This article was previously published on November 18, 2018 and updated for comprehensiveness and accuracy.

All businesses house sensitive employee or applicant data. These include full names, addresses, social security numbers, W2 forms, background check information—the list goes on. Unfortunately, if this private information is leaked or stolen, the business owner could be subject to major liabilities and penalties.

As a business owner, it’s your responsibility to keep employee data secure. To help keep your business and employees protected, we’ve highlighted several tips to keep sensitive information safe.

Make Cyber Security a Top Priority

In 2021, cyber-attacks rose across the board, with over 600 million ransomware attacks alone. Cyber-attacks were at their highest level ever in 2021, with 2022 projected to surpass last year’s numbers.

These alarming statistics, coupled with the fact that virtually all of the information businesses use is stored digitally, is why business owners must make cyber security a top priority when handling employee data. Ways you can better protect data include:

  • Securing Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Businesses often use tablets and computers to access, share and store information. IoT devices such as fitness trackers, cameras, and connected appliances are often connected to the same network. Limit your risk of a data breach by conducting regular audits of all IoT devices.
  • Updating software and electronic devices. Regularly updating anti-virus software and device software will make it harder for cyber criminals to penetrate your network and steal employee records.
  • Encrypting critical data to ensure protection from third-party access.
  • Keeping non-critical functions like guest Wi-Fi on a separate network. That way, if there is a breach, your employees’ data won’t be affected.
  • Installing firewalls and anti-virus software. This adds an extra layer of protection to employee data. Work with your IT team to protect your network from a data breach.

Restrict User Access to Data

Human error is by far the number one cause behind a cyber breach. Stanford researchers found that human error was the culprit behind 88% of data breaches. To mitigate the threat of human error hurting your business, you should restrict the number of people who have access to sensitive data.

The best thing you can do is only give access to employees who need it for their specific role or function. These roles generally include:

  • HR representatives for employee data
  • IT leaders
  • Managers and executives you can trust to follow security guidelines

Every business is different, and the industry you’re in plays a big part of who should and shouldn’t have access to sensitive data. However, the less is more approach for data access is sound strategy at mitigating the human error part of the equation.

Implement Access Control Policies

If your business has physical records of employee data, access control is a must. Access control devices (e.g. biometric readers, key cards, swipe readers) allow you to assign individuals unique credentials to determine who can access areas where employee data is stored.

Not to mention, access control systems create a log of everyone who entered and exited a room at a specific time. This gives you an effective layer of control and knowledge of who has access to employee data.

Train Employees to Better Protect Themselves

Any employee can be a target of a cybercriminal, whether they have access to sensitive data or not. In fact, a common tactic cybercriminals use is gaining access to a single employee’s account and holding it for ransom until the company pays them to release it.

Some ways employees can better protect themselves from cyber-attacks include:

  • Making sure they are connected to a secure Wi-Fi network, either an at-home or company network. They should avoid using public Wi-Fi networks without a VPN.
  • Knowing the signs and characteristics of a phishing email.
  • Avoid visiting websites they are unfamiliar with, especially when using company devices.
  • Following stringent security guidelines when handling sensitive data.
  • Turning their business device off/logging off whenever they step away.
  • Incorporating strong password policies, such as longer passwords with a mixture of letters, numbers, and special characters.

Be Proactive with Your Data Security

Don’t wait until it’s too late. It’s always better to be proactive instead of being reactive, especially when it comes to your business’s data. Educate employees on the importance of protecting information and implement a cyber security breach action plan.

Vector Security provides solutions to keep your business protected and secure from cyber threats. Some benefits include:

  • Convenient, single point of contact for your network and security needs.
  • Network Operations Center (NOC) services to monitor for active threats.
  • Access control solutions for networks, facilities, and devices.

You can never be too safe when it comes to protecting employee data. Always connect with a trusted vendor to keep all areas of your business secure.