Data Breach Protection Must Include Physical Security

If most of your business’ data and workloads are handled on public clouds, it can be easy to forget about the onsite servers. With office buildings empty, employees may assume the servers are protected by the same physical security as the rest of the facility. However, physical security has its own considerations, and paying careful attention to them can cut down on the chance of a data breach.

The Cost of a Data Breach

With many businesses operating remotely, there is a higher reliance on public clouds and managed services than perhaps ever before. There is still a need for on-site servers and private clouds, especially for industries with strict compliance regulations. Protecting that data from compromise, including physical security compromise, is essential – especially when customer personally identifiable information (PII) is involved.

According to the 2020 Cost of a Data Breach Report, conducted by the Ponemon Institute and published by IBM Security, 80% of data breaches impact customer PII. The data breaches in the study containing customer PII also had the highest cost per record compromised, averaging $150 per lost or stolen record. Those cost were even higher when customer PII was compromised in breaches caused by a malicious attacker or insider, averaging $175 per record.

Improving the physical security of the on-premise data server might require costs upfront, but the return on investment will be found in data breach prevention. According to the 2020 Cost of a Data Breach Report, 10% of malicious breaches in the study were caused by a physical security compromise, at an average cost of $4.36 million.

Melding Physical and Digital Security

It’s easy to fall into a trap where you assume a data breach comes via malware infection, stolen credentials or a lost laptop. But in the eyes of compliance officers and data breach regulations, it doesn’t matter how a breach occurs. If the data is in any way compromised by an unauthorized source, that means it has been breached. 

While data servers should have cybersecurity systems and tools in place to prevent data breaches, employees don’t always treat the security of the physical servers with the same high levels of protection. There are several ways a physical server can be compromised, causing a data breach. 

1. Unauthorized access to the server room is one basic way. A bad actor could enter the server room and take control of your networks by setting up remote access or downloading malware directly onto the server. Or, a breach of this type could be an innocent mistake. Perhaps one employee invites in another who doesn’t have authorization to be in the server room or have access to specific servers.

2. Another possible data breach comes from theft or damage. Threat actors may steal or damage server hard drives, resulting in lost data. Backup solutions can also be possible points of access for attackers. Someone could steal the server itself if you do not properly protect it in a stack and lock it.

3. Bad actors could use installation of rogue devices in the server room to get a foothold. They design these devices to steal PII and other sensitive information from the servers. 

Tips for Preventing a Physical Data Breach

Here are some tips to improve the physical security of your data servers:

  • Explore whether biometrics work for your business. Using biometric scanners for entry can cut down on unauthorized access into the server room.
  • Put entry system protections in place. Turnstiles or mantrap door systems that allow only one person through at a time will prevent an unauthorized person from tagging along.
  • Treat each server as its own unit. Different passwords, locking systems, multifactor authentication and minimal credentialed access may not fully protect the servers from a physical breach. However, they will make it more difficult for a bad actor to enable a complete takeover of the infrastructure.
  • Depending on the sensitivity of the data on the server, you may want to consider a security guard to stand watch or monitor security cameras at the server room. There should definitely be locks that require a combination of access metrics, such as identification like badge scans, key codes and biometrics as a minimum of physical security.
  • Physical security also means protection from natural disasters. Hackers aren’t the only way your data can be compromised. Power outages, fires, floods and other cases of severe weather are all situations that can impact your on-premise data center. Various systems need to be put in place to proactively manage any type of natural disaster.

Even as companies migrate most of their data to public clouds, there will always be a need for onsite servers. As long as they hold corporate data, they are at risk of a data breach and require physical security to protect them.

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