Almost every company that does business online holds on to a massive amount of sensitive customer information. In the event of a breach, this information can be a massive liability if it’s stolen or destroyed by hackers.

The average data breach costs a business $3.62 million, according to data from IBM. To make matters worse, these attacks seem to be happening more and more often.

Fortunately, data breaches aren’t inevitable — with the right defenses in place, you can defend your business databases against hackers. The strategies below will help you strengthen your business’s cyberdefenses and avoid a data breach.

1. Train Employees in Basic Cyber Safety

Most hackers don’t brute-force their way through network defenses. Instead, they take advantage of weaknesses in your network — like employees with little or no security training.

This training should cover the basic concepts of cybersecurity and the role employees play in keeping the network safe. At a minimum, training should cover:

  • What phishing attacks are, how to spot a phishand the risks these attacks pose
  • How to secure personal devices that connect to the network
  • Company network access and security policies

Phishing attacks are likely to be the most relevant to employees.

Note that this training doesn’t need to be exhaustive — even the basics are enough to provide a valuable line of defense against hackers.

2. Secure Your IoT Devices

Internet of things devices — “smart” tech like smart home assistants, thermometers and security systems — are notoriously difficult to secure, despite the industry’s steadily improving security practices. If a large number of IoT devices connect to your business’s networks, you should be especially vigilant about keeping their firmware updated and managing their network access.

If a manufacturer for a given IoT device in your office goes out of business or stops pushing security updates for that device, consider retiring it. Without regular security updates, the device will be much more vulnerable to attackers.

3. Manage Network Access

Not every user needs access to the entire network. You can implement network access controls that limit employees’ ability to use parts of the network depending on what kind of permissions they have. With robust network controls in place, you may be able to stop a hacker dead in their tracks, even if they gain control of a device belonging to a low-level employee.

4. Keep Only What You Need

The best way to avoid data falling into the hands of hackers is to only keep the data you need. Regularly reviewing stored data and culling unnecessary info as part of your company’s overall data strategy helps ensure you’re only holding on to data that is necessary for current business workflows.

A data review will also help your business know precisely what kind of information it has access to and where that data is stored. Good data record management provides serious benefits for your business beyond improved security — like reduced losses, simpler employee workloads and easier compliance.

5. Bring in Specialists

The larger and more complex your network is, the harder it will be for a simple IT team to secure. Consider bringing on cybersecurity professionals, or IT workers with strong security backgrounds, who have experience securing and defending networks against attackers.

These specialists will help coordinate your existing IT workers and offer advice that keeps your networks more secure.

6. Keep Security Software Updated

Security software will only keep your network safe if it stays updated. Ensure that your security software is regularly updated. You can also consider practices like regular security audits that help your IT team ensure that your software is up-to-date.

7. Encrypt Your Data

Of all data breaches in 2016, only 4% of affected organizations had any kind of encryption protecting their data. These organizations make themselves low-hanging fruit for would-be criminals.

Strong encryption of customer data, passwords and other sensitive information can keep that data safe in the case of a breach. While encryption can’t prevent the breach itself, it can ensure that hackers are unable to use any of the stolen data.

8. Test Your Network’s Defenses

Once your employees are trained in the basics and your cybersecurity team has its network defenses in place, you should test the strength of your network security.

One easy way to do this is by simulating phishing attacks. You can use security software to generate and send emails that look similar to a phish — with a legitimate-sounding name, branding, suspicious links and all. The software can automatically send these emails to employees and then track whether or not they report the email or click on the links inside.

These tools can be a great way to test the effectiveness of your security training.

Handling a Data Breach You Couldn’t Avoid

Even with the best defenses, data breaches can still happen. Because of this truth, it’s a good idea to have a plan in place for how your business will respond to a breach.

This plan should identify all relevant stakeholders you’ll need to contact — like employees, regulators and all affected customers — as well as how you’ll get in touch with them. Your response plan should also lay out who will lead an investigation into the breach, as well as how your company plans to manage crisis communications in the weeks following the incident.

While planning, you can also consider investing in data breach insurance. This insurance can help you cover some of the costs you’ll incur in the case of a security incident.

As soon as possible, notify your customers and follow any federal or state reporting laws your business is subject to. You may not have all the information at first, but you should be as transparent as possible with your customers.

Still, there’s some information that you should hold back. Before you’re sure that you’ve patched any holes in your network security, you shouldn’t relay any information detailing how hackers were able to gain access. Otherwise, other cybercriminals may be able to replicate their success.

Preparing Your Business for a Data Breach

Data breaches can be seriously costly for any business, and they’re happening more often every year. Thankfully, with the right security practices and training, it’s possible to secure your network against many common methods of attack.

Still, it’s worth preparing for how your business will respond if a breach does happen. Creating a response plan that covers incident investigation and communication will help you move quickly in the case of a security incident.

Lexie Lu is a freelance graphic designer and blogger. She keeps up with the latest design news and always has some coffee in close proximity. She writes on Design Roast and can be followed on Twitter @lexieludesigner.

Data breach stock photo by Yury Zap/Shutterstock