A business that stores personal information and financial records is responsible for keeping customer data safe from attackers. Data security involves the practices, strategies, procedures, and mitigation techniques used to protect sensitive information from attackers. Any device that stores personal data should be a part of data security, including servers, end-user devices, desktops, and network storage.
Why Is Data Security Important?
Data security is critical for individuals, businesses, and governmental entities alike. As an umbrella term to describe many work parts, data security is the core set of systems and strategies designed to protect sensitive information from cyber-attacks and breaches that often result in unauthorised access, theft, or corruption. In turn, these measures help prevent devastating financial loss, reputational damage, consumer mistrust, and brand degradation.
Organisations collect Personal Identifiable Information (PII) data, such as financial data, full names, addresses, social security numbers, and credit card information for every customer. If this data is leaked, the outcome can be catastrophic for many parties involved.
A data breach can result in significant legal liabilities and lawsuits, which can be costly for the organisations held responsible. With increasing cyber threats like malware, ransomware, and phishing attacks, data security measures also help safeguard against these threats.
Data security also ensures compliance with information privacy and security regulations, such as the GDPR, HIPAA, and the PCI DSS. Not only can an organisation be fined for violations of compliance standards, but companies can consume upwards of millions of dollars in litigation defences and reparations to consumers.
Data security is integral in keeping confidential and sensitive information impenetrable by threats. Targeted assets like financial records, personal identification, trade secrets, intellectual property, and other sensitive data remain protected with proper data security measures.
Types of Data Security
Administrators use numerous strategies to protect data, but regulatory compliance requires the implementation of several standard data security technologies. In addition to the appropriate technology, precise configurations of this technology must be deployed for complete data protection. The first step is to find the most effective data security technology for your organisation.
Technologies commonly used in data security:
- Encryption: Sensitive data should be encrypted wherever it’s stored, whether in the cloud, on local device disks, or in a database. Data transferred across the network, including the internet, should also be encrypted. Cryptographically insecure encryption algorithms are insufficient to protect data. The most current cryptographically secure algorithm should be used, or data is vulnerable to dictionary attacks.
- Data masking: Only authorised users should be able to view complete financial details and communications sent by email or on a website. Content should never contain details that an attacker could use for phishing or social engineering. For example, customer service representatives should only have permissions to view the last four digits of a customer’s credit card for verification, not the entire number.
- Archived and deleted information: Administrators should archive data in a highly secure storage space where records can be reviewed during an audit or forensics investigation. Financial information and PII are typically archived data due to the high level of security. To stay compliant with regulations such as GDPR, organisations must have processes in place to offer customers the option to delete their data.
- Backups and data resilience: Should the organisation suffer from a data breach or corruption, backups will restore any lost information. Backups offer resilience from data loss and minimise downtime. They are key to disaster recovery, business continuity, and compliance.
- Authentication and authorisation: These processes ensure appropriate users can access specific data sets. Authentication involves proof of identity through passwords, biometrics, or multi-factor authentication. Authorisation determines whether the user has the proper permissions to access and interact with specific data, using principles like least privilege access and role-based access control.
- Hardware-based security: Hardware-level security features can spot anomalies at the application layer and contain threats before they reach your system. All data is encrypted and only decrypted while being used. The data remains secure even when a threat penetrates the operating system, hypervisor, or firmware.
Data Security Standards and Compliance
Most organisations collect data on their customers, and government agencies oversee the way these organisations collect, store, and secure consumer information. Some organisations must adhere to more than one compliance standard and could be fined millions if they do not comply. For instance, an organisation that keeps medical and financial records would be subject to HIPAA and PCI-DSS. Organisations that store data for people in the European Union (EU) would be subject to GDPR.
It is the organisation's responsibility to determine which regulations affect data storage. Here are a few compliance standards that should be reviewed when determining data security requirements:
- Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS).
- Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
- Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA).
- Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX).
- General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Data Security Best Practices
Strategies that protect data depend on the organisation's infrastructure and the type of data collected from consumers. Cybersecurity experts offer standard strategies that provide organisations with guidance. The following are data security strategies that should be used regardless of organisational size or the information stored:
- Antivirus should be installed on all devices. Antivirus applications are the first line of defence from common attacks.
- Always have a backup policy. Backups can be automated, but all sensitive data and log trails should be included in backup files and stored in a safeguarded location.
- Establish least-privilege permissions and roles. Users should only have access to the data required to perform their jobs. Role-based permissions organise authorisation so administrators can quickly enable and disable user accounts and identify user access rights.
- Perform frequent risk assessments. A risk assessment determines vulnerable physical and virtual infrastructure that could be a target for an attacker. Cybersecurity can then prioritise the highest risk resources.
- Review cybersecurity rules annually. All disaster recovery and cybersecurity procedures should be reviewed annually to ensure they fully cover any new network infrastructure and have the most efficient defences in place.
- Educate users on the importance of cybersecurity and data privacy. Security awareness training programs are a great way to educate users on phishing, malware, and common attacks. Informed users are more likely to detect malicious content and report it.
- Testing your data security system(s): Stress-testing your data protection and recovery systems is essential to identify vulnerabilities and prevent potential data loss and subsequent damages. Allocate an internal team or external cybersecurity support to test your systems and ensure they meet spec.
Data Security Solutions
Robust data security is difficult to implement if the organisation does not have skilled experts on staff. It’s not uncommon for organisations to outsource data security to a managed service provider (MSP) or to use cloud solutions.
The following solutions are standard for data security, both stored locally and in the cloud:
- Cloud data security: Cloud providers offer several security applications and infrastructure to monitor data access, alert administrators during suspicious access requests, implement user identity management, and secure data from attackers.
- Encryption: Encryption for data at rest and in motion protect information as it travels across the internet.
- Hardware security modules: HSMs protect highly sensitive data, such as private keys and digital signatures and perform other security functions. They are usually in the form of an external hardware device that plugs into a server or network device.
- Key management: Private key disclosure places the entire business at risk for a severe data breach. Key management protects these cryptographic components.
- Payment processing security: Businesses that work with user financial accounts and merchant processing require adequate data security to protect this data as it’s transferred across the network and when it’s stored.
- Big data security: Large reservoirs of unstructured data are valuable for analysis but must be protected from attackers using this data in reconnaissance.
- Mobile security: Mobile apps connect to APIs and process user data. These endpoints must be protected, including devices storing the data and the communication between the mobile app and the API.
- Web browser security: Users accessing the internet brings more risk to the organisation. Employing the appropriate browser configurations and content filters will protect the local device and organisation from web-based attacks.
- Email security: Filtering out emails with malicious links or attachments is essential to impede phishing attacks. Administrators can quarantine emails to avoid false positives and review messages before sending flagged communication to the user’s inbox.
Data Security Trends
On a macro level, many trends influence data security's role at both the SMB and enterprise level. From remote and hybrid work to cloud-based storage, the dynamics of today's digital economy lend themselves to many new trends impacting data security.
- Artificial intelligence and machine learning: AI and ML are being used to improve cybersecurity by identifying and preventing threats in real-time, automating security processes, and enhancing data analysis to identify risks and vulnerabilities.
- Ransomware attacks: The rise of ransomware attacks has prompted businesses to prioritise backup and disaster recovery planning, implement robust access controls and authentication methods, and train employees to recognise and prevent threats.
- Internet of Things (IoT): With IoT and “smart” devices becoming increasingly common, companies producing these technologies need impenetrable security measures to protect against potential attacks, like device authentication and encryption of data in transit and at rest.
- Cloud services and cloud security: As cloud-based data storage continues to become the preferred way to store and access data, there’s a heightened demand for reinforced cloud security measures. This involves combining cybersecurity protocols like data encryption, multi-factor authentication, access management barriers, and backups to maintain optimal security.
- Business continuity and disaster recovery planning: Developing a strategic continuity and disaster recovery plan is critical to ensure an organisation can quickly recover from cyber attacks or other disasters. This includes regular backups, offsite storage of critical data, and testing recovery procedures to ensure they are effective.
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