What Is Data Security?

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?

Organisations that collect user information store several data points that could be used in identity theft, making a data breach harmful to user privacy. It’s not unusual for an organisation to have Personal Identifiable Information (PII) data, such as financial data, full names, addresses, social security numbers, and credit card information for every customer. Employee data is also commonly stored in the company database, adding to the amount of private data available to attackers. Data security aims to detect and mitigate threats, so that customer and employee information is safeguarded.

As organisations embraced the internet and experienced the digital transformation of corporate assets, governments developed compliance standards to regulate the way organisations store and secure consumer data. Organisations began to include regulatory guidelines into their data security strategies to avoid thousands in fines for each stolen record. Not only can an organisation be fined for violations of compliance standards, but they can also spend millions in litigation defences and reparations to consumers.

Data Security Technologies

Administrators have numerous strategies available to them 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 full financial details and communications sent in email or on a website. Content should never contain details that could be used by an attacker 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. Archived data is highly secured because it could have financial information and PII. 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 data corruption; backups will restore any lost information. Backups offer resilience from data loss and keep downtime at a minimum. They’re a key component in disaster recovery, business continuity, and compliance.

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 subjected to millions in fines 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 responsibility of the organisation to determine which regulations affect data storage, but here are a few compliance standards that should be reviewed when determining data security requirements:

Data Security Strategies

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 the size of the organisation, 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 that they need to perform their jobs. Role-based permissions organise authorisation so that 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 for resources with the highest risk.
  • Review cybersecurity rules annually. All disaster recovery and cybersecurity procedures should be reviewed annually to ensure that they fully cover any new infrastructure added to the network 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 are much more likely to detect malicious content and report it.

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 that will 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 are used to protect highly sensitive data such as private keys, digital signatures, and 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 leaves 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 who use this data in reconnaissance.
  • Mobile security: Mobile apps connect to APIs and process user data. These endpoints must be protected, including the devices that store 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 an essential solution to impede phishing attacks. Administrators can quarantine emails to avoid false positives and review messages before sending flagged communication to the user’s inbox.