How Your Startup Can Avoid Data Leakage

Few things are more important to a startup than building a strong and secure foundation for future success. Part of that means creating a system by which data is protected and the risk of leakage is greatly reduced. Are you doing enough to safeguard your startup’s data?

What Exactly is Data Loss?

The term “data loss” is thrown around with great frequency, but what is it? While it’s a straightforward issue, the solutions to preventing data loss aren’t always so obvious – which is why startups often struggle to get a grip on this all-important aspect of their digital operations.

“Data loss can occur on any device that stores data,” Boston Computing Network explains. “Although any loss of data, even a simple misplacement, is by definition technically a loss, what we are primarily concerned with is the permanent loss of data that is important to your business’ ongoing success.”

Data loss is essentially the process that results in data being deleted, corrupted, or otherwise made unreadable by users, software, and other applications that are tasked with extrapolating meaning from the information. Data loss is also commonly known as data leakage.

As Techopedia notes, data loss can occur both when data is at rest and when it’s in motion – so there’s inherent risk regardless of the state. To make matters worse, there is no single cause of data loss. It can result due to carelessness of employees, malicious outside threats, or even simple system failures. In fact, to give you some perspective, here are some of the greatest causes of data loss:

  • Power failures. Large organizations have generators and other sophisticated systems that keep devices and servers up and running, regardless of access to power, but startups aren’t always blessed with such strong substructures. In these cases, power failures – even those of the simplest kind – can corrupt data, ruin work that was in progress, and/or result in damage to physical hardware parts.

  • Viruses and malware. Startups and small businesses face an increased risk of being victimized by cyber criminals. While ransomware is a big issue right now, many viruses and malware are specifically designed to destroy and corrupt data so that the end-user can no longer access it.

  • Mechanical damage. Computer hard drives, servers, and other memory devices can contain fragile components that, when manipulated or otherwise forcefully impacted, break down and become inoperable. The result is often lost data.

  • Theft. Don’t overlook the risk of theft. Whether it’s internal theft from an employee or outside infiltration, theft of physical hardware and data files can result in significant data loss if there’s no safety net in place.

  • Accidental deletion. Believe it or not, one of the most common causes of data loss is accidental deletion. We’ve all suffered through an experience where we accidentally overwrote a file or deleted something. Sometimes there are ways to recover the information, sometimes the data is gone forever.

This is just a small sampling of some common causes of data loss. The truth is that there are dozens more, which makes the act of preventing data leakage even more important (and challenging).

The State of Data Loss Prevention

Because data loss is such a major threat to established businesses and startups alike, an entire industry has developed around the issue.

After a number of high-profile security breaches and other instances involving leading organizations, those in the industry have noticed a pretty significant resurgence in the demand for data loss prevention (DLP) measures and solutions.

While external threats from hackers and cyber criminals only account for some of the data loss risk businesses face, it’s certainly the most pressing issue. And currently, those in the DLP industry are pleading with small businesses and startups to wake up.

“The issue is that SMBs wrongly assume that their size or small influence does not merit attention from hackers or do not educate themselves about potential exploits in their infrastructure,” says Greg Sullivan, a leader in the information security field. “Hackers run their operations like a business and want to find ways to maximize the return on their investments. That makes small businesses, which typically do not have the IT resources or expertise to implement and manage security systems, prime targets.”

In other words, the underlying message for startups is act now. Few things are more important to the integrity of your business moving forward and DLP is the only way to ensure your data is safeguarded from both internal and external threats.

5 Ways Startups Can Prevent Data Loss

If the concept of DLP is new to you, then you probably have lots of questions regarding how you can best proceed – and that’s to be expected. In order to help you along in your mission to avoid data leakage, we’ve gathered some of the top DLP tips for your startup.

  1. Use DLP Software

“Traditional antivirus software is not obsolete, but the practice of solely relying on it to protect your data is,” Sullivan notes. “It simply cannot keep the bad guys out, and when those attackers do break through the network security system, they can sit quietly for months or even years stealing data before they're discovered and the damage is done.”

What your startup really needs to do is make an investment in formal DLP software that’s designed to protect you from modern threats. “Technology is where many data loss protection strategies fail,” explains Virtru, a leading provider of advanced DLP software. “It’s not enough for your email and file encryption tools to be strong — they also need to enforce data loss protection policy, and be user-friendly enough for your workers, partners, and clients to use.”

  1. Create Stronger Office Policies

Having the right software is great, but do your employees understand their role in preventing data leakage? A DLP program is only as good as the people you have in your organization. They must fully buy-in if you want to see positive growth.

Ongoing training and supervision is critically important. In fact, you should make it a priority to train and refresh employees on a quarterly basis. This is the only way to stay ahead of this rapidly advancing market.

Additionally, feedback should always be solicited and happily accepted. Your employees are the ones on the front lines. If they notice something is or isn’t working, then you should listen. They probably know what they’re talking about.

  1. Encrypt Email

Email is one of the most significant and vulnerable channels your startup interacts with. Not only can external threats infiltrate your company through employee inboxes, but your employees can unknowingly leak data and information in their communications with those outside of the company.

Email encryption matters more than you could ever imagine. It’s how you keep your information protected and plays a major role in how you detect threats as they come in. But beyond encryption, your employees also need to understand email security best practices as they relate to attachments, sending files, and recognizing potential threats.

  1. Be Careful With the “How” and “Where”

Employees need to be cognizant of how they share secure data and confidential information, as well as where they share it. These are conversations that need to be had ahead of time – ideally in training sessions – but there also has to be some accountability and ongoing monitoring to ensure everyone follows along.

Administrators must stay abreast of what information is being shared with business partners, customers, suppliers, and even contractors. Your startup probably has multiple endpoints and monitoring traffic on all networks is paramount to long-term data integrity. 

  1. Increase Reliance on the Cloud

The final suggestion is to increase your reliance on the cloud, while simultaneously moving away from on-premise solutions that add little long-term protection or security.

“Although backing up your data is not exactly a proactive procedure, it’s better to have a failsafe in case of unforeseen disasters,” business owner Vikas Agrawal notes. Specifically, you should find a cloud storage service that allows you to store data independently of physical hard drives and servers.

As Agrawal explains, “Most remote backup services have automated features to make sure your company’s integrity remains intact. It’s also a good idea to have backup ‘fire drills’ and test how quickly you can restore data with your current platform.”

Continue to Evolve

The most difficult part about data leakage and DLP is that all causal factors are subject to change. As technology develops, hackers become more sophisticated, and behaviors change, so will the threats to your startup’s data.

The important thing is that you continue to evolve with the market. Stay on top of new trends and developments and never let your guard down.

As stated at the beginning of this article, few things matter more to your startup than building a strong and secure foundation for future success.

A comprehensive DLP strategy is a great place to start, but make sure you’re always looking for additional layers of security.

The worst thing you can do is be stagnant on this front.