What is Data Security?
In its most basic term, data security is the process of protecting digital information from unauthorized access, theft, or corruption throughout its entire lifecycle. It’s a concept that encompasses every aspect of information security from the logical security of software applications, as well as the physical security of hardware and storage devices to administrative and access controls. This also includes organizational policies and procedures.
Why It’s Important
So let’s be real here. We are in an age where everything is digitized and stored on cloud servers or on some server that a company has in-house. This transformation has been altering today’s businesses in how they operate and compete with one another. Right now, computing environments are more complex than they once were, routinely spanning the public cloud, the enterprise data center, and numerous edge devices ranging from Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to robots and remote servers. It’s due to the increase of complexity that it has compounded the challenge of monitoring and securing the rapidly growing ocean of data from those who wish to exploit and steal that data.
Meanwhile, consumer awareness of the importance of data privacy is on the rise. Fueled by increasing public demand for data protection initiatives, multiple new privacy regulations have been placed into effect like Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA). These rules/laws join longstanding data security provisions like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) which protects electronic health records, and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), which protects shareholders in public companies from accounting errors and financial fraud. With the fines maxing out in the millions, every enterprise has a strong financial incentive to ensure it maintains compliance with any of these regulations that the company falls under based on what data they have in their hands.
Data has never been more valuable. The loss of trade/company secrets or intellectual property (IP) can impact future innovations and profitability. How trustworthy these companies that collect and use the consumer’s data are has become important to those people that there’s no doubt that these consumers will not do business with companies they don’t trust to protect their data from being stolen or misused. Having a data breach can severely hurt a company’s reputation and in turn they could see a loss in their client base and future business opportunities as word will get out of said breach.
Different Types of Data Security Techniques
Now that we’ve talked about why data security is important, let’s give a quick rundown on some of the different types of technologies to secure data:
Data Masking: Also referred to as data obfuscation, data anonymization, or pseudonymization. It is the process of replacing confidential data by using functional fictitious data such as characters or other data. Main purpose of data masking is to protect sensitive, private information in situations where the enterprise shares data with third parties. Masking specific areas of data can protect it from disclosure to external malicious sources, and also internal personnel who could potentially use the data. For example, the first 12 digits of a credit card number may be masked within a database.
Data Encryption: This is probably the most well known data security technique. Data encryption applies a code to every individual piece of data and will not grant access to encrypted data without an authorized key being given.
Data Resilience: By creating backup copies of data, organizations can recover data should it be erased or corrupted accidentally or stolen during a data breach. An example is like backing up your data on your iPhone to the iCloud in case your phone gets lost or stolen.
Data Erasure: There are times when data that is no longer active or used needs to be erased from all systems. Examples include, if a customer has requested for their name to be removed from a mailing list, the details should be deleted permanently or a phone number being removed and placed into the “Do Not Call” list upon request.
Best Practices for Data Security
This section is for those curious on what some of the best practices are that your company can use to ensure that sensitive data, such as customers’ personal information or intellectual property are protected.
Using a VPN
One of the most-recommended ways to ensure data protection, while working remotely, is using what is known as a virtual private network or “VPN”. It’s one of the simpler ways to make sure your data doesn’t end up in the wrong hands. VPNs protect data from attackers who try to intercept network communications and get access to that data. This is considered to be an easy and cost effective method for creating a secure connection.
It also adds a protective encryption layer for all data that is moving between your company’s core systems and employees’ devices. This way, remote users can access the company’s network and services, safely, as the transmitted data is encrypted--not to mention the IP address is hidden and the location of the sender is masked. For those looking for some heavy protection, there are some VPNs that offer military-grade 256-bit data encryption.
If you do plan to go this route, remember that it’s essential to check that your VPNs are patched (up-to-date) and have the bandwidth and capacity to handle all of your employees working remotely at the same time.
Deploying a DLP Solution
Another essential part of anyone wanting to up their security strategy is Data Loss Prevention (DLP). The DLP solution will help you mitigate risks that originate within your organization and reduce the risk of data breaches--especially those caused by human error. For those, who might not know, a DLP software solution protects confidential data directly--regardless if the data is stored or being transmitted. It’s helpful, because it allows you to discover and monitor confidential data such as protected health information (PHI) or personally identifiable information (PII), and prevents unauthorized disclosure of that data.
A couple of the neat features with DLP include: 1) Preventing sensitive data being transmitted by users deliberately or accidentally from their devices. 2) Limiting or blocking the use of USB and peripheral ports, reducing that of malware infections through USBs and data leakage in general.
Compliance with data protection regulations such as GDPR, CCPA, PCI DSS and HIPAA can also be easily done or maintained with a good DLP software suite that offers predefined compliance profiles--as well as the option to define customized compliance templates if such needs are sought after.
Encrypting Sensitive Files
Let’s not forget our most common, but well versed, data security technology, encryption. Encryption is another powerfully useful tool in one’s data security arsenal that can help your company secure data both from malicious outsiders and careless and/or accident-prone employees. It’s also considered an important step toward compliance with various data privacy laws, and--just like with DLP--it can be used to safeguard stored and transmitted data. If a device is lost, stolen or forgotten, it renders the data stored on them unobtainable to anyone who tries to access it without a decryption key.
Hard drive encryption is also available, which is included in the most popular operating systems, for example: BitLocker in Windows and FileVault in macOS. By encrypting corporate computers’ hard drives, you can ensure that no matter how a device is booted up, outsiders cannot gain access to data stored on it without a decryption key.
Hopefully this article can help you make an informed decision on what you need to do to keep your data secure by explaining what data security is and what some of the best practices are for companies looking to adapt to their data security strategy.