Technology

Best Practices on how to Prevent Data Exfiltration

The ability to do hybrid and remote work has significantly changed how things are done. Businesses have embraced new technology to boost staff productivity and coordination. Employees, on the other hand, are used to working how and where they choose and have rejected the idea of a controlled, consecutive-hour workweek. They expect tools to be flexible and feel more accountability for the work they do.

The character of these changes has also increased the risk of data exfiltration. The volume and significance of data exfiltration risk only expand when factors like more collaboration tools, lots of employee turnover, and increased growth or innovation are taken into account.

In this article we’ll go over ways you can stop data exfiltration.

What is Data Exfiltration?

Today, data is a valuable commodity. It has value to the organizations who own it and to those looking to exploit it through illegal activity. Data can be sensitive information about customers and employees, financial or strategic information, product designs or intellectual property, or any data that could undermine an organization’s market competitiveness. When this data is purposefully leaked from the organization without permission, it is known as data exfiltration and when it is lost, the organization suffers a data breach.

Most Often Seen Data Exfiltration Methods

Why would someone meddle in data exfiltration? Simple – profit. These days, obtaining sensitive data can set up hackers in an enviable situation – they hold confidential data and can release it to the public, sell it to the competition, blackmail, and overall destroy entire businesses.

The most often seen data exfiltration attempts are:

  • Data exfiltration by someone inside your organization: If you’re not careful with screening your future employee, you may be letting in someone who will one day share sensitive data with outside players. Having data obtained illegally by an employee means having a staff member access company data due to them knowing the workarounds to get to it, or having the technical knowledge to bypass security systems.
  • Data exfiltration by someone outside the organization: Data exfiltration by outside players happens when valuable and confidential data is stolen by a person from outside your company. These cyberattacks are usually carried out remotely, but can encompass a few different methods.

Given the significant impact data exfiltration can have on a business, it’s vital you know all of the different ways in which it can come knocking on your door when you least expect it. Since no one can plan for these events, it’s important you collaborate with a proven MSP (managed service provider). Such a provider should offer 24/7 helpdesk services, so you can ring them up if you’re a victim of data exfiltration even at an ungodly hour. 

4 Best Ways to Prevent Data Exfiltration

Now we will explore the best ways to prevent data exfiltration.

#1 Blocking Unauthorized Communication Channels

The likelihood that unauthorized communication channels will be mistakenly or maliciously used as a method for data exfiltration decreases as you reduce the number of unsecure paths that are open for accessing data. Consider blocking all unapproved communication channels, ports, and protocols, then re-enabling them as needed.

When all communication channels are enabled by default, it might cause problems such as accidental exposure of data over the internet by users who forget to turn off a server’s HTTP service. This technique gives a stronger data security policy.

#2 Spot and Redact Sensitive Data

Some data is almost fully secure from exfiltration. But some data is especially sensitive and prone to hacking. Depending on variables such as the systems on which it resides, whether those systems are connected to the network, and how many users have access to those systems, some data may be more easily exfiltrated than other assets.

In order to prevent exfiltration, it is essential to identify the systems that contain sensitive data and make sure that such systems are appropriately secured. Data should be copied to a more secure system and subsequently removed from the unsafe system if you find it is impossible to safeguard the data.

#3 Employee Education

All the security protocols in the world are in vain if you don’t do one crucial thing – educate your staff. Whether they’re gen Z or boomers or anyone in between, they need to attend mandatory and regular security awareness webinars and training.

They may oppose this, but don’t back down – they’re not the ones with as much responsibility as you are. If you’re the CEO, owner or manager, you have the wider picture in mind and you know how much can go downhill if proper awareness is not present.

Businesses need to have a proper cybersecurity culture and awareness. Along with that, once you send your employees to these training sessions, you need to have faith that they’ll come out of those training with the knowledge that will make them a great first line of defense.

#4 Granting Privileged Access

Bring-your-own-device (BYOD) guidelines should be established and communicated to all staff members. Employees can access important data using any type of personal device nowadays, from a child’s gaming console to a Windows 8 tower. We have the post-pandemic transition to remote work to thank for that.

In addition to being important to stop a data breach today, monitoring the network to identify who is connecting and what devices they are using also helps to better understand how users are interacting with the network.

Control privilege to prevent insider risks. That involves only granting the bare minimum of privilege, dynamically controlling privilege so that when an employee’s justification for accessing a sensitive system fails to be valid, they lose access, and routinely revoking privilege for ex-employees from the moment their employment ends, as opposed to waiting a week or two to close out old accounts.

Final Word

The best defense against data exfiltration is to prevent it from happening altogether. Once data has been extracted from your IT network, the damage is already done. Mitigation and incident response plans have a limited impact, and a sound cybersecurity strategy is actually what you need.

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