As businesses become increasingly reliant on technology, protecting sensitive information is more important than ever. Data breaches and cyberattacks can result in costly consequences, making strong data security practices essential.

In this blog, we cover the top-seven data security practices every workplace should implement to help protect valuable information and more.

Why is Data Security Important in the Workplace?

Data security is the process of protecting data from loss, theft, unauthorized access, or inappropriate usage for the entire life cycle of the data.

For the employer, strong data security protects the organization from threats and conveys many additional benefits:

  • Privacy protection.

Employers have a duty to protect the private data of the organization, its employees, and customers. When someone entrusts data to an employer, it should do its best to protect that information.

  • Financial security.

Strong data security can help employers maintain financial health. Data security incidents can result in economic losses as the employer investigates the incident, fixes security issues, and makes restitution to customers. The employer could even be subject to government penalties or lawsuits.

  • Reputational protection.

Robust security can help employers maintain a strong reputation, and many potential customers evaluate data security and compliance policies before working with a vendor. Weak data security policies and breaches can damage an employer’s reputation and affect its ability to acquire or retain customers.

  • Smarter data policies.

Employers that proactively enact security measures can identify areas for process improvement and data hygiene, improving operational efficiency.

  • Risk reduction.

Putting data security policies in place can reduce the risk of a costly or damaging data breach.

  • Engaged employees.

Businesses that treat their employees as data security assets and recruit them as part of the effort can help workers add value to the organization and understand their role in data security.

As an employee, you also have strong motivations to promote data security for your employer:

  • Employee responsibility.

You are the front line against many data security threats and should treat your responsibility seriously.

  • Job security.

Protecting an employer’s data helps protect its financial health and prevents layoffs or job losses resulting from a severe data breach.

  • Personal privacy.

Protecting an employer’s data also helps protect your personal information stored on the employer’s network.

Common Data Threats in the Workplace

Many of the most common data threats involve an employee being careless or making a simple mistake:

  • Phishing and smishing.

Phishing and smishing scams impersonate a legitimate person over email or text messages to trick you into taking action , like providing sensitive information or downloading a virus.

  • Malware and ransomware.

Malware is software designed to access a computer or network, steal data or perform other malicious attacks. Ransomware blocks an employer’s access to its data via encryption, and the employer will have to pay a ransom to access it.

  • Password theft.

When a criminal obtains your password, they can use it to access sensitive information or internal business systems.

  • Unsecured devices.

Devices that copy data from a company network, like USB drives, are easily lost or stolen. Work devices, from phones to laptops, can be stolen from the workplace or while the employee is working remotely.

  • Insider threats.

Current and former employees, contractors, and business associates may threaten an employer’s data security if they intend to access data and use it in an unauthorized manner.

Top 7 Data Security Practices for Employers and Employees

While the proper data security policies depend on many variables, common practices apply across all industries and organization types. Here are the top-seven data security practices for employers and employees:

1. Connect to Secure Wi-Fi

Employees should always connect to a secure Wi-Fi network that is encrypted and password protected. When onsite, you should connect to your employer’s network. When working remotely or traveling, you should maintain a connection to secure networks when conducting business.

Employers can provide virtual private networks (VPNs), a tool that hides IP addresses and encrypts data to ensure privacy. VPNs allow onsite and remote workers to send and receive employer data through a secure, private network.

2. Use Strong Passwords and Multi-factor Authentication

Many systems are only as secure as the passwords used to protect them. You should never use the same password, or variations of the same password, across multiple accounts.

Consider using a password manager (check if your employer offers one) to create unique passwords for every account. Password managers can help you automatically create unique passwords and protect them behind data encryption.

If you don’t already use multi-factor authentication (MFA) to access your work accounts, you should start. MFA requires extra verification when you log in, using a temporary code sent via an app, email, or text message.

So, criminals who manage only to gain your password won’t be able to get into your work accounts.

Employers can improve data security by making these practices mandatory. For example, an employer can require MFA for employees logging into company networks to access work documents.

3. Use Malware and Virus Protection Software

Antivirus software protects your PC, phone, and other devices from viruses. It can search your computer for threats and warn you before downloading malware or visiting a suspicious website.

Remember also to update your operating system, browser, and other software programs to stay protected from the latest threats.

Employers should provide strong antivirus software and other tools for device security and data protection, whether the employee is working onsite or remotely.

4. Communicate with Your IT Department

When it comes to data security, treat your IT department as a resource. Use them to learn about data security and raise any questions or concerns.

Report security warnings, suspicious emails, and other things that look like red flags. If you notice anything that seems like a security risk or an opportunity for improvement, raise the issue with your employer.

When traveling or working remotely, let IT know beforehand so they can set you up for secure access while away from work. If you ever have a question if a practice is safe – for example, connecting to public Wi-Fi in the airport to check your email – check with IT first.

5. Safeguard Data Physically

Modern employers often keep data stored virtually, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore physical security best practices. Always follow a clean desk policy in which data, including paper and digital documents, are locked away when you aren’t around.

Computers should be locked, and password protected when you aren’t using them.

Paper documents should be secured under lock and key, and your employer should put access controls in place to ensure that only the appropriate personnel has access to data. Paper documents should be shredded and destroyed when they are no longer needed.

Physical storage devices like USB flash drives are a security risk because they can easily get lost, misplaced or stolen. Employers should discourage, and ban whenever possible, the use of USB drives and provide employees with safer and more convenient options.

Physical devices, from USB drives to laptops, that are no longer in use should be decommissioned and destroyed.

6. Avoid Unknown Emails, Links, Attachments and Popups

You may send and receive links and attachments with coworkers all the time, but don’t automatically trust every message you receive. Malicious links or attachments could infect your employer’s network, steal information and more if you aren’t careful.

If you are sent an unexpected attachment or link from an email address you don’t know, don’t open it. Even if you believe the sender is legitimate, you should verify before you open any file or click any link.

Cybercriminals have ways to impersonate employees. Some methods to recognize phishing emails or smishing texts include:

  • Urgent requests to provide sensitive information
  • Anomalies in identifying information such as a misspelled name in an email address, a text from your boss coming from a number you don’t recognize, etc.
  • Poorly written emails with lots of grammar mistakes or typos
  • Suspicious links or attachments

7. Embrace Cybersecurity Training and Education

Data security usually starts with the employee. Often, data breaches occur when an employee unwittingly downloads an attachment, clicks a link, or responds to a request that is actually a scam.

Going through data security training with your employer can help you avoid threats.

Employers should train their workers to identify risks and follow data security best practices. The training should be mandatory, but employers should strive to make it engaging. Here are some tips to get employees engaged in training:

  • Establish a consistent training schedule that occurs throughout the year.
  • Avoid overwhelming employees with training sessions that are too long or overloaded with information.
  • Make training more fun and interactive, rather than using fear-based or boring lesson plans to “tick the box” of data security training.

Security training helps protect the employer, but it can also help employees practice good data security in their personal life. In this way, data security training can also be viewed as an employee benefit.

Bottom Line

Safeguarding sensitive information in the workplace is a shared responsibility between employers and employees. Good data security practices can create a more secure work environment for everyone.

IdentityIQ services offer identity theft protection and antivirus and VPN software that can help mitigate the damage of data breaches and prevent cyber-attacks. IdentityIQ services benefit both employers and employees by ensuring the safety of the company and personal data.

Prioritizing data security practices and using reliable data protection solutions can help you protect your team’s sensitive information from potential threats.