Lock icon on computer chip

By the time businesses identify data security incidents, the damage has already been

Data threats rarely identified quickly, reports show

It's fitting that cybercrime is often associated with viruses, like ransomware or spyware. Much like when people get sick with influenza, it takes some time before the symptoms start to manifest. The earlier they're caught, of course, the better.

Here's the problem: All too often, businesses identify breaches well after they actually occur.

"The average breach is identified a full year after exposure."

It isn't just a few months later, either. Try a full year. For "mega breaches" – when at least 1 million records are lost – an average of 365 days pass before they're detected, according to estimates from the Ponemon Institute. Smaller scale breaches aren't identified all that quicker at 266 days.

As you might imagine, the more advanced data breaches are – in terms of how they get around internal data security systems – the longer they take to spot. In a separate analysis conducted by SecureWorks, high-level cybercrimes go undetected for an average of 380 days.

Tracing back to 2005, a whopping 1.6 billion records have been unlawfully accessed, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. It's safe to assume that in the many of these instances, the breach could have been prevented had those affected been more vigilant.

Here are a few important strategies to deploy for an earlier read on whether your core data has been exposed:

Speak to your employees
Transparency is the last thing you want for your network, but you definitely want to keep an open line of communication with your work crew. Whether in a meeting or by email, ensure that they avoid questionable websites that are unsecured. Tell-tale signs include misspelled URLs and a lock icon, usually in the upper right-hand corner. The very beginning of addresses should also have an "s" at the end (e.g. https). This is an indication that some form of encryption is used.

Download and update all security patches
As noted in the Secureworks study, security patches that vendors release are extremely effective in thwarting data breaches. Unfortunately they're often downloaded long after they're released. Check for updates on a regular basis so your network is protected.

Train workers on a regular basis
Scammers are constantly refining their strategies to go undetected for as long as possible. But organizations like the National Cyber Security Alliance, as well as several others, are on the case. Many third-party vendors may offer training opportunities that can help your business stay one step ahead to keep data thieves at bay.

Being proactive about data security can help you identify threats early and often.