Zero Trust Networks

The Ins and Outs of Data Privacy, Part 1: The Importance—and Growing Complexity—of Ensuring Data Privacy 

Share with your network!

This blog is the first in a series where we explore data privacy. In these two blogs, we'll cover why data privacy is increasingly important as well as some tips for keeping data safe. We’ll also discuss how data loss protection (DLP) and insider threat management tools (ITM) are critical to ensuring data privacy. 

Data Privacy Week in January 2024 highlighted the increasing importance and challenges of data privacy. Trends like digital transformation, remote work and the proliferation of cloud applications have made the task of protecting sensitive data harder than ever. As the volume and perceived value of data grows, so does the risk of data loss and theft, including by insiders

Despite these challenges, businesses can’t afford missteps when it comes to keeping sensitive data safe. Companies everywhere are under pressure to meet strict data privacy laws that promote data security and data privacy. Noncompliance can be costly. Hefty fines and market loss are common. 

Research from our 2023 Voice of the CISO report underscores the risk. One-third of the CISOs who told us that their company suffered a material loss of sensitive data within the past 12 months also reported their business was hit with regulatory sanctions as a result. 

In this blog post, we take a closer look at data privacy and how it relates to data security. We also discuss how laws around data privacy are evolving. And we cover how data loss prevention (DLP) and insider threat management (ITM) tools can help you stay on top of your data compliance challenges. 

What is data privacy? 

Data privacy is about protecting sensitive data that belongs to individuals or entities. This includes personally identifiable information (PII), which can be used to identify an individual or a corporate customer. Examples of PII include names, addresses, Social Security or tax ID numbers, credit card data and dates of birth. 

A business that stores or manages this type of information must follow data privacy laws. These laws ensure that data is kept confidential and secure and that it is only used for authorized purposes. They are intended to help a business: 

  • Protect personal information 
  • Safeguard critical business data  
  • Preserve users’ autonomy 
  • Maintain trust with customers and employees 

Data privacy is also about trust. The misuse or theft of sensitive data can lead to email fraud, insurance fraud, identity theft and more. So, customers need to trust that the companies they share their private data with will guard it carefully. 

An evolving regulatory landscape  

Data privacy laws are designed to compel businesses to keep sensitive data safe. Data compliance mandates often require businesses to tell users exactly how their data is used and collected. They may also require companies to notify users when a data breach happens. As noted earlier, not following these laws can result in stiff penalties. 

Multiple data privacy laws around the globe govern regulations based on their type, the user’s location and other criteria. Some examples include the: 

  • GDPR in the European Union 
  • CCPA in the U.S. 
  • HIPAA in the U.S. 
  • LGPD in Brazil 

Several state governments in the United States are stepping up efforts to enact data privacy laws. California, Colorado, Connecticut, Utah and Virginia enacted comprehensive consumer privacy laws before 2023. Those laws became enforceable last year. In 2023, these states enacted privacy laws: 

  • Delaware 
  • Florida 
  • Indiana 
  • Iowa 
  • Montana 
  • Oregon 
  • Tennessee 
  • Texas 

As data privacy laws emerge or evolve, the definition of sensitive data may change. For example, GDPR expanded the definition of PII to include data elements like email and IP addresses. That is why it is so important for companies to stay attuned to this ever-changing landscape. 

The rise of generative AI sites has also sparked new concerns about data privacy. New laws are likely to be developed soon. The Biden Administration’s new executive order will also have an impact on data use in the year ahead. 

Why data privacy goes hand in hand with DLP and ITM 

You can’t ensure data privacy without securing data. And while they both work together, data privacy and data security are two different concepts: 

  • Data security governs the tools and procedures that allow people, systems and applications to access your company’s data.  
  • Data privacy defines which data is important and why it is sensitive. Data privacy efforts focus on the proper handling, collection, retention, deletion and storage of data.  

Data loss prevention (DLP) and insider threat management (ITM) tools are commonly used by organizations to protect data and mitigate risk from insider threats while ensuring data privacy.  

In many cases, companies start their DLP programs for two reasons. Firstly, they want to comply with data privacy laws. And then there’s the issue of trust—they want to protect employee and customer privacy because they know how important it is to these relationships. As part of their programs, companies use DLP tools, which ensure that users handle sensitive data in a way that’s in line with corporate policy. This works well when it comes to low-risk users.  

But when it comes to risky users who may become insider threats, a deeper level of monitoring is needed. That’s where ITM tools come in—they help security teams detect risky user behavior and prevent data loss, system sabotage and other compliance violations. 

However, as protecting sensitive data gets more challenging, this approach is no longer enough. A siloed approach to tracking data movement does not provide the visibility that’s needed. That’s why industry experts see DLP and ITM converging. Working together, these modern solutions can connect all the dots. Not only can they robustly protect data, but they can also help companies meet data privacy requirements. They don’t just inspect content. Instead, they provide insights into user behavior and threat activities, monitoring everyday and risky users alike.  

Tips for balancing data privacy and data security 

Every company should aim to balance data security and privacy. Here are five principles to keep in mind: 

  • Monitor key data loss channels. Focus your data security efforts on the way people work. Most data leakage and exposure happen via email, cloud applications and USB drives. 
  • Be clear and transparent. Make sure your employees know your corporate policies around data security and privacy. And let them know exactly what you’re monitoring. Doing so builds trust. 
  • Educate users with automated notifications. When a user violates corporate policy, a notification can be automatically generated to let the user know. Using an automated notification helps educate the user about their risky behavior while eliminating the shame and emotion involved in talking to HR or their manager.  
  • Be selective. You don’t need to collect data about everything and everyone. Decide which data is important and how much you really need to know about employees’ activities.   
  • Control access to data. While security admins, analysts, legal and HR might have full access to data about employees, that’s not always good for privacy. So make sure to use access controls that come with DLP and ITM tools.  

How Proofpoint can help your business address data privacy challenges 

Proofpoint Information Protection can help you maintain the strongest data protection and manage insider threats while staying in line with data compliance requirements. It can help to eliminate bias in your investigations, too. Proofpoint Information Protection is: 

  • Content-aware, so it can identify sensitive or regulated data 
  • Behavior-aware, which means it can flag risky user activity, malicious intent and unauthorized access context 
  • Threat-aware, so it can detect data loss linked to compromised accounts, phished users, malware, or OAuth abuse 

Proofpoint Information Protection is built with privacy by design principles, which takes a privacy-first approach. Privacy by design ensures that IT systems, infrastructure and business processes are built with the user in mind.  

If you use Proofpoint Managed Information Protection, we will bring together the right people and processes to help you design, implement and evolve your program for data protection. 

Looking for more tips and insight? 

Data reigns supreme as the crown jewels of any modern enterprise. Your business is far from alone in its efforts to protect its valuable data, address data privacy challenges and navigate complex regulations. Companies around the world face the same issues, and they seek solutions. 

If you would like more guidance on this topic, Proofpoint has an e-book that can help. It offers tips on how you can build a human-centric, risk-aware information protection program. Learn how to protect PII, stay compliant and help your users stay productive by downloading our e-book: Risk Aware Data Privacy.