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How To Prevent Data Breaches: 12 Best Practices

data breachesThe best way to protect against the hassle and cost of data breaches is to prevent them altogether. However, before you can stop data breaches, you need to understand them. This guide outlines the types of data breaches your practice could encounter and includes simple steps to prevent data breach incidents from occurring in the first place.

How Do Data Breaches Happen?

Data breaches happen when cybercriminals access data and sensitive information. These breaches are incredibly costly. According to the 2020 Cost of a Data Breach Report by IBM, the average total cost of a data breach is $3.86 million, not including the incalculable damage to the organization’s reputation. It also costs time. IBM found that it takes an average of 280 days to both identify and effectively contain a breach.

With a huge portion of the workforce transitioning to remote work over the past year, it’s become even more important to figure out how to prevent data breach incidents. According to IBM’s survey respondents, 76% said remote work increased the time to identify and contain breaches. This led to an estimated additional $137,000 cost per breach. 

The good news is that there are many simple security measures you can take to prevent a data breach. To help determine a data breach prevention plan that fits your practice, let’s review three of the most common ways that these breaches typically occur: 

Physical actions

While we may think of cybercriminals as savvy hackers accessing data remotely, another common way they get access is actually from physical actions. For example, they might steal paperwork, laptops, phones, or storage devices. They could also obtain physical assets and copy them without anyone knowing they were accessed.

Social engineering

You’ve probably heard of phishing, which is when cybercriminals send malicious emails that look real in an effort to get access to sensitive data. For example, they may send an email that looks like it came from your IT department requesting a staff member’s password to be changed so they can then access their accounts. These scams can come in the form of emails and calls and help scammers get access to confidential information that they then either sell or use to commit fraud. 

Human error

Data breaches aren’t always due to malicious activity. In fact, IBM notes that only about half (52%) of breaches are caused by malicious attacks. Accidents can happen; for example, a person simply leaves sensitive information somewhere where it is not protected, or accidentally sends it to the wrong person (or people).

How To Prevent Data Breach Incidents: 12 Best Practices

Because data breaches are so costly, it’s worth investing both time and money in making sure they don’t happen at all. Here are 12 best practices you can undertake to protect your practice’s data and reputation.

1. Educate your employees

Fighting ignorance is one of the best ways to prevent data breaches. Educate your employees on how to protect data from being compromised. Help them understand how to create strong passwords, instruct how often they should change their passwords, and help them spot, avoid, and report phishing scams and other suspicious activity. 

2. Create and update procedures

Establish procedures related to data security standards and update them consistently to make it clear what your expectations are as it relates to data. This will also show to your employees that you take data seriously and remind them that they should take it seriously as well. 

It’s also wise to consider using roles and permissions when it comes to accessing certain types of patient and financial data. Just as security is critically important in your Practice Management Software, a payment processor such as PaySimple can allow you to set users to have varying access and viewing permissions, providing a proactive approach to enforcing data procedures.

3. Remote monitoring

Remote monitoring provides around-the-clock monitoring of your network. You can work with a managed IT services provider so that you don’t have to staff IT people around the clock to monitor your systems for you.

4. Data backup and recovery

Sometimes data breaches can maliciously delete all of your data. It’s important to have your data backed up so that it can easily be recovered in case of data loss, a server crash, or even a natural disaster. Your IT team should have an automated remote backup system set in place on a regular basis to protect you from losing important data.

5. Keep only what you need

Keep track of the information you have on your computers and occasionally eliminate what is unnecessary. Minimize the number of places that you store confidential data and keep track of where those places are.   

6. Destroy before disposal

Before you dispose of anything that may have confidential information on it, make sure it is properly destroyed. For example, cross-cut shred paper files. Also, make sure you use software designed to permanently wipe data off devices like old phones, laptops, or hard drives. Simply deleting the files or reformatting does not fully erase data.

7. Safeguard physical data

Because physical actions can cause data breaches, it is imperative to safeguard all data, including physical files. Make sure physical records are stored in a secure location and that access is limited only to the employees that really need it.

8. Empower employees with best practices

Employees should have a firm understanding of websites that can expose work computers to risks, such as file-sharing websites. The same goes for mobile devices they use in the course of work. Encourage remote workers to use their work computers only for business and limit other activities to their personal computers.

9. Maintain up-to-date security software

You can purchase security software and automate it to run on a continuous basis. Firewalls, anti-virus software, and anti-spyware software are important tools to defend against data breaches. Work closely with an internet security team or provider to set these up correctly.

10. Encrypt data

If you send confidential data by email, make sure that they are encrypted before being sent. If using a Wi-Fi network, ensure you have a dedicated network for your team that the public can’t access. For the most sensitive data, you may require employees to not use Wi-Fi at all as it can allow cyber criminals to intercept data.

11. Protect portable devices

Flash drives, mobile phones, tablets, and other portable devices are easy to lose or steal. Make sure that portable devices have hard-to-guess passwords, anti-theft apps, and other security measures in place so they can only be accessed by authorized users.

12. Partner with experts

Managing a practice is time-consuming and thinking about data breaches may not be in your wheelhouse. If that is the case, you may want to consider hiring a security expert to manage this for you or simply consult you on best practices.

It may also mean working with vendors who do much of the security work for you. Anytime a patient’s credit card information is kept on file, it must be kept safe at all times. With a payment processor such as PaySimple, this information is securely stored, helping to alleviate some of the responsibility and risk from your practice. PaySimple uses the most powerful PCI-compliant security and encryption tools that exist in today’s marketplace to ensure your practice and patients are protected. Security at this level mitigates exposure to fraud and theft while fostering patient trust and practice credibility.

If you have further questions about securely storing data and processing payments, our team can help. Open Dental customers who utilize PaySimple enjoy benefits that increase revenue and modernize their dental practice. To learn more about using PaySimple for a seamless and secure payment experience, click here.

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