How-to: Protect High-Value Information
In any typical business day, high-value information is accessed and changes hands several, sometimes hundreds, of times. This takes place within organizations of all sizes, but small to medium-sized organizations are particularly at risk.
Unless specific guidelines are put in place, and appropriate protocols are followed to identify who should have access to this high-value information, organizations run the genuine risk of losing valuable, mission-critical information either by accident or maliciously from outside or within.
High-value information, such as financial data, product designs, acquisition activity, and other confidential business information, is highly sought after by external malicious attackers. Still, the carelessness of internal employees can also put an organization at risk.
In fact, according to a recent Ponemon Sullivan Privacy Report, which polled nearly 700 IT security professionals, 73 percent said their organization lost high-value information the previous year. More alarming, almost 60 percent admitted to lacking confidence in their ability to thwart employee data leakage.
Safeguarding high-value data is vital for an organization’s operations, and it requires the right expertise, tools, and practices. It takes vigilance on the part of the organization and its IT staff, and it all starts with understanding the value of information.
Understand the Value of Information
Similar to some of the most prominent organizations in the world, small and medium-sized organizations possess highly valuable information that must be protected to ensure the business runs smoothly as it should.
However, due to a general lack of cybersecurity resources, these organizations commonly find themselves the targets of cyber-attacks. While it may be impossible to protect everything, understanding the information most valuable to your organization can help you focus on protecting what matters most.
The value of information can be determined by evaluating the potential harm that may result if any of the following were to be compromised:
- Availability – Lost or inaccessible information
- Confidentiality – Unauthorized access to sensitive information
- Integrity – Modified or deleted information
As such, the following types of information should be considered when assigning value:
- Sensitive Information – Confidential information, such as intellectual property or personal and financial information that should only be accessed by specific individuals
- Business-Critical Information – Invaluable information relied upon by an organization to operate properly
- Records Information – Information that must be kept protected from unauthorized modification, such as receipts and contracts.
Utilize a Data-Centric Approach
Whether it’s a large organization or a smaller one, securing its systems alone is not enough. It is critical to protect the data lying within the system as well individually.
Most security software is designed to protect the information located within the network of an organization, but what protection is in place to safeguard the information if it is extracted? Since the possibility of valuable information falling into the wrong hands and being accessed by an unauthorized user always exists, data encryption is a must.
Employ Encryption Technology
Organizations concerned with safeguarding sensitive, high-value information and protecting it from external and internal threats must employ encryption technology. High-value files and documents should be encrypted at all times. This is especially true if file-sharing services are used. Neglecting to encrypt data opens it up to a wide-range of vulnerabilities, many of which can be catastrophic to an organization.
Identify Vulnerabilities and Threats
The only way to enact security measures specific to the needs of your organization is to identify relevant vulnerabilities and threats. Depending on your organization, a common vulnerability or threat may affect it differently than another.
A vulnerability is a weakness or weak point in your cybersecurity measures. Vulnerabilities can be caused by a variety of factors, including but not limited to unencrypted data, weak passwords, outdated software, or malware infections.
A threat is a potential act or event with the ability to cause harm to your organization and its internal systems. Humans can cause risks, or they can be natural, such as a fire or natural disaster.
A human-related threat typically involves a threat actor responsible for initiating the danger, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Threat actors may target your organization for several reasons, but motives usually include trying to profit from sensitive information, revenge, and merely causing havoc.
To protect your organization against potential vulnerabilities, threats, and threat actors, think about the organization’s activities and the information stored in its system.
Recognize Potential Internal Threats
Unbeknownst to many organizations, 31.5 percent of malicious attacks are perpetrated by company insiders. Another 23.5 percent of attacks are the responsibility of inadvertent actors. In other words, over 50 percent of all attacks occur from within.
Protecting an organization goes beyond strengthening its internal protocol; the entire company must be fortified from the ground up. By raising authorization requirements and maintaining a watchful eye on personnel with secure data access, data leaks should be preventable before they happen.
While closely monitoring employees and questioning their motives can be difficult and produce feelings of guilt, you must be on the lookout for attacks – even internal ones.
Make Cyber Security a Priority
To protect your organization and its high-value information, cybersecurity should be implemented into each and every business process. Your organization expects its systems and information to be safe from risks, and customers expect their personal data will be kept secure as well.
That said, there’s no such thing as a “one size fits all” security solution as every organization is different, and the threat landscape is continually evolving. To safeguard your organization’s high-value information, security should be thought of as a continual effort to prevent, identify, and react to both internal and external threats.
Implement a Cyber Security Framework
A cyber or data security framework can be used to identify the locations where sensitive, high-value information is being stored, control access permissions for authorized users, and monitor user activity.
The Ponemon study discussed above found that 70 percent of the IT security professionals they polled could not identify the locations of confidential information within their organization’s network environment. This is a concerning stat and one that could be easily avoided with the implementation of a cybersecurity framework.
5 Steps for Securing High-Value Information
When networks, systems, and the high-value information residing in them are properly secured, they are less likely to become compromised. You can protect your organization’s high-value information by following the five following steps:
Step 1 – Identify
- Identify the value of the information you are protecting
- Identify the locations where high-value information are being stored
- Identify authorized users with access to the information
- Identify potential vulnerabilities and threats
Step 2 – Protect
- Protect sensitive information with encryption technology
- Limit access to systems with high-value information
- Use email and internet filters
- Timely install software patches and updates
Step 3 – Detect
- Maintain and monitor user and activity logs to detect issues or malicious activity
- Use anti-malware and anti-virus software
Step 4 – React
- Develop a detailed response plan for incidents and attacks
- Make sure employees understand their responsibilities
Step 5 – Recover
- Regularly back up information, especially high-value information
- Consider cyber insurance
Don’t Wait Until an Attack.
There is no time like the present to develop a cybersecurity plan. If you wait until an attack, it could do irreparable harm to your organization and potentially cost it thousands or even millions to recover.
Organizations of all sizes must be vigilant in protecting every piece of essential data. Think about the tips above and begin developing a strategy specific to your organization that will allow it to operate smoothly and effectively without the threat of an external or internal attack.