Cyber security is a huge topic at the moment, but how is COVID-19 putting us all at greater risk of a data breach than before? Find out how to protect yourself, right here…
As a nation, we’re putting our personal data at greater risk every single day. With COVID-19 changing the way we live our lives, and making us much more reliant on technology, this risk is being compounded.
These days, if you’re looking to make a claim if your personal data was leaked, you won’t be alone.
Our technological world, alongside the added pressures of COVID-19, means companies who are responsible for looking after their client and customer data are struggling.
But why exactly is the pandemic making cyber security a more prevalent threat?
More importantly, what can company owners do to prevent their business from falling victim to a data breach? The answers are all here…
Cyber Security Threats During the Age of COVID-19
The more our society becomes reliant on technology, the more at risk every one of us is to falling victim to a malicious cyber-attack.
That said, when COVID-19 hit, our exposure to these threats became much more of a problem.
Ultimately, we have had absolutely no control over our increased reliance on tech during 2020 so far.
Not only has it been extremely useful in helping people to work from home, it’s also potentially saved lives through enabling accessible communication during these troubling times.
For example, almost everyone with a laptop or phone has probably used video chat software at one point or another this year, exposing us all to greater threats than before.
Not only this, but the government and researchers tackling the problem have been supporting technological systems to improve their plight.
By implementing apps, such as test and trace, as well as encouraging pubs and restaurants to take orders through mobile phones, technological dependence is ever-growing.
Then, top that with people being stuck at home all the time. Online shopping has increased too, exposing more peoples’ data to potential cyber-attacks.
Couple this with our increased vulnerability during these stressful and strange times means so many of us have fallen victim to phishing emails, scamming phone calls, and even malicious doorstep calls.
Why Are SMEs More at Risk of a Data Breach Now?
With all this considered, how exactly are businesses, in particular, at greater risk during COVID-19?
First and foremost, at the beginning of it all, companies had to rush to protect their company data whilst sending everyone to work from home.
This meant there were huge gaps in peoples’ security, for a number of reasons:
- Staff using personal laptops for work, which are often updated irregularly, and have a lack of security software.
- Those who were sent home with work laptops may be using them for personal use too, exposing company data to more malware than before.
- Staff working at home on unsecure networks, without a VPN to protect company data.
It’s unclear whether companies have had the funds or the knowledge about potential risks to tackle these issues since the start of it all.
Many made this transition swiftly in order to protect their company and client data, whilst others are still at risk, without the proper precautions.
So, why is this an issue?
What Problems Can a Data Breach Cause?
Especially for larger companies, where money is not an issue, getting a slap on the wrist with a fine might not seem like such a bad thing.
After all, this data breach protection sounds like it’ll cost a lot of time and money to implement.
Well, quite honestly, a data breach could have greater repercussions on any business than you might think.
Some of the main problems that may occur from an incident like this could include:
- Company secrets being leaked, including new product and service launches which might be at risk of being copied.
- Being fined by the Information Commissioner’s office.
- Having client or customer data exposed, which could lead to a hefty court case, and a potential suing.
- Putting a red mark next to your company’s name, ultimately causing bad press.
- Customer loyalty being destroyed, as many people will choose to avoid a company if they fear their data will be leaked. If this happens just once, who knows how many customers will steer away from you in future.
- Losing money through accounts being hacked, which can leave you high and dry in terms of cash in the bank.
How Can Business Owners Protect Their Company from a Data Breach?
Experts in the industry will tell you that one of the biggest mistakes any business owner can make is a lack of hindsight.
So many people have this attitude that they won’t be affected by a breach, But hackers are becoming so sophisticated, it could happen to anyone.
What’s more, with the biggest reason for data breaches being human error, these are things that a company owner can control.
In order to take control of this situation, business owners should prepare their staff and business technology.
Being one step ahead of any potential breaches is the key to protecting yours and your clients’ data. Some of the best ways you can do this include:
Getting on a Secure Network
The first thing you need to be aware of is whether your staff are working on a secure network, both in the workplace and when remote.
This way, hackers are much less likely to be able to infiltrate your actions online. To do this, ensuring all your staff are connected to a VPN is paramount.
With a VPN, all employees can send and receive company information wherever they are, and across a public network, without being seen online.
Another way that employees can ensure their activity isn’t been tracked by online hackers is to use secure URLs.
Specifically, https:// sites are great for this but, these days, most search engines will have an indication of whether a URL is safe or not in the URL search bar.
Being sure to train staff on this aspect of it all may save you in the long run.
Company Technology Safeguards
As we’ve seen, our biggest threat is technology, which is why using this tech responsibly, especially when we’re working from home, is really important.
To do this, employers should ensure their staff are working on company laptops. That being said, not every company may be able to afford these company devices.
So, the bare minimum is to ensure the devices that are being used are safe. To do this, employers should make sure employees are working on personal laptops that are fully updated, have up-to-date security software, and are on the VPN.
Then, on a smaller scale, making sure that the devices and log-ins are secure throughout is paramount.
So, for the device itself, and all apps and accounts, make sure all devices have strong passwords and multi-authentication to log in.
Also, ensure your laptop goes to sleep after a certain time without use, just in case any unsuspecting passers-by get hold of it.
Having a cyber security team, or just a designated team member to periodically check all accounts is really important.
This includes bank accounts, and any accounts where payments are being made.
It’ll also help to make sure to use PayPal for any invoices where you’re not familiar with the company, just to be extra vigilant.
We could go on all day about how to protect your company data through technology and software.
But, there are some old-school ways to protect you and your staff too, that you really shouldn’t ignore.
First and foremost, training is essential.
Training on GDPR principles, using VPNs, using secure URLs, recognising scammers, and handling post properly should all be part of this training.
This way, you can be sure your staff are safeguarded as much as possible from accidentally exposing any company or client data.
Then, be sure to shred any important documents, and not share any company information outside of the business.
Make sure no staff are prone to oversharing online as well, as this could even lead to a negligence lawsuit!
Finally, remember to notify the relevant authorities if you notice any suspicious activity which may indicate a data breach.
This way, actions can be put in place as soon as possible to avoid this data being leaked. The responsibility is ours, so let’s get one step ahead of the game.
Data Breach Protection is a Serious Matter…
Here, we’ve demonstrated why COVID-19 is putting us all at risk, and what harm a data breach could have on any business.
We’ve then discussed the actions a business can put in place to protect themselves.
As you can see, COVID-19 has put us all in a more precarious position when it comes to protecting our data.
For SMEs in particular, ensuring this data is safe is paramount to keeping your business afloat; the repercussions could be devastating.
The question is, do you have all these safeguards in place?
Tell us your story in the comments.
Image credit: 1) Photo by NASA on Unsplash 2) Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash 3) Markus Spiske on Unsplash 4) You X Ventures on Unsplash
Updated 10/26/20 to add a second Infographic.
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