7 Key Lessons From Companies That Prevented Data Breaches in 2018

Published: March 12, 2019 by Michael Bruemmer

Any responsible business manager knows that protection business and client data ia a vital part of running a success organization. Now a new report identifies key factors that can improve a company’s ability to avoid hacks and data breaches.

And here’s the good news: These tactics really work.

During 2018, the number of personal records exposed in data breaches soared — a total of 446.5 million pieces of data – an increase that was more than double the number of records breached during 2017, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. [u1] The business, healthcare and financial sectors were the top three sectors hit, with hacking being the most common form of attack.

But among the companies surveyed in the latest annual study sponsored by Experian Data Breach Resolution, there are important signs of hope. Despite the startling increase in the number of records stolen by data thieves – a gain of 126 percent – the number of survey participants reporting a breach increased by just 5 percent.

This trend demonstrates that while hackers might be grabbing more data when they do manage to crack a database, the smaller increase in total breaches reported in the survey indicate that a growing number of institutions are improving their abilities to fend off cybercriminals.

What’s their secret?  To encourage more effective strategies to handle and prevent breaches, “Is Your Company Ready for a Big Data Breach?” uncovers several important lessons learned from companies that are successfully insulating themselves – and their customers – from data theft.

  1.  Prevention is the best response: The overarching lesson that researches found is that an effective data breach response plan starts with preventing breaches in the first place, rather than reacting after customer and business data has been stolen. Of the 643 U.S. business people surveyed who work on privacy, compliance and IT security, 29 percent reported that their organizations had prevented any breach involving more than 1,000 records for the past two years.
  2. Rate your plan: The Ponemon researchers found that the percentage of companies that find their data breach response plans to be very effective increased from 42 percent in 2016 to 52 percent in 2018. Not surprisingly, more people at organizations that didn’t report a breach rated their response plans as effective – 62 percent – while 45 percent of those at companies that suffered data theft nonetheless felt their plans were effective.
  3.  Money matters: Ponemon researchers found that more investment in cybersecurity technology seemed to pay off. One of the most common factors among companies that prevented breaches was increased spending on technology to detect and prevent attacks. Of companies that prevented breaches, 73 percent increased their tech spending, versus 61 percent of those companies that were breached.
  4.  No train, no gain: An even bigger improvement came from training employees and making them aware of privacy and data protection issues and practices. The likelihood of a data breach was significantly reduced when awareness training specifically targeted employees and other stakeholders in business processes who work with or access sensitive or confidential personal data. At organizations that implemented training, 79 percent avoided a breach versus 69 percent of those that were hacked.
  5.  Cybersafety starts at the top:  Executive engagement also matters. Making data security a priority among C-suite executives and corporate board members translates into keeping records safer. The study found that 54 percent of executives and 39 percent of directors were knowledgeable and engaged in planning data breach responses. At companies that were breached, 49 percent of executives and 32 percent of board members were involved with cybersecurity response.
  6.  Sharing is caring: Another key finding in preventing breaches is that organizations that sharing their insights and experiences in handling and preventing breaches improved their cybersafety. Operations that participated in learning about data protection and hacks from industry peers and government agencies were more likely to avoid a breach – 59 percent of those who joined sharing programs didn’t suffer an attack, while 46 percent of those participating experienced a breach.
  7.  Cybersafety is a process: Finally, organizations that want to stay cyber-safe might want to adopt the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared.” Companies that successfully prevented a data breach took several preventive measures to guard against attacks. That includes conducting regular reviews of physical security and access to confidential information, instituting third-party cybersecurity assessments, making data breach response part of their business continuity plans and creating backup websites that can be activated to provide content and information should a breach occur.

For the study, Ponemon researchers surveyed 643 professionals working in information technology and security, compliance and privacy who deal with data breach response plans in their organizations. The entire comprehensive survey of cybersecurity practices – “Sixth Annual Study: Is Your Company Ready for a Big Data Breach?” – can be downloaded from Experian.

The Ponemon Institute, headquartered in Traverse City, Michigan, conducts independent research on data protection and emerging information technologies. Experian Data Breach Resolution helps businesses of all sizes manage the risk of fines, customer loss, negative press and litigation due to a breach of data, and is a subsidiary of Experian, the global leader in consumer and business credit reporting and marketing service operating in 80 countries.