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Are Your Employees Putting Your Company at Risk?

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Hackers may dominate conversations about data security, but many data breaches have more humble beginnings: A laptop is stolen at an airport; sensitive information is emailed to the wrong address; a retired employee has network access because IT wasn’t notified.

These garden-variety risks can become your company’s greatest points of exposure. But employees don’t need to be the weak link in your data security chain. Employees can be your greatest security champions with clear and effective communication from leadership.

Keep your organization secure from human error and negligence by remembering these four basic tenets.

1. Make Security a Shared Responsibility

The security of your company shouldn’t rest on one person’s — or department’s — shoulders. Implementing data security practices across an entire organization makes sense because while risk management officers are increasingly involved in monitoring how data protection is handled, day-to-day activities that impact the security and privacy of sensitive data still remain in the hands of the employees. Savvy business leaders should work to develop an expectation across their organizations that security is everyone’s responsibility.

2. Emphasize Training

A data breach can result from seemingly harmless decisions such as, “Can I leave my laptop in my car while I run into the store?” or “Should I take the time to encrypt this email?” Sometimes the trade-off is a matter of saving time or effort, while in other instances the situation is less deliberate, such as forgetting to notify IT when an employee moves to a new department and no longer needs the same level of access to sensitive or confidential data. Those daily decisions will be consistently better if the individual has been given the training and support needed to make the right choice, no matter if it requires more time or energy.

Start educating employees about your organization’s data security practices during new hire orientation sessions. Make the discussion about more than just login credentials and help desk phone numbers. Use it as an opportunity to discuss the company’s commitment to protecting sensitive company and customer data. Give HR, IT and managers the tools they need to begin engaging new employees in a two-way conversation about data protection and the organization’s expectations. It’s also a good time to present new workers with a copy of the processes and procedures they’ll need to follow to safely access sensitive data within your corporate network.

It’s imperative to emphasize to new employees that data security is important, as well as to follow up with frequent reminders and point-in-time instruction to provide reinforcement. Management can create an environment where employees feel comfortable asking questions and getting clarification on any procedures they don’t fully understand by being proactive in raising the topic of conversation in a non-threatening way. HR can take steps to provide training when an employee’s job duties change in such a way that warrants a different perspective or level of security. New supervisors will need to understand any expanded obligations on being attentive to the security practices of every role in his or her group, as well as specific reporting requirements like mandatory notification from state laws.

3. Get leadership Buy-in

Every organization’s culture begins at the top. Leadership matters for this reason. A leadership team committed to data security will engage department managers who then include their direct reports. Supervisors are often the first place employees turn if they have a question or concern. Arming managers and supervisors at all levels will enable the message to permeate your environment. Setting an expectation that all employees will be alert and correct and/or report deviations from protocol will convert daily activities across your organization from the risk of inadvertent exposure to attentive monitoring.

4. Plan Your Response

An incident response plan is a critical part of a comprehensive data security program. It should guide employees on how to recognize a potential breach and what to do about it. In order for employees to be expected to notice, report and even prevent a security incident, you must define for them what an incident looks like in their environment as well as how to report it. The reporting mechanism should be easily located and used even during non-working hours. An incident response plan that leaves identification of a security event to interpretation and does not describe objective signs and symptoms is too ambiguous to be effective. Instructing employees on the importance of protecting data is the first step, and should be followed by a conversation about how data breaches happen, what they look like and what to do if those events or activities are observed. Not only should employees know what to do if a mobile device is lost or stolen, they should also have the training to understand what the next step is if they discover that a patient record has been sent to the wrong place or if a website requires a password or credit card information to be entered twice.

Well-crafted breach response plans incorporate resources of all necessary functions, and not just IT. Resources from finance to HR to PR, legal counsel and IT will all be needed and should be included in establishing, maintaining and practicing an incident response plan. By laying out the steps each person on the breach response team will take if an exposure occurs, the entire organization will be better equipped to quickly implement a plan for early identification and a coordinated response that mitigates exposure and loss.

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