6 Ways Startups Can Protect Their Data Without Breaking the Bank

Everyone is concerned about data security and privacy but technology-dependent businesses have even more to worry about. For established companies, addressing data security issues may be a nuisance, but they can use their vast resources to hire a sophisticated IT security vendor or an experienced data security expert.

But startup companies focused on growth and development can’t always afford these resource-intensive options. What options are available for cash-strapped startups? Here are six solutions that will help startups ensure data security and privacy without high costs:

1. Keep IT visible and informed

IT must be aware and visible about what employees are doing with company data, which tools are being used, and where data is stored. A “sync and share” must happen regularly. It is increasingly difficult to keep track of data because the line between personal and business devices is blurred and mobile devices are everywhere.

Consumer cloud file sync/share tools significantly increase the risk of data breaches if not implemented properly. As a result, employees often unknowingly introduce risk to a company by simply syncing data across their devices, working with others outside the organization, or downloading the next cool and free mobile application. IT must be proactively involved to prevent these data breaches and address them when they occur.

2. Create a data security policy, identify assets, and minimize collection

At a minimum, every company must establish data security policies that include guidelines for file sharing. Cyber-criminals target small businesses because many of them do not pay attention to these issues or fail to allocate adequate resources to address them. It is a good idea to take the time to understand the business’ value and give it the proper protections because that is what cyber criminals target. A company should identify the critical assets of its business and be clear about where they are stored, whether they are encrypted, and who has the keys.

Finally, any startup will benefit from minimizing the amount of protected information in their possession. Startups should not collect protected information from customers and employees unless they truly need it for operations. Similarly, information that is no longer needed must be destroyed. You can’t breach if it doesn’t exist.

3. Train employees

The most important thing any company can do to protect itself from a data breach is to spend a significant amount of time and money on training their team to avoid cyber attacks. It’s cheap and for very small companies, it’s free.

Training employees on the dos and don’ts can go a very long way into protecting data.. For example, employee training should include data loss prevention, social engineering identification, least privileged access, physical security of devices, creating a reliable and secure password, and identifying suspicious links and attachments from phishing attacks.

4. Outsource to established, cloud-based compliant experts

A startup should consider outsourcing breach prevention and other functions to established compliant experts and vendors. It is not affordable for most startups to house internal threat intelligence to protect against general and advanced persistent threats. It is certainly not affordable for a startup to house top-notch, industrial grade tools.

A simple and easy solution for startups is to store their data on a cloud solution that can incorporate data-centric security as well as application-level security, where the security measures are embedded in the data itself as opposed to protecting only the infrastructure. It makes sense to leverage experts and vendors to get access to sophisticated and compliant tools such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Dropbox, Box, Salesforce, etc. Startups should also investigate the new small business solutions from Microsoft and Google. These reasonably priced tools offer the backing of big companies with the resources to take data and security privacy seriously. These tools can also neatly scale with a startup’s growth.

5. Encrypt, especially your sensitive data

One of the most cost-effective ways a startup company can protect itself from a data breach is encryption. And encrypting not just sensitive information — like credit card numbers or social security numbers, which are non-negotiable — but all information, like email addresses, is essential. Encryption technology is relatively cheap for such a useful investment: even if encrypted information is breached, it will be unusable. Having the strongest encryption available and storing encryption keys on a different server than secured data is ideal.

6. Conduct penetration testing often and regularly

Penetration testing is another cost-effective way for a startup company to protect itself from a data breach. There are a number of penetration testing tools available in every price range. It is worth it to spend some money and time to identify your company’s specific needs and find a specific tool that will address your business needs and be manageable to operate. After all, startups should be able to competently use whatever tools they’ve invested in.

Despite their limited budgets, startups simply can't afford risking data breaches. Implementing these practical solutions can help startups hold onto their data and money. This pragmatic, budget-conscious approach further affirms that data security is for everyone — from established mega-corporations, to the next game changer incubating in a Palo Alto garage.

What are you doing to ensure that your business data is secure?