The reality of managing large-scale organizations entails securing large amounts of sensitive data. Hackers are constantly on the lookout for any weaknesses within your systems. Once they discover these vulnerabilities, you will have little control over these cyber threats. 

What you can control is minimizing your risk by implementing best practices for your association’s data security.

Privacy Policies vs. Data Security Practices 

Regulations like GDPR, CCPA, and HIPAA  provide compliance frameworks. But your organization should also adopt individual company policies on data security and privacyData privacy policies are essential for controlling who has access to sensitive or proprietary information. These policies also cover usage of sensitive data. Data security practices are focused on protecting that information from malicious attacks. 

Why Data Security Must Be a Priority 

Everyone is susceptible to an attack. If a data threat sounds like a scenario that could never happen to your organization, consider this... 

A single employee could click on a corrupted email link and compromise your entire system. One foul click could result in a high-stakes breach, costing you millions of dollars in the years to come.

Research conducted by the National Cyber Security Alliance discovered that:

  • Nearly 50% of small businesses have fallen victim to a cyber attack.
  • Over 70% of attackers target smaller corporations instead of larger ones with more complex systems.
  • More than 60% of companies fail in the 6 months after a cyberattack.

Furthermore, email threats rose more than 64% during the 2020 pandemic, and the GDPR can enforce penalty fines of up to $22-million to organizations that do not protect the standards for possessing personal information.

Data Security Best Practices

The best strategy is to think of data security as an ongoing practice that involves training, technology, and the support of the entire team.

Consider the following steps as you develop your system’s data management.

#1 Classify Your Data

A great place to start is to better understand the data that you own. This involves categorizing sensitive data and storing it under proper labels for appropriate user access. Every company needs a data classification policy that breaks down each piece of data, ranking it by sensitivity. 

You can (and should) develop these further, but the basic classifications are:

  1. Public – General and non-sensitive data that is loosely controlled based on the non-harmful nature of its content.
  2. Confidential/Private – This data would have a moderate level of sensitivity and risk if released.
  3. Restricted – Your most sensitive data to be stored under the strictest, most restricted level of access.

Some organizations create encryption-based cloud infrastructures while others separate their database servers to classify their data. This is entirely up to you. 

#2 Secure User Access Controls 

Access controls are fundamental to data security. Specifically, it’s important to determine which members of your staff will have access to sensitive files. Everyone should not have the same level of access and authorization.

While the technology department will have major control, all teams will likely need some level of access. Everyone should be on the same page when it comes to leveraging technology to increase organizational impact

When cultivating your access control practices, consider the three main techniques to minimize security risks:

  1. Discretionary Access Control (DAC) – Controlled by upper-management, who determines access on a case-by-case basis. 
  2. Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) – Position, rank, or role-based access. You could set up access controls such as Developers, Accountants, Marketers, etc. 
  3. Mandatory Access Control (MAC) – Typically utilized for governmental systems and high-security files. Normally using a system of integrity levels, this is a way to separate your data by low, medium, and high security. 

#3 Utilize & Maintain a Firewall

Every server and database should be protected by a firewall. Acting as a digital barrier around all your system's traffic, a firewall only allows approved web servers to move through the gates. 

While it protects your system from the outside world, it also protects your internal system by restricting unnecessary outbound connections. 

Additionally, enabling a CSF (ConfigServer) will dead-bolt your system and lockdown unnecessary applications. 

#4 Establish Password Policies 

One of the most important steps you can take is to embrace password policies such as multi-factor authentication, password requirements, password expiration policies, and more. 

  1. Multi-Factor Authentication – This is key to any organization’s password best practices. Consider using an athentication app like Google Authenticate or designing your own systems to enable multi-step logins. 
  2. SSH Keys – This entails logging into an account using cryptographic keys rather than a standard password. Ultimately, these are safer and more secure. 
  3. Expiration Policies – Consider time-based password updates. Require your team to create new passwords every 30 days, every 90 days, every 6 months, etc. 
  4. Password Storage Systems – It's best to use different and random passwords for each login, which means you'll need safe storage of your password data. Use systems like KeePass or LastPass for password sharing and storage. These platforms also let you securely share passwords with team members.
  5. Establish Internal Requirements – Create your own set of rules around password security. Examples may include:
  •  No default passwords
  • No shared passwords
  • Minimum lengths
  • Special characters/complexity guidelines
  • Lockout policies
  • Passphrases only (more difficult to crack)
  • No reversible encryptions

#5 Consider Change Management

While you are updating all of these policies, it’s important to document your updated practices.

Change Management is simply a way to transition your team through change, fluctuations, and foreseeable difficulties. By anticipating new cybersecurity trends, you can create strategies to easily evolve your policies over time. 

Typically, Change Management encompasses the team as well as the tools. This could mean developing new software and policies and/or hiring staff to manage your evolving data security strategy. The goal is to track vital policy updates and manage activity for better future planning. 

#6 Encrypt Data & Backup 

It’s important to encrypt and back-up all of your member data.

Encryption – You should regularly encrypt your stored data as well as data-in-transit. By backing up your database through decryption keys, you will protect it against hackers, failed hardware, and more. 

Back-up – Back-ups are critical to all businesses and will protect you against ransomware attacks, lost files, and even natural disasters. This is your fail-safe in case everything else goes wrong. 

#7 Audit & Test Regularly 

At the beginning of this article, we noted the importance of viewing data security as an ongoing practice. It’s important to frequently update and audit all installed software on your network.  When auditing and testing, you will want to monitor all database activity, including:

  • Logins
  • Attempted loins
  • Review logs
  • Potentially malicious activity alerts
  • Shared account activity

You may consider Database Activity Monitoring (DAM) software to keep an eye on these login functions on your behalf. 


Fostering a Data Security Culture 

Even the best technology will not protect you if your staff does not uphold a culture of data security. The majority of data hacks are caused by human error or security issues due to low user-awareness

Education is your most vital tool for fostering a collaborative culture that works collectively against these dangers.

For more data security tips & best practices, be sure to check out our Data Safety Series. Don’t forget to subscribe to get curated association technology, engagement, and digital transformation content delivered to your inbox!