Tackling data security risks under the GDPR

By Andrew Stellakis, managing director, Q2Q IT

Andrew Stellakis Q2Q

It’s been a dot on the horizon for months, but now the 25 May is looming and the GDPR is well and truly in sight, data security has never been so important for SMEs.

The level of scrutiny surrounding cyber security in the media means that a data breach could cause significant reputational damage – a mere glance at the headlines reveals companies being named and shamed for failing to protect sensitive information relating to customers or employees.

And under the GDPR, the consequences for such an error will be even more severe. When it comes to financial penalties, for instance, a data breach could result in fines as high as £17m or 4 per cent of global turnover – whichever is more.

Of course, for smaller businesses with limited time, budgets and human resources, implementing Fort Knox levels of defence isn’t as achievable as for larger corporations. But when it comes to mitigating risks and ensuring that personal data is effectively protected, there are a number of measures that SMEs can take.

Firstly, it’s crucial for companies to understand what sensitive information they hold, the risks out there and the rules governing data processing under the GDPR. It’s only by identifying existing gaps in defences that these can be filled.

Increasing awareness of these issues amongst all employees is essential – an SME’s workforce can either be its most effective shield or biggest vulnerability in the data security battle, so team training is vital.

The security principle of the legislation rules that “appropriate technical and organisational measures” must be taken to protect data.

So, when it comes to guarding against external threats, companies should ensure that robust processes such as file encryption and two-factor authentication are implemented, all software and hardware is regularly updated and cyber-security defences are installed – including firewalls and anti-malware.

SMEs with a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) approach should be especially vigilant, and introduce a policy to ensure that any laptop, tablet or smartphone used to access business data is adequately protected.

Permissions should also be limited, to ensure only those who need file access to fulfil their role are granted it. Similarly, it’s important for companies to actively minimise the volume of personal data that they store and process – the GDPR rules this must be “limited to what is necessary”, so irrelevant information should not be held for the sake of it.

In the event that a breach does occur, having an effective back-up and data recovery procedure in place is invaluable.

Duplicate versions should be stored off-site or via the cloud and adequately protected, so that data can be restored if the primary files are compromised. For added peace of mind, enlisting an experienced IT provider can also be a cost-effective solution for companies that don’t have the in-house capacity or expertise to tackle data security effectively.