How to prevent data breaches: best practices

How to prevent data breaches

Imagine you find out the most private details of your DNA, only to have them spilled out for anyone to see. That's the scare 23andMe users faced when a big data breach hit, turning their quest for genetic discovery into a privacy nightmare. 

This mishap shook trust in the company, leaving many to question the safety of their most personal data. For the CEO and investors, the data breach was a disaster, crashing stock values and challenging the company's future. 

This breach was a stark reminder of the fine line between innovation and privacy. In the U.S., data breach incidents have peaked, with a nearly 20% increase in the first nine months of 2023 compared to the same period last year. Additionally, 98% of companies have felt the impact through vendors who've experienced breaches in the past two years. 

Let's explore how to prevent data breaches and protect sensitive information in risky environments.

Key takeaways

  • The U.S. data breach rate surged by nearly 20% in early 2023, so the need for robust data security measures is growing.

  • The main reasons why data breaches occur include phishing, cloud misconfigurations, zero-day vulnerabilities, and third-party attacks.

  • Implementing a strong password policy, regular training and multi-factor authentication (MFA) are critical steps in data breach prevention and protecting customer data.

  • NordLayer helps achieve Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) and Secure Service Edge (SSE) frameworks that reduce data breach risks.

  • A comprehensive security strategy is essential for data breach prevention.

Why a data breach can happen

Data leaks are big problems for organizations. They lead to lost sensitive data, damaged trust, and high costs. Breaches happen differently, each finding a weak spot in a company's digital or physical defenses. Knowing about data breach methods helps organizations strengthen their defenses and keep their data safe.

Common causes of data breaches

Social engineering and phishing

Social engineering has been around for a long time, yet it remains a highly effective method for causing data leaks. Despite widespread awareness about the risks of clicking on links in suspicious emails, a surprising number of data leaks—up to 90%—involve some form of social engineering.

Social engineering is the art of manipulating people into giving up confidential information or performing actions that grant access to secured systems and corporate data. It's like someone dressing up as a postal worker and convincing you to hand over your house keys. This method works well because it tricks people, not machines.

Cloud misconfigurations

Imagine leaving your house with the front door unlocked. That's similar to cloud misconfigurations. They happen when cloud settings aren't appropriately secured, like leaving security features off or setting them up wrongly. This makes it easy for attackers to access data stored online. Because so many companies use cloud services, such mistakes are common and can lead to big problems.

Zero-day vulnerabilities

A zero-day vulnerability is a flaw in software or hardware that attackers find and use before the makers can fix it. It's like a hidden weak floorboard in a new house that nobody knows about until someone steps on it and falls. Zero-day vulnerability attacks are rare but can cause much damage because there's no defense against them at first.

Attacking the security flaws of vendors

This happens when attackers find a weak spot in the systems of companies that your organization works with. In 2022, the number of supply chain attacks jumped by 633%. They are still a big problem. For example, in June 2023, a group of threat actors from North Korea got into JumpCloud, which is a company that provides software services, by exploiting weaknesses not directly in JumpCloud but in another company they trusted. If the companies you share your data with aren't careful, your data might be in danger, too. When we share data, we hope the other company will protect it well. Sadly, this doesn't always happen.


Malware is a sneaky bug that gets into your computer to spy on you or steal things. Attackers send harmful software in emails or through websites. Once it's on a computer, it can steal sensitive data. Keeping software up to date and being careful about what you download can help keep malware out.

Credential stuffing methods

Credential stuffing is when attackers use stolen passwords to try to get into many different accounts. It's like someone finding a key and trying it in every door in the neighborhood to see which ones it can open. People often use the same password for many accounts, which makes this method very effective. To guard against this, having rules for strong passwords in your organization is a good step. It's also smart to change passwords often, use a password manager, and make sure you don't use the same password more than once.

Outdated or unpatched software

Using old or unpatched software is like having a lock that everyone knows how to pick because it's old and the maker never improved it. Attackers look for software that hasn't been updated because it's easier to break into. Keeping software up to date is a simple but important way to protect data.

How to prevent data breaches

Keeping data safe is essential for protecting private information, earning people's trust, and avoiding money problems. Using a mix of smart tech fixes and teaching your team about safety can help stop unauthorized access to your data. Let's break down how to do this in simple steps anyone can follow.

How to prevent data breaches

Teach your team regularly

Since 9 out of 10 data breach incidents begin with phishing, often due to simple mistakes, setting up regular training for your team is crucial. Most importantly, your team will learn to spot phishing emails—fake messages designed to steal sensitive data. Also, these sessions should cover how to create strong passwords, the importance of not sharing sensitive information, and what steps to take if they suspect a data breach threat. Making this training a routine ensures everyone stays sharp and ready to protect your organization's data.

Make strong passwords a must

Using weak passwords is like using a flimsy lock on your door. To combat this, enforce a policy requiring solid and complex passwords. These passwords should be a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols, making them hard to guess. 

Encourage or require password changes every few months to keep things even more secure. This simple step can significantly reduce data breach chances.

Add an extra lock—multi-factor authentication

MFA adds a crucial layer of security. It's a way to ensure that even if a password gets stolen, there's still another barrier keeping intruders out. 

MFA can include something you know (like a password), something you have (like a smartphone app that generates a code), or something you are (like a fingerprint or facial recognition). This method significantly lowers the risk of someone else accessing your accounts.

Keep everything up to date

Software developers release updates not just for new features but to fix security gaps that threat actors could exploit. By staying on top of these updates, you're essentially replacing old locks with new ones regularly.

This doesn't just apply to your security software but to all software used in your business. 

Don't let everyone in every room

Think of your organization's data like a house with many rooms. Not everyone needs a key to every room—just the ones they need to enter for their work. 

This approach is called 'least privilege,' and it greatly lowers the risk of sensitive information getting out by mistake or on purpose. 

Identity and Access Management (IAM) systems and tools like NordLayer's Cloud Firewall are like giving out specific keys for specific doors. They help manage who can access certain pieces of information. 

It's also crucial to check the security measures of outside companies with access to your data. They might accidentally leave a window open for threat actors to climb through.

Build a strong fence—network security

Imagine surrounding your data with a high-tech fence. This fence, made up of firewalls and encryption, keeps your data safe from intruders. 

Firewalls act as the gatekeepers, deciding what traffic can enter or leave your network. Encryption scrambles your data, so even if someone manages to grab it, they can't understand it. 

Together, they create a strong barrier that spots and stops threat actors before they can reach your confidential information.

Trust no one

Zero-trust security is like not letting anyone into your house without verifying their identity every single time, even if you recognize them. 

In the digital world, this means not automatically trusting anyone inside or outside your organization. Everyone must prove they are who they say they are and that they really need access to the information they're asking for. 

This approach ensures that only the right people get access to the right data, reducing the chance of a data breach. It's a way of keeping your digital doors locked tight, even if someone has managed to get past the fence.

Have a plan if a data breach happens

Even with the best precautions, things can still go sideways. That's why having a response plan is crucial. 

This plan outlines what to do, who to call, and how to communicate during a data breach. It helps you act quickly to limit damage and start the recovery process. Practicing this plan ensures everyone knows their role in an emergency, making it easier to stay calm and organized when every second counts.

Keep copies of important stuff

Backing up your data means quickly restoring what was lost and keeping your business moving without missing a beat. 

It's a safety net that ensures even in the worst-case scenario—like a ransomware attack or a natural disaster—you can recover your essential data. Regularly updating and storing these backups in a secure, offsite location or cloud service adds an extra layer of security.

Improve your data security with NordLayer

NordLayer offers solutions that support the Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) framework, a key strategy in modern data security. ZTNA works on the idea that nobody should be trusted automatically. It asks for verification from anyone trying to access the system. This method makes sure that only people who are supposed to see sensitive data can get to it, greatly lowering the chance of a data breach. NordLayer enhances this by checking who is trying to access what and the security of their devices. This stops unauthorized people from getting in and helps prevent data breaches.

NordLayer also helps companies use the Security Service Edge (SSE) framework, which efficiently protects corporate data and customer data. SSE combines several essential security tools into one service that's based in the cloud. This includes things like firewalls as a service and ways to keep web browsing safe. Using SSE, companies can move faster and are better at stopping, spotting, and dealing with online dangers. SSE makes sure that only safe web use is allowed, keeping companies in line with their rules. It also uses a method where no trust is assumed; trust must be earned continuously. This means better protection against identity theft and more control over who gets to access what in the cloud.

If you have any questions or need more information, please contact our sales team. They're ready to help you.

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