The greatest number of Australian ransomware-related incident reports in 2022-2023 came from the professional services sector.  

Professional services are attractive cyber targets because many of them store sensitive client information. Hybrid and remote work setups have contributed to the expansion of the attack surface. 

So, how can your professional services firm improve its data protection and privacy? What cyber security measures should you implement in your business? Which approach is better suited to your needs? 

Adopting a Cyber Security First Approach

Cyber security today is not just an IT issue but also a business one. A cyber security first approach means you must prioritise cyber security in all aspects of your business operations and at all levels of the organisation. 

Here’s what else you should keep in mind about a cyber security first approach: 

  1. It is a risk-based approach, requiring understanding and prioritising the many components of cyber risk. 
  2. You must invest time, resources, and effort in embedding a cyber security first culture that involves everyone in the organisation. 
  3. Security-first policies and processes need to be established, to deepen the existing culture. 
  4. An integrated cyber security strategy is needed to knock down the silo mentality, break down departmental barriers, and instil a culture of ‘making security everybody’s job’. 
  5. The security team should be involved in every aspect of the business strategy to encourage better communication and visibility. 

Gaining a Competitive Advantage

Your organisation can gain a competitive edge as a result of adopting a cyber security first approach. It can also benefit your business as follows: 

  • It can help build trust and confidence in your customers and partners.  
  • You can attract new customers and retain existing ones as you demonstrate strong cyber security practices. 
  • It can foster business growth, innovation, new opportunities, and finding new ways of creating value for your customers.  
  • It can help in identifying and managing cyber risks more effectively, preventing potential losses and reputational harm.
  • Your organisation can more effectively comply with data protection regulations.

Compliance with Standards and Laws for Professional Services 

Whilst there are many benefits of prioritising cyber security, Professional services are also subject to strict regulations to ensure their clients’ data stays protected. Compliance with these laws and standards is key to avoiding related legal issues and penalties. 

Corporations Act 2001

This regulates corporate conduct in Australia, including the specification of duties for directors that relate to data protection. The Corporations Act also outlines data protection obligations under the Security of Critical Infrastructure Act 2018 and the Privacy Act 1988.

Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) CPS 234

Under this standard, an APRA-regulated entity must take measures to be resilient against information security and cyber incidents. A professional services firm needs to maintain an information security capability commensurate with vulnerabilities and threats, in order to ensure customer data confidentiality and integrity. 

Public Governance, Performance and Accountability (PGPA) Act 2013

This Act is a key part of the Australian Government’s Public Management Reform Agenda. It establishes a framework for Commonwealth entities, which would include their handling of cyber security issues. 

Privacy Act 1988

This law mandates the privacy of individuals and regulates how to handle personal information. Strong Privacy Act compliance can very likely uplift the cyber security posture of covered entities. 

Advanced Security Measures to Enhance Data Protection 

Implement advanced cyber security solutions to level up data protection. Below are some measures professional services firms should carry out: 

  1. Client-specific data segmentation is like keeping your valuables in different safes rather than one big treasure chest. This ensures that each client’s data is isolated, reducing the risk of unauthorised access. It limits exposure during breaches and     allows for tailored security measures.  
  2. Client data anonymisation protects sensitive information by removing personally identifiable information. It works by replacing identifying information with random characters or codes, making it difficult for unauthorised individuals to link the data back to the individual it belongs to. 
  3. Secure communication channels are essential for protecting data during transmission. Various methods can be used to ensure that the data being sent and received is only accessible to the intended recipient, such as encryption. Even if someone intercepts the data, they won’t be able to understand it. 
  4. Contract management security ensures that all the sensitive information contained in contracts is stored, processed, and accessed in a secure manner. 
  5. Client data backup and recovery processes ensure that data can be restored in the event of a loss. The goal is to have a safety net that allows lost or damaged data to be restored, so you won’t lose your important work if something goes wrong. 
  6. Ethical hacking and penetration testing can help identify vulnerabilities before they can be exploited. Ethical hacking is like hiring a skilled thief to try stealing from your house, while penetration testing is actively trying to break through your walls and pick the locks. Your objective is to identify the weak spots in your security, then fix those vulnerabilities. 
  7. Secure collaboration tools enable safe and efficient teamwork. They can provide a secure environment for teams to communicate and share data, using various security measures like encryption and access control. 
  8. Legal hold and data preservation practices ensure that data is properly retained for legal purposes. They can help keep data safe always and available when needed. These practices can also prevent tampering, help you comply with laws and regulations, and build trust with customers, employees, and stakeholders. 
  9. Client data audit trails provide a record of data access and modifications, aiding in accountability and detection of unauthorised activity. They can provide monitoring of data activities, accountability improvements, and investigation assistance. Audit trails can also help recover lost data or revert unwanted changes. 
  10. Client-specific cyber security policies provide tailored protection based on each client’s unique needs. Customised security can enhance security, improve compliance, build confidence among clients, and proactively manage threats. 
  11. Third-party vendor security ensures that your vendors security measures are as tight as yours. 
  12. Secure remote access enables safe client services. This allows authorised access, encrypts data, verifies user identities, monitors data usage, and protects against threats. 
  13. Client data usage monitoring helps detect and respond to unusual activity.  This is like a security camera for your data, providing visibility, detecting anomalies and irregular activities, holding individuals accountable, preventing data loss, and ensuring compliance. 

                          Your Data Protection is Only as Strong as Your Weakest Link

                          Your employees are your best security allies – but they can also be your weakest link. Just one mistake can lead to a data breach, no matter how strong your policies, technologies, and measures are.  

                          This is why we recommend cyber security awareness training for long-term resilience and data protection. Discover how training can boost your cyber defence, as part of our cyber security services in Cairns.