an easy target for hackers. Without proper monitoring of the software and systems your organization uses, it can be difficult to see potential vulnerabilities. Any new system should first be audited to ensure the vendor maintains the same security and compliance standards required at your organization. 

Your policies should also ensure that employees are not downloading insecure software to their work devices. It’s best practice to keep an updated list of all software and systems your security team has deemed safe for your organization. Any employee needing a new software will need to first request that their security team perform and audit and determine if it meets their security standards.

Solve your data collection security concerns

Keeping data secure during the collection process can seem like a daunting task. Especially when so many employees are part of these workflows, with access to the data you collect. If you’re concerned about security, compliance, and privacy within data collection, you are not alone. Our eBook, 5 Data Collection Concerns of Top IT and Security Execs and How to Address Them, provides solutions to these challenges, so your organization can ensure more secure, reliable data collection.

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