The recent security breach at Target served as yet another reminder that companies aren’t necessarily safe from hackers just because they’re large and established. Data security impacts users at all levels, whether as individuals or owners of small- and mid-sized businesses. Here are 10 quick tips that can help you better protect sensitive information.
1. Check Your Password
Know what the most commonly used password is? “Password.” Followed closely by “123456” (or “12345678”). Even an entry-level hacker could break that code. There are a number of unsafe password practices that, if corrected, can greatly improve data security at the most basic point of entry. Remember to use strong passwords and change them often.
2. Invest in Anti-Virus
Any type of anti-malware protection is a must-have for private computers as well as computer networks. If viruses, spyware and other bugs sneak into your system, performance can degrade rapidly, along with an increased risk of data breach.
3. Keep Systems Updated
No one should ignore all those warnings that updates need to be installed. Software updates provide critical patches to repair known vulnerabilities against newly uncovered threats. Take time daily to download and install updates for your operating system, anti-virus software and other programs and apps on your network.
4. Install a Firewall
A firewall adds another layer of protection against potentially dangerous intrusions from hackers, viruses and malicious programs. A firewall can be software- or hardware-based (like those built into network routers), but the hardware-based firewalls offer a higher level of security.
5. Know What Needs Protecting
It’s important to know what type of information (like personal account numbers or customer credit card data) falls under “sensitive” in order to customize your security efforts accordingly. Take the time to identify this data, and document where it’s currently stored.
6. Segregate Sensitive Data
After identifying the data that needs the most protection, it’s a good idea to separate the storage of that information from daily operations and prevent needless duplication of such items whenever possible. The less data there is, the easier protecting that data becomes.
7. Practice Encryption
Encrypting data translates it into an unreadable code, so even if hackers were to access the network at large, the stolen information would still be in an unusable format. Encryption is particularly key for mobile data.
8. Secure Your Connections
Sensitive data should only be transmitted over secure connections, so that it’s protected during transit from possible access. While firewalls and anti-virus can keep data secure while in storage, secure connections help extend that security as data moves from computer to computer.
9. Limit Access
The more accessible sensitive data is, the greater the risk that a breach could occur. By limiting access to information to only those parties for whom access is essential, vulnerabilities are reduced. Setting up an access log ensures that all interactions are documented for future reference.
10. Use Common Sense
Honestly, if this list had to be trimmed down to just one tip, it would be this: practice common sense. Be smart about passwords, network security and online habits. Don’t share info with others, and take all the necessary steps to ensure that any sensitive data is protected from inception all the way through archiving.