Every single day, businesses are making decisions based on data. They assume that their data can be trusted, that it’s complete, and that they’re therefore making the best possible data-driven strategic choices for their continued growth and success. These decisions have significant impacts on their bottom-lines. But what happens when your data is incomplete? Perhaps more importantly, what happens when it’s either entirely or partially incorrect?
The importance of data integrity has become a widely discussed concern for businesses around the world. With regulations like GDPR and the POPI Act emerging in the EU and South Africa, protection of personal information within your data has become essential, but this is not the only threat that businesses face when it comes to protecting their data.
In the past, the major threats facing businesses when it came to cybercriminals were Distributed Denial of Service, or DDoS, attacks. This didn’t affect data integrity, so businesses automatically assumed that their data was safe and secure, and didn’t need additional protection. But cyberthreats are constantly evolving, and perpetrators quickly found that modifying or destroying a business’ data would have serious implications. This has seen a rise in data attacks, where cybercriminals gain unauthorised access to a company’s data and hold it to ransom.
There are a number of ways that cybercriminals can gain access to your data and threaten its integrity. Let’s look at some of the major threats, as well as some actionable tips and best practices on protecting your business information.
Threats to Data Integrity
- Poor Passwords
An organisation can prevent threats to data integrity by implementing a system that encourages users to set secure passwords. These will often contain a combination of numbers, letters and special characters.
Because the securest passwords are often difficult to remember, you should also consider using password managers. These allow the exchange of user login credentials without necessarily disclosing the password itself, and make it easy to keep track of unique passwords for a number of sites and apps. This way your staff will have secure access to information, and you’ll be able to accommodate employees who need to share credentials as part of their job.
On top of having a strict password policy, multi-factor authentication is essential for enterprise security nowadays. It means that even if a password becomes compromised, cybercriminals will still not be able to access your business data without credentials for a separate email address, or access to a separate device.
- Outdated Software and Apps
Having outdated software is one of the most significant threats to data integrity. It puts your business at serious risk of a ransomware attack.
Take, for example, the WannaCry ransomware attack of 2017, which affected over 160,000 users worldwide. More than 67% of the devices targeted by the WannaCry ransomware were those who had postponed installing updates to their Windows 7 security. Even though Windows released an improved layer of data security after discovering hackers had gained access to users’ data, many business continued to use outdated apps, and were exposed to attackers.
- Network Vulnerabilities
Network vulnerabilities are weaknesses or defects in hardware or other business resources that attackers could use to gain access to your company’s data. Whenever there is a possibility that a cybercriminal could breach your network security, it automatically becomes a threat to data integrity.
But it’s not only undiagnosed weaknesses that could see cybercriminals gaining unauthorised access to your network. Your user credentials also add to network vulnerability. The more credentials there are, the greater the risk that an attacker could gain access to your data. This makes it essential to limit the number of staff members who have access to your data.
Whenever an employee leaves your company, it is imperative that you update their login information, disable their interactions, and remove their access to various company systems. This reduces the risk of their outdated credentials being used to access your systems.
- Software Vulnerabilities
While network vulnerabilities are usually hardware based, software vulnerabilities are often found in your code, or in the apps that your business uses. Keeping your software up-to-date and regularly checking your code for errors and deficiencies are essential parts of keeping your business protected.
Attackers are constantly looking for loopholes that they can take advantage of. As soon as one is found, hackers will often create viruses and programs that will provide them with access to devices and networks and help take control of them. If you think of your networks as being housed in a physical building, these exploits are the crowbars and lock picks that attackers might use to break in.
While regular testing and manual code inspections are best practices that most businesses follow, they are often ineffective when it comes to software vulnerability. It’s practically impossible to detect all possible vulnerabilities manually, after all. This is why it’s critical to have a thorough understanding of the vulnerabilities that have been discovered, and to update your software as soon as new versions and patches become available. This will help you to handle security threats quickly and efficiently.
- Intrusion Attacks
There are two different types of intrusions that most businesses need to be prepared for: data intrusions and network intrusions.
A data intrusion is when someone gains unauthorised access to your data. This could come from malware being installed on a device, it could be an employee intentionally accessing data that they shouldn’t be able to, or it could be someone on your network unintentionally breaching your data access. Any of these would be considered an intrusion. While the most dangerous intruders are those who threaten your data protection, even someone who accesses a file by mistake could make changes that threaten your data integrity.
A network intrusion often involves an intruder using your network’s resources illicitly. This could be using them in a way that they weren’t intended for, or stealing sensitive network services. Either case poses a threat to your network and data protection.
Your business and your IT teams need to understand how intrusions work, and what can cause them, to identify and react to them proactively. Having intrusion detection and prevention systems in place will help you to avoid both data and network intrusions, or put a quick stop to them when they do occur.
Poor Configuration Management
Configuration management involves maintaining both hardware and software systems, and ensuring that they perform optimally. Part of this maintenance is running regular checks and updates to systems, but it also includes configuring operating systems, devices, networks and assets, and making sure that they’re secure. When it’s done poorly, it can pose a serious threat to your data integrity.
While configuration management can sometimes be a manual process, there are technologies available to help you streamline your systems using IT automation. These will ensure that your systems are constantly up to date and running efficiently, and that they aren’t vulnerable to attack. It will also help you to keep track of configuration changes across your systems, preventing device outages, security breaches, and information leakage.
Improper Security Architecture
Every process that your business implements to keep your infrastructure and data safe from unauthorised access and manipulation should form part of your security architecture. When you don’t have proper security architecture in place, you put your critical systems such as privacy, integrity and accessibility at risk.
You can think of your security architecture as a guideline for your IT team. It advises them on how to conduct security checks, and details the standards, protocols, and operational procedures that they should avoid, examine, and use to identify threats. It’s the cornerstone of your company’s protection against cyber-attacks, ensuring that all aspects of your IT network are safe.
When you have systems in place for monitoring and managing your data’s integrity, you’re well placed to quickly respond to any threat that may arise, whether it’s an incident, an abnormality, or a network misconfiguration. You’ll even be in a great position for embracing remote working. But, most importantly of all, you’ll be able to trust that the data you’re using to make your operational decisions is complete, correct, and secure. This will help you to confidently make the data-driven decisions that your company needs to grow.