Data is the lifeblood of modern business and technology. Huge companies from Google to Facebook have been built on the back of harvesting and manipulating information. But in today’s online era, data is a vital asset even for much smaller operations.

Unfortunately, as recent Facebook difficulties have shown, data isn’t always treated with the caution it deserves. Data breaches can be punishingly expensive for a business in both commercial and legal terms. Not meeting compliance and contractual obligations may result in debilitating civil and criminal penalties.

Are you sure your own business’s data is secure? Here are the six most common causes of data breaches in the modern, information-based economy.

Criminal Activity

With data having such high value, it’s expected that it’ll be a target for criminal activity. From random server hacking to coordinated industrial espionage, no data-driven business can rely on escaping an attack.

Guard against this by ensuring all your servers are running the latest software and that you have comprehensive security policies in place covering both customer-facing and back-end systems.

Human Error

Unfortunately, human error is always a danger. Data is often leaked by mistake, such as through emailing sensitive files to the wrong recipient, or publishing data which should have remained secret.

It’s impossible to remove these risks entirely, but they can be mitigated with exhaustive staff training and limiting access to important data. Ensure that only a small group of select individuals have controlled access to sensitive data.

Malicious Intent

Serious breaches aren’t always a result of human error. A disgruntled employee can release data out of spite, or for personal gain. Strict access control provides some protection, as well as proper logging to guarantee an audit trail, if a breach does occur.

Insecure Media

Transferring sensitive files on USB sticks, removable drives, or other media presents real risks to your data. The media can be lost or stolen while in transit, and if the contents aren’t properly protected, the dangers are obvious.

Impressing on employees the importance of security will help, but in any case, ensure all removable media uses strong encryption to deter casual eyes. Better still, avoid such risky methods of transfer altogether by using secure cloud-based storage systems.

Insecure Hardware

Laptops, tablets, and even smartphones often carry copies of vital data and can be mislaid or stolen; and not to mention important files being carelessly left on outdated PCs discarded during upgrades.

Always make sure each device’s security has both physical, and cyber-security barriers, so that it’s not-trivial to access the data if hardware falls into unauthorized hands.

Lax Security Policies

You can’t necessarily rely on your entire staff to be security conscious to an acceptable level. A business should lay down and enforce rigorous policies on passwords and data sharing, even if this can seem overbearing. It’s vital to educate employees about phishing, malware, and other security issues so that the importance of protecting data is made clear and understood.

Even with all these precautions, no one can guarantee complete data security. But the consequences of a major breach will be significant, so you need to do everything possible to minimize your vulnerability.

And if you have any doubts at all over your preparedness, consider hiring an expert consultancy to carry out a full security audit. Identifying any unforeseen risks your company may be running could turn out to be a business-saving investment.

About Suren Rodrigues has made his career in Network Software Development and Telecommunications, through compassionate and situational management, and a methodical approach to complex problems. Recognized as a leader that can deliver strategic initiatives, he utilizes leading industry best practices and years of proven experience implementing enterprise-grade software and telecom. systems. Dr. Rodrigues holds a PhD from the University of South Florida.