In today’s digital age, data breaches are a persistent threat, impacting businesses of all sizes across various industries.  

And recent statistics reveal a worrying trend. 

In 2023 alone, there were over 1,200 data breaches reported by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) — a 25% increase compared to 2022. Ransomware remains a significant threat; 75% of organisations suffered at least one ransomware attack in 2023. Equally, phishing attacks have surged, with 84% of UK businesses reporting at least one phishing attack in the past year. 

Yet, despite these figures and ongoing threats, findings from The Cyber Security Breaches Survey found that only 31% of businesses have undertaken cyber security risk assessments in the last year.  

Given the average cost of a data breach is around £3.4 million, these are worrying statistics indeed.  

 So, what can we learn from data breaches, and what cyber security measures should organisations implement to protect themselves against future attacks? 

What lessons can we learn? 

All too often, people think a data breach will not happen to their business. But even if it is not the kind of far-reaching breach you hear about on the news, chances are that most organisations will experience some sort of breach at one point or another.  

Data breaches will happen; the important thing is to learn from them. Here are five key lessons to learn from data breaches…  

1. Understand the importance of data protection 

One of the most fundamental lessons from data breaches is the critical importance of data protection. Businesses must recognise that data is one of their most valuable assets.  

The cost of a data breach can be astronomical, not just in terms of financial penalties but also in lost trust and damaged reputations. So, sensitive information — whether it pertains to customers, employees or proprietary business operations — must be guarded diligently.  

2. Cyber security hygiene is non-negotiable

Maintaining basic cyber security hygiene is essential. This includes regular updates and patches to software and systems, strong password policies and using antivirus and anti-malware solutions.  

Many breaches occur because of overlooked vulnerabilities that could have been easily fixed. Consistent maintenance and vigilance in cyber security practices can prevent many attacks from succeeding. 

3. Insider threats require attention 

Not all threats come from external hackers; insider threats are equally dangerous. Whether through malicious intent or negligence, employees can compromise sensitive data.  

So, it is crucial to have strict access controls, monitor user activity and educate employees about the importance of data security. Regular background checks and monitoring can also help mitigate insider threats. 

4. Rapid response and communication are key

When a breach occurs, the speed and effectiveness of the response are critical. Delays in identifying and addressing the breach can exacerbate the damage.  

As such, businesses should have a clear incident response plan that includes immediate actions to contain the data breach, assess the damage and communicate with affected parties. Transparent communication helps maintain trust and can mitigate some of the reputational damage. 

5. Have a disaster recovery plan

Despite the best preventative measures, breaches can still happen. Having a robust disaster recovery plan ensures that a business can quickly restore operations and minimise downtime.  

This plan should include regular backups of critical data, a clear chain of command and predefined roles and responsibilities during an incident. Testing the disaster recovery plan through simulations can also help ensure readiness when an actual breach occurs. 

What are the best cyber security practices moving forward?

So, those are the lessons to take away from data breaches 

But how can businesses bolster their cyber security best practices to stop data breaches from happening in the first place — or ensure they are well prepared to tackle them if they do?  

1. Implement strong access controls 

One of the first steps in securing sensitive data is to implement strong access controls. This means ensuring that only authorised personnel have access to specific information and systems. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) should be employed to add an extra layer of security, reducing the likelihood of unauthorised access. 

2. Encrypt data at rest and in transit 

Encryption is a powerful tool to protect data from unauthorised access. Encrypting data both at rest (when it is stored) and in transit (when it is being transferred) ensures that even if data is intercepted or accessed by unauthorised users, it remains unreadable without the decryption key.  

3. Employ network segmentation 

Network segmentation involves dividing a network into smaller, isolated segments to limit the spread of a data breach. By segmenting the network, businesses can contain an attack to a specific area, preventing it from spreading to other parts of the network. This approach also makes it easier to monitor and manage network traffic, detecting anomalies more quickly.  

4. Conduct regular penetration testing and security audits

Regular penetration testing and security audits are crucial for identifying and addressing vulnerabilities before they can be exploited. Penetration testing involves simulating cyber attacks to find weaknesses, whilst security audits assess the effectiveness of existing security measures. These proactive steps help businesses stay ahead of potential threats. 

5. Regular cyber security training and awareness  

A well-informed workforce can significantly reduce the risk of successful cyber attacks. Employees are often the first line of defence against cyber threats, so regular training and awareness programmes help ensure all staff members understand the latest security practices and recognise potential threats like phishing scams.   

6. Invest in cyber insurance

In the event of a data breach, cyber insurance can provide a financial safety net. Whilst it cannot prevent a breach, it can help mitigate the financial impact, covering costs such as legal fees and even ransom payments. Businesses should carefully evaluate their cyber insurance options to ensure they have adequate coverage for their specific risks. 

As data breaches become increasingly common, businesses must adopt a proactive approach to cyber security. By learning from past breaches and implementing robust security measures, organisations can protect their sensitive information and maintain the trust of their stakeholders.  

The key is to remain vigilant, continuously improve cyber security practices and be prepared to respond swiftly in the event of a breach. 

Are you concerned about data breaches? Get in touch with our team today at 01252 843014 or to ensure your business is implementing the best cyber security practices.