1. Put Intellectual Property (IP) & Trade Secret Protection at the Top of the List

This may seem like a no-brainer, but despite all of the chatter in the C-Suite about cybersecurity, very few companies have meaningful data protection programs in place today. They often cite the need to preserve the free flow of information as to not impede worker productivity. But the truth is, there are solutions and approaches that balance the need to protect data with the need to drive rapid innovation. IP and trade secret protection has to be an executive priority or it won’t get done.

2. Identify Your Most Valuable Data Assets

Organizations must have knowledge of their IP and trade secrets if they want to prevent them from being stolen. All too often organizations have no idea where this valuable data is stored and who has access to it. Simply identifying the crown jewels can feel like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be — you don’t have to boil the ocean. Start with your most critical IP — the stuff you know hackers are after. For example, manufacturers would do well to start protecting engineering and R&D documents such as design files. Get that identified first and then move to the next organizational function.

3. Protect Those Data Assets

This is going to sound very basic, but once sensitive data is identified… label it. Literally mark all critical assets as “internal only” or “confidential.” Whether the document is digital or paper-based, this is the quickest and easiest protection method. It provides employees a visual cue to treat the document with care, and those employees are often the ones that are targets for hackers. There are also much more sophisticated approaches and technology that ensure your trade secrets stay that way. From encryption to digital rights management and persistent document tagging, to policy-driven data protection, there are numerous approaches to ensure data flows freely, but only on a need-to-know basis.

4. Think Like the Cyber Criminals

Take a look at all of your business processes to determine where data theft might occur. Assess your data from an outsider’s standpoint — what would you want to steal and how would you do it? And, go about the work to plug those holes. The security pros call it “threat modeling” and it’s one of the most effective ways to ensure security.

5. Improve Employee Awareness

The weakest link in data defense is the employee — from the C-level executive to the receptionist. Add data protection to manuals and employment agreements, and train them on your policies regarding the use of confidential data. It also helps to perform regular security awareness training and invite your contractors, vendors and partners to participate, as they should be subject to your data protection policies as well.

6. Bonus Tip — Be Prepared if Your IP is Stolen

Have an incident response plan at the ready. Even the organizations that do data protection very well can still become victims of breaches. Today, cyber criminals are more nimble and financially motivated than ever before, so it pays to be prepared.