October 12, 2022

Arm Your Employees in the Battle to Protect Confidential Data: The Frontline of Defense

In the wake of increasing technology use and hybrid work there is more data to store and data security is crucial. A threat to customer, employee, and company privacy, a data breach occurs when personally identifiable information or other sensitive, confidential, or otherwise protected data has been accessed by and/or disclosed to an unauthorized actor. According to Shred-it’s 2022 Data Protection Report, this is a growing concern for small businesses who fear that their business is vulnerable to data breaches (66%). What’s more, almost half (48%) of the small business leaders (SBLs) surveyed believe that employee error is a main source of data breaches.  

Employees are often the face of the company and have access to critical information. In turn, this can also make employees an organization’s first line of defense against data security issues. Proper education is key to effectively protecting data. Shred-it’s 2022 Data Protection Report found that only 58% of the SBLs surveyed note their companies require all employees to undergo mandatory information security training. Even with that training, SBLs fear that their workforce still does not understand data protection best practices (67%) or how to navigate a potential data breach (66%).

Employee education is important for all organizations, regardless of size. There are a few ways to educate employees about how to recognize and respond to data breach threats, including: training, clear policies, and using a trusted third-party who can offer support.

Employee Training

Regular employee training can help employees better understand their role in helping the organization remain secure and what actions to take in the event of a data breach. Security training during employee onboarding should also be required. A 2022 study conducted by Verizon found that most data breaches (82%) over the past year involved a human element, including stolen credentials, phishing, or misuse. Hackers know humans are susceptible to phishing and often use links connected to ransomware to trap confidential data. The right training can help employees identify both physical and digital security risk factors and learn how to respond to them.

Incident Response

Additionally, companies should develop an incident response plan, which is a documented, written plan for IT professionals and staff, outlining concrete steps to prevent, understand, and control the effects of a data security breach. Plans must also be adapted to meet changing regulations and lessons learned from recent events. Specifically, every effective incident response plan should include the following components:

  • A list of roles and responsibilities for the response team members.
  • A business continuity plan detailing how the organization will maintain its essential functions.
  • Tools, technologies, and any physical resources needed to execute the plan.
  • Processes to recover network and data.
  • Internal and external communications templates.

Develop Clear Policies

In addition to having regular training modules for employees and an incident response plan, a company should outline clear rules for employees to follow in day-to-day tasks. Employers can help their staff continue their data security education outside of designated training days by offering clear, tangible, and simple steps.

One example is a clean desk policy, which helps ensure that physical documents are either shredded or secured and technological devices are password protected each time an employee leaves a workspace. In addition, a shred-it-all policy encourages regular destroying and securing of all documents to help ensure no confidential information is left in the open.

Other policies to consider are record retention, bring-your-own-device, email and internet-use, and workstation safety policies – all of these will help to protect the organization, employees, and valued customers.

Enlist a Trusted Third-Party

Business leaders balance many responsibilities, so it can be helpful to have a partner that can help identify best practices. Employee training and policy development requires time and diligence, so adequate support is essential. In fact, 55% of the SBLs surveyed do not feel they have the adequate resources or support to navigate today’s data protection and  security regulations. This is why consulting third-parties could make a difference in company data security.

Find out how partnering with Shred-it can help with your data protection efforts.