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How Can Charities Mitigate the Risk of a Data Breach?

By: Milly Arthur


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Data breaches have the potential to be devastating for any business, including charities and non-profit organisations. What, then, can charities do to mitigate the risk of a data breach?

As businesses continue to store an increasing amount of personal data, belonging to both their customers and employees, the risk of a breach also becomes more apparent. That’s especially true if the correct protective measures aren’t taken!

While charities always have good intentions and are purposefully set up in order to provide support to vulnerable groups rather than make a commercial profit, they have the same legal obligations as any other business when it comes to data security.

This means charity data breaches of employee information or customer material are likely to result in heavy financial or reputational damage. So, what steps can charities take to mitigate the risk of a data breach? For a comprehensive answer to that question, be sure to read on below…Trevor Vannoy via Unsplash

What are the Potential Impacts of a Charity Data Breach?

Financial Loss

The most immediate and obvious consequence of a charity data breach is the financial one. Charities can be put out of pocket after having to compensate affected employees and/or customers. This can come from setting up incident response efforts, investing in new security measures, and dealing with the regulatory penalty the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) imposes.

Reputational Damage

The reputational damage that comes with a data breach cannot be underestimated. Charities will only be successful if they’re respected and trusted, and a data breach could destroy that trust.

Operational Downtime

Charities won’t be able to simply carry on as normal if they have suffered a major data breach. As such, there will be some operational downtime, which could affect their ability to perform their duties, as they respond to the breach and set up new security measures.

Legal Action

Under data protection regulations, charities are required to demonstrate that they have taken all the necessary steps to protect personal data belonging to their customers and employees. If the data is compromised, anyone who has been affected may be able to take legal action.

7 Tips for Charities to Mitigate the Risk of a Data Breach

1.     Get to Grips with Your Legal Obligations

Charities that store personal data have the same legal obligations as any other business. The laws concerning data security can be incredibly complex and, on first inspection, can be difficult to understand.

This means that it’s important for the charity and its employees to be fully clued up when it comes to the law surrounding data security. It’s also worth pointing out that data security laws can vary from country to country, so if a charity is international in scale, different rules are likely to apply across the board.

2.     Deploy a Data Security Policy

For the risk of a data breach against charity employees and customers to be mitigated, it’s important to have a data security policy in place that covers all the practices, processes and procedures that should be followed at all times.

If your charity hasn’t already got a data security policy in place, you may discover that there are plenty of different templates online. However, these may not be suitable, especially for charities. It’s, therefore, much more beneficial to create a data security policy from scratch, which should help to ensure that all the relevant points are taken into consideration.

3.     Conduct Risk Assessments

Risk assessments are essential if you want your charity to maintain high levels of data security, and to mitigate the risk of a data breach. Risk assessments can be conducted on a regular basis to identify the current measures in place, and whether there are any obvious weaknesses that could be exploited by cyber-criminals.

If your charity can spot a potential threat at an early stage, it can be rectified before it develops into a serious issue, both for the charity employees and customers.

4.     Training for Charity Employees

You may not be surprised to learn that most data breaches are caused by simple human error. This means that the chances of a potential data breach can be significantly reduced if charity employees are given appropriate training so that they’re fully aware of their responsibilities.

Training should provide staff with the tools and knowledge to identify and rectify data security threats and will promote a more safety-orientated culture at the charity.Campaign Creators via Unsplash

5.     Make Sure Security Software is Up to Date

It won’t come as much of a surprise to learn that security and anti-virus software is essential, right? Well, you may be surprised to learn that some businesses and charities don’t think to invest in these measures, which can lead to some very avoidable data breaches.

If your charity does have security software installed, it’s also very important to make sure that it is fully up to date. Most software updates automatically, but it’s always worth looking to see if a manual update is possible.

6.     Have an Encryption Policy

If your charity handles private data on a regular basis, then it’s a good idea to focus on encryption. Encryption protects sensitive data by making certain emails or documents inaccessible without the relevant encryption key.

This means that, if a charity device, such as a laptop, is stolen or misplaced, no one will be able to access the data within.

7.     Have a Response Plan in Place

Even if your charity takes every possible measure to mitigate the risk of a data breach, sometimes the situation can be out of your control.

If your charity suffers a data breach, you should have a clear response plan in place which helps to reduce the severity of the potential consequences. It’s also important to be as transparent as possible with anyone affected and to report the incident to the ICO as soon as possible.Jason Goodman via Unsplash

Is Your Charity Prepared to Prevent a Data Breach?

So, there we have it! In this post, we’ve discussed some of the best ways of mitigating the risk of a data breach for charities.

What do you think? Have you got any further tips for other charities to consider? If so, feel free to leave your thoughts below!

Published: January 29, 2022

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