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IT Support with a Cyber Security Focus – Data Loss Prevention

In today’s digitised and interconnected business landscape, cyber security has never been a more important consideration for businesses of all sizes. The sophistication and prevalence of today’s threats mean organisations need strategic, multi-layered cyber defences that operate across multiple points of vulnerability.

For SMEs, an IT support provider is often the key player in deploying and implementing critical security safeguards. When implemented strategically, both policy-based and technical cyber controls can effectively counter the majority of online threats and protect sensitive data from unauthorised access, misuse, and alteration.


Virtual IT – Security-centric IT support for Businesses Across London and The Southeast

Here at Virtual IT, we help our clients mount a robust defence against digital threats using our layered approach to cyber security. This is an industry-agnostic, adaptable framework, designed to provide comprehensive cyber threat protection to businesses of all sizes.

In this short blog series, we’ll introduce you to the essential components of this framework and demonstrate how overlapping security measures contribute to a strong cyber security posture.


The Importance of Multi-layered Cyber Security

Cyber security experts the world over advocate a comprehensive and multi-layered approach to cyber protection. The diverse nature of cybercrime necessitates this approach, as criminals will exploit any and all opportunities presented to them, and no single piece of security apparatus is yet capable of securing every point of vulnerability. A multi-layered approach also avoids a single point of failure. For example, if a phishing email evades detection by an email security platform, staff training steps in to prevent engagement with the malicious email, helping to protect the network and the data that resides on it.

The cyber risk landscape has never been more hostile. While cyber threat data fluctuates from year to year, experts expect to see continued growth in cybercrime, with attack-related losses expected to reach $10.5 trillion globally by 2025.

Until your business is attacked, cybercrime can seem an abstract concept. Here are some headline stats that illustrate the gravity of the modern cyber threat terrain:

  • The Cybercrime losses incurred by UK businesses amount to an estimated £21 billion each year.
  • In 2022, the average cost of a cyber security incident in the UK was £4200.
  • Phishing remains the most common threat type, accounting for around 44% of all incidents.
  • Cyberattacks against UK businesses surged by 31% following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Ransomware has grown rapidly to become one of the leading causes of data breaches in the UK, with attacks rising by an alarming 87% between the first half of 2023 compared to the latter half of 2022.


Defending Your Digital Assets – A Quick Guide to Data Loss Prevention

Data loss prevention (DLP) refers to tools, controls, and policies that seek to protect sensitive information against unauthorised access, misuse, and corruption. DLP represents a vital component in modern cyber security frameworks, providing protection against external threats as well as frequently-overlooked internal risks such as insider misuse, employee negligence, accidental deletion, and loss resulting from theft or damage.

Ever since the advent of Data Protection regulations, particularly GDPR within the context of the UK and EU, data loss prevention has evolved into a mandatory risk management practice for digital organisations. DLP plays a leading role in enforcing compliance, by preventing sensitive data from being shared or accessed inappropriately, using the measured application of detection and blocking mechanisms.

So how does Data Loss Prevention work, and how is it implemented in practice?

DLP leverages various strategies and technologies to fulfil its objectives. By controlling who has access to sensitive information and monitoring how it is used and transferred, DLP minimises the risk of accidental exposure or intentional theft of data. Implementing DLP involves establishing a complementary mix of policies, practices, and technologies, the most common of which include:


Data Discovery and Classification

The crucial first step in implementing DLP involves evaluating the sensitivity and criticality of the data across an organisation and classifying this information accordingly. Automated data discovery tools can help support this process, enabling the detection and labelling of sensitive data held across an organisation’s IT network, including within servers, databases, cloud storage, and endpoints.

Classification labels should be applied to all information, to ensure that employees and stakeholders understand the nature of the data they’re interacting with, and their role in maintaining its integrity. Common classification levels include:

  • Information that is subject to no regulatory protection and can be freely shared.
  • Information that isn’t sensitive but is only suitable for internal circulation.
  • Information that could compromise the organisation or associated individuals if leaked or compromised. This could include personally identifiable information such as customer records, or intellectual property.
  • Highly Sensitive. Information that could result in adverse consequences if leaked or compromised. Likely to be subject to elevated regulatory protections, and require a higher level of safeguarding than other information types. Examples include healthcare records of financial information.


Identity and Access Management (IAM)

Identity and access management (IAM) acts as the keystone of any effective data loss prevention strategy. IAM encompasses policies and controls designed to ensure that data can only be accessed by authorised personnel on the basis of their job role, and that identity verification can be reliably carried out using appropriate authentication mechanisms. Here’s a brief overview of the components required for effective IAM implementation:

  • The Principle of Least Privilege. The principle of least privilege is a security concept that dictates that user rights and access privileges should be extended as minimally as possible, ensuring that users have just enough access to perform their roles and duties. This minimises the possibility of data misuse and limits the damage that could result from a user account suffering a malicious takeover.
  • Role-based Access Control (RBAC). This approach is related to the principle of least privilege, with users only given access to functionality and resources relevant to their job roles. This empowers staff to work productively, while reducing risk exposure for the business.
  • Secure Authentication. Risk-conscious access management practices should be bolstered by secure authentication mechanisms that allow user identities to be reliably verified upon each access attempt. Multi-factor authentication provides enhanced user verification, by requiring the submission of an additional identifier when logging into a device or service. This might include a one-time passcode, biometric attributes (such as a fingerprint or face scan), or a security token sent to a secondary device.
  • Identity Management System (IMS). The distributed nature of the modern IT system necessitates centralised identity and access management. Identity management systems allow IT staff to monitor and govern access rights, privileges, and authentication events across an organisation from a centralised management portal. These systems allow provisioning and deprovisioning to be automated, thus preventing human error and ensuring all employees are granted an appropriate degree of access.


Network Security Infrastructure

Network security tools can play an important role in implementing data loss prevention policies by regulating the flow of sensitive information within an organisation. These tools can also lower cyber risk exposure in a broader sense, protecting data against exfiltration or interception by malicious parties. Here are few examples of how this is achieved:

  • Firewalls can be configured to prohibit data transfer to untrusted external networks, and to block access to websites more likely to harbour illicit activity.
  • Intrusion Detection and prevention Systems (IDPS). IDPS can detect trends and activity patterns that suggest an escalating data exfiltration attempt. Automated actions can be configured to block and contain these threats before they’re able to take hold.
  • Secure Email Gateways (SEGs). Email security tools can scan emails and their attachments for sensitive information and enforce information security policies by preventing sensitive data from leaving the organisation’s network under unauthorised circumstances.
  • Encryption in Transit. Encryption applied to transiting data ensures that sensitive information is only readable by its intended recipient, mitigating the risk of data leakage during transfer.


Staff Training and Awareness

Training and awareness programmes are indispensable for ensuring staff are cognizant of data loss risks, are aware of what constitutes sensitive data, and understand their role in terms of handling data securely and appropriately.

Training should educate staff on data handling best practices, raise awareness of data exfiltration tactics used by cyber threat actors (such as phishing attacks), and explain the relationship between data loss prevention efforts and the organisation’s compliance obligations.


Virtual IT – Strategic Cyber Security that Prioritises Your Most Critical Digital Assets

The essentials cyber security suite from Virtual IT is the ultimate digital defence toolkit, offering everything your business needs for effective and complete protection against online threats and data loss risks. In addition to robust threat mitigations that operate environment-wide, our multi-layered approach applies additional safeguards around your critical systems and sensitive data assets. Overlapping defences seal vulnerabilities against attack, reinforcing your operationally critical infrastructure, and safeguarding information against malicious exfiltration and unsanctioned access.

We help organisations across London, Essex, Bedfordshire, Sussex, and the wider Southeast region develop and maintain a robust security posture, supporting their success through improved cyber resilience.

Contact us today, to discover how Virtual IT can be your trusted cyber defence partner.

Secure your business with Virtual IT cyber security