How to prevent unauthorized access: 10 best practices

How to prevent unauthorized access

As the sun rose, a well-known law firm prepared for a day filled with client meetings and case reviews. They didn't know they were about to face a digital security threat.

John, a hardworking attorney who often seemed to have too much on his plate, got an email. It looked like a standard message about updating the system. The email asked him to act quickly to keep his account safe. 

John clicked on a link in the email, which was actually a trap. This mistake allowed threat actors to get into the firm's system, putting sensitive client information and internal documents at risk.

This can happen to any organization. Let's dive into this topic to see how to prevent unauthorized access.

Key takeaways

  • Unauthorized access means someone gets into a system, network, or storage they shouldn't, caused by software issues, stolen login info, or skipped security measures.

  • Simple passwords or outdated software are common reasons for unauthorized data access, making it easy for cybercriminals to access or steal important information.

  • To stop this, update systems, use strong passwords, train employees on security, encrypt data, and ensure Wi-Fi is secure.

  • NordLayer helps by checking who is using the system or device, making it easier to see and follow data protection laws.

  • With NordLayer, businesses can better manage their networks and detect unauthorized access early, helping avoid data breaches and the loss of money or reputation.

What is unauthorized access?

Unauthorized access occurs when someone enters a computer system, network, or data storage area without permission or exceeds their allowed access. It can happen by exploiting software flaws, using stolen login information, or bypassing security measures to protect digital assets.

When someone gains unauthorized access, it puts the privacy, security, and availability of information at risk. This can lead to severe problems for data protection, security, and how well the system works.

Imagine an employee who should only see information from the human resources department. But they find a colleague's computer, which is already logged into the finance department's systems. The employee looks through and takes sensitive financial reports without being allowed to. 

This is a case of unauthorized access because the employee uses this chance to see data they shouldn't, breaking the company's rules and possibly going against laws that protect data privacy. By addressing vulnerabilities, organizations can better defend against unauthorized access and its potential consequences.

Why does unauthorized access occur?

Unauthorized access happens for many reasons, involving both technology issues and human actions. People can get into places they shouldn't be in digital systems, seeing or taking sensitive information they don't have the right to access. Let’s take a look at some examples.

Why unauthorized access occurs

Human factors. People can accidentally help attackers gain access. This might happen if they use easy-to-guess passwords, like ‘password123,’ or are tricked by fake emails asking for their login details. It's similar to accidentally giving a thief your house keys. Not knowing about these risks or how to avoid them makes it easier for these mistakes to happen.

Technological vulnerabilities. One of the primary reasons unauthorized access occurs is due to weaknesses in software and hardware systems. Cybercriminals exploit these vulnerabilities, which may exist because of outdated systems, unpatched software, or insecure web applications. Such vulnerabilities open the door for attackers to infiltrate systems and access sensitive information without permission.

Inadequate security measures. Sometimes, the problem is that there isn't enough security in place. This could mean not having a good way to check who's entering your network (like network access control solutions), not keeping information safe (like encrypting sensitive data), or not watching the network closely to spot trouble. It's as if a building doesn't have enough guards or security cameras.

Clever tricks by criminals. Cybercriminals use more and more sophisticated methods and gain more resources. This includes advanced phishing schemes, social engineering tactics, malware, and ransomware attacks, all designed to either steal credentials directly or to exploit users' actions to gain unauthorized access. 

Threat actors devise new tricks to get past security, like zero-day vulnerabilities. Also, they use new malware—software that can damage your computer; or ransomware, which locks your files until you pay a ransom. 560,000 new pieces of malware are detected every day, and there are now more than 1 billion malware programs circulating. These methods are constantly changing and can be hard to catch.

Unauthorized access consequences

Unauthorized access can lead to serious problems for both people and organizations. It's important to understand these issues and focus on solid cybersecurity measures.

Unauthorized access consequences

  1. Data breaches. Sensitive data is in danger when someone gains unauthorized access. This situation can lead to identity theft, financial fraud, and a big drop in trust from customers and partners.

  2. Financial loss. The costs of dealing with unauthorized access can add up quickly. Organizations may have to pay for investigations, legal fees, and letting affected people know what happened. They might also face fines for not following data protection laws and lose business.

  3. Reputational damage. A security breach can badly damage how people see an organization. Customers might start to doubt if their sensitive information is safe, which can make them less loyal and decrease business.

  4. Operational disruption. If unauthorized data access affects critical systems, it can stop business operations. Getting back to normal takes time and money, adding to the financial loss.

  5. Legal and regulatory consequences. Companies could face legal issues and fines if they don't meet data protection regulations. This makes dealing with a security breach even more complicated and expensive.

  6. Loss of intellectual property. If someone steals intellectual property through unauthorized access, it can hurt an organization's competitive edge and revenue.

  7. Compromised personal safety. Leaked personal information can put people at risk of physical harm or harassment.

Real-life examples of unauthorized access

Unauthorized access can happen in many ways. It often takes advantage of technical weaknesses and human errors. 

Malware statistics

Here are five ways unauthorized access can happen in businesses, explained simply:

  • Phishing attacks. Imagine getting an email that looks like it's from someone you trust at work, asking you to click a link and log in. If you do, cybercriminals can enter the company's network with your details. For instance, Twitter (now X) faced a significant phishing attack in 2020, where attackers targeted employees to gain access to high-profile accounts and trick people into sending money.

  • Weak passwords. If someone tries common passwords, they might just guess yours, especially if it's a simple one. A weak password can cause data breaches or harm your reputation. Take the 2020 incident with SolarWinds. Although the main breach was due to a supply chain attack, a separate issue was a weak password, ‘solarwinds123,’ used by an intern. This drew criticism from US lawmakers and pointed out a lapse in security. 

  • Outdated software. Not updating your software can leave open doors for attackers. The WannaCry ransomware attack in 2017 is a stark example. It affected thousands of computers worldwide because they hadn't updated their Windows systems.

  • Insider threats. Sometimes, the danger comes from within. A Tesla incident in 2023 showed how former employees could take sensitive information and share it outside the company, putting personal data at risk.

  • Social engineering. This is when bad actors pretend to be someone you trust to get access to the company's network. They might act like a boss in a hurry, asking for data or access they shouldn't have. Old, but still very effective. For example, Mailchimp experienced a breach in the summer of 2022 and then again in January 2023 due to social engineering. In both instances, an intruder accessed internal tools and compromised data on 133 Mailchimp accounts.

10 ways to prevent unauthorized access

How to prevent unauthorized access

Strong password policies

Setting up strong password policies is an essential first step in preventing unauthorized access. This means requiring passwords that mix letters, numbers, and special characters, which are hard for attackers to guess. 

Changing passwords regularly and not using the same password for different accounts helps keep data safe. For example, making it a rule to change passwords every three months can greatly lower the risk of a security breach.

Regular software updates

Updating software regularly is crucial for protecting against cyber threats. These updates often fix security weaknesses that could let attackers in. By keeping your software up to date, you can avoid data breaches that exploit old vulnerabilities.

Use of multi-factor authentication (MFA)

Multi-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security by needing more than one proof of identity to access systems. This means that even if a password gets stolen, it's still hard for unauthorized people to get into sensitive information. MFA is a powerful way to reduce the chance of unauthorized data access and keep accounts safe.

Employee security awareness training

Teaching employees about security and how to spot phishing and other cyber threats is key to stopping unauthorized access. This training helps employees understand how they can protect sensitive data and spot attempts to gain unauthorized access, reducing the chance of a security breach because of human error.

Network access control (NAC) solutions

NAC solutions help businesses set up rules for who can access their networks, playing a crucial role in catching and stopping unauthorized access. They make sure that only allowed users and devices that meet security standards can connect, which is vital for keeping sensitive information safe.

Data encryption

Encrypting data, no matter if it's stored or being sent, is essential to keep it secure from unauthorized eyes. Encryption is a key part of protecting data, especially when it comes to keeping sensitive data safe from outside threats and potential breaches.

Secure Wi-Fi networks

Making Wi-Fi networks secure with strong encryption like WPA3 and hiding the network name can stop unauthorized access from outside. Having a separate network for guests can help keep the main network, which holds sensitive information, safer from threats.

Regular security audits and assessments

Doing regular security checks and assessments is important to find and fix weaknesses that could allow unauthorized access. These checks are crucial for keeping your security strong and making sure your data protection measures are up to date.

Access management policies

Strict access management policies make sure employees only have access to the information they need for their jobs, reducing the risk of internal threats and unauthorized access to sensitive data. Limiting access to sensitive data to those who really need it can help prevent internal data breaches.

Incident response plan

Having a detailed incident response plan is important for quickly dealing with unauthorized access and managing the situation after a security breach. This plan should include steps for isolating affected systems, informing stakeholders, and getting operations back to normal, which helps minimize damage and recover faster from attacks.

How NordLayer can help

NordLayer helps businesses strengthen their digital defenses and block unauthorized access. Its NAC solutions authenticate users and devices, offering secure access across different platforms. This approach not only helps in preventing unauthorized access but also keeps an eye on the network, allowing businesses act fast when they spot potential threats. 

NordLayer gives companies a clear view of their network, showing which devices have permission and making sure they meet strict data protection rules like GDPR, HIPAA, and PCI-DSS.

Moreover, with NordLayer's tools for network visibility and threat prevention, businesses can deeply understand what's happening on their networks and take steps to stop threats before they can gain unauthorized access. These tools reduce the chance of data breaches and help businesses avoid financial and reputational harm. 

By mixing information on activities, server use, and device conditions, NordLayer makes unauthorized access hard. Contact our sales team to protect your networks, keep sensitive data safe, and keep your customers' and partners' trust. 

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