DLP Definition

With data the new currency in today’s hyper-connected world, preventing accidental leaks or malicious theft is a top priority. Data loss prevention (DLP) is a strategic security measure that ensures sensitive or critical information is not transmitted outside the organization’s network. These measures include tools and software products that enable administrative control over data that can be safely transferred from network to network.

DLP products use business rules to classify and protect confidential and critical information so that unauthorized users cannot accidentally or maliciously share or leak data, which would put the organization at risk. For example, if an employee tried to forward a business email outside the corporate domain or upload a corporate file to a consumer cloud storage service like Dropbox, the employee would be denied permission.

Organizations are adopting DLP because of insider threats and rigorous data privacy laws, many of which have stringent data protection or access requirements. In addition to monitoring and controlling endpoint activities, some DLP tools can also be used to filter data streams on the corporate network and protect data in motion.

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Best Practices

Here is how to initiate a successful DLP deployment:

  • Prioritise data
    Not all data is equally critical. Every organisation has its own definition of critical data. The first step is to identify the most vulnerable forms of data that would result in the most significant damage if compromised. DLP should start with the most valuable or sensitive data attackers will likely target.
  • Classify the data
    Classifying data by context offers an intuitive approach that can be scaled. That means classifying the source application, the data store, or the user who created the data. Applying consistent classification tags to the data allows organisations to track their use. Inspecting the content is also helpful in identifying regular expressions, such as Social Security and credit card numbers or keywords (for example, “confidential”). Content inspection often comes with pre-configured rules for PCI, PII, and other standards.
  • Understand when data is at risk
    Distributing data to user devices or sharing it with third parties, customers, and the supply chain poses various risks. In these cases, the data is often at the highest risk when used on endpoints. Common scenarios involve sending sensitive data as an email attachment or transferring data to an external hard drive. A robust DLP programme must account for data mobility and when data is at risk.
  • Monitor data in motion
    Understanding how data is used and identifying behaviour that puts data at risk is important. Organisations must monitor data in motion to gain visibility into what’s happening to their sensitive data and determine the scope of the issues their DLP strategy should address
  • Communicate and develop controls
    To mitigate data risks, engaging with business line managers is crucial to gain insights into the underlying causes of data vulnerabilities. Data usage controls may be simple at the beginning of a DLP programme. Controls can target common behaviours that most line managers would agree are risky. Organisations can develop more granular, fine-tuned controls to reduce specific risks as the DLP programme matures.
  • Train employees and provide continuous guidance
    Once an organisation understands when data is moved, user training can reduce the risk of insiders accidentally losing data. Employees often don’t recognise that their actions can result in data loss, and they do better when educated. Advanced DLP products offer “user prompting”, which notifies employees of data use that may be risky or against corporate policy. That’s in addition to controls that outright block risky data activity.
  • Rollout
    Some organisations repeat these steps with an expanded data set or extend data identification and classification to fine-tune data controls. By initially focusing on securing a subset of the most critical data, DLP is more straightforward to implement and manage. Successful pilot programmes also offer solutions to scale the programme. Over time, more sensitive information will be included, with minimal disruption to business processes.

DLP Statistics

47% increase in data breaches since 2020

While malicious attackers are often the primary target of concern, it’s a popular misconception that they’re the leading cause of data loss. External breaches still account for over half of all data breaches. However, internal data breaches are also increasing and account for nearly half of all data breaches. Many data breaches are not from outsiders but from uninformed, negligent, or disgruntled employees.

84% of IT leaders say DLP is more difficult with a remote workforce

With more staff working from home, administrators are also challenged to protect data on personal devices and in the cloud. This makes DLP more problematic as a remote workforce adds risks compared to internal data on corporate-controlled devices.

60% to 70% of all data breaches warrant public disclosure

This statistic typically damages a company’s reputation. A study by Intel found that 70% of data loss cases in smaller organisations like SMEs or SMBs resulted in substantial financial damage or warranted public disclosure.

How DLP Works

DLP solutions work in two ways: analysing data for contextual content and analysing content based on string matches. Just like language analysis, words have meaning based on context. While a DLP solution can filter out attacks based on words, it must also understand how these words are formatted and built into communication. This capability is critical, particularly in email cybersecurity and DLP.

An effective DLP solution uses the following strategies:

  • Regular expression matching: DLP solutions match specific set data conditions, such as detecting 16-digit credit card numbers in email or 9-digit telephone numbers, and determine if the communication contains sensitive data.
  • Structured data fingerprinting: Data stored in a database can be analysed for specific sensitive data to determine if it’s properly protected.
  • File checksum analysis: Determine if file content changed by using hashing algorithms to output hashes of file data and compare them based on when the file was saved.
  • Partial data matching: This technique identifies similar information across different sources, like finding forms or templates completed by various individuals.
  • Lexicon matches: Unstructured data can be analysed using dictionary terms and other rule-based matches to detect sensitive information.
  • Statistical analysis: By leveraging machine learning and advanced methods, DLP solutions can detect more obscure sensitive information that other methods can’t.
  • Categorisation: Categorising data enables the DLP solution to determine if data is highly sensitive and violates compliance regulations.

Why Is DLP Important?

A data breach costs $4.25 million per incident, but the long-term damage to a brand name can affect future revenue for years. Businesses fall victim to cyber-attacks every 11 seconds, so DLP solutions are more critical than ever. With the countless risks administrators face, DLP products help by identifying potential threats and unusual activities.

An effective DLP solution works in concert with strategies to reduce risk. Since risk reduction is never 100%, DLP solutions detect sophisticated attacks that bypass your cybersecurity defences. They also maintain environmental compliance, thereby avoiding hefty fines for regulation violations.

Why Do Organisations Need DLP?

A DLP solution solves many of today’s cybersecurity and compliance challenges. Administrators continually chase the latest threats and find the right solution to detect and stop them. You need a DLP for:

  • Compliance: Several compliance regulations require monitoring and data protection. If your organisation must follow HIPAA, PCI-DSS, GDPR, or any other compliance standard, a DLP solution helps keep your organisation within guidelines.
  • IP protection: It’s not uncommon for organisations to store intellectual property in document files, and a DLP will stop attackers from accessing and stealing trade secrets.
  • Visibility into your data: Tracking data both at-rest and in-transit is a compliance requirement that also helps organisations understand the types of data stored across endpoints.

Types of DLP Solutions

Because attackers have numerous ways to steal data, the right DLP solution includes how data is disclosed. Here are the types of DLP solutions:

  • Email: Defend against phishing attacks and social engineering techniques by detecting incoming and outgoing messages.
  • Endpoint management: For every device that stores data, an endpoint DLP solution monitors data when devices are connected to the network or offline.
  • Network: Data in transit on the network should be monitored so that administrators are aware of any anomalies.
  • Cloud: With more employees working from home, administrators leverage the cloud to provide services to at-home staff. A cloud DLP solution monitors and protects data stored in the cloud.

Email DLP

As a crucial component of an organisation’s data loss prevention strategy, email DLP focuses on protecting sensitive data from being leaked or mishandled through email communications. Email DLP solutions monitor and analyse outgoing and incoming traffic by scanning the email body, subject line, attachments, and metadata for sensitive data patterns or keywords. These patterns can include credit card numbers, social security numbers, intellectual property, or any other data the organisation deems confidential.

When sensitive data is detected, the email DLP system can take various actions based on predefined policies, such as:

  • Blocking the email from being sent or received.
  • Quarantining the email for review by security personnel.
  • Encrypting the email and its attachments.
  • Redacting or removing the sensitive content.
  • Notifying the sender and/or recipient of the policy violation.

Email DLP solutions also enforce additional security measures, like restricting the ability to forward emails containing sensitive data or preventing the auto-forwarding of emails to external addresses.

Endpoint DLP

Endpoint DLP protects sensitive data on endpoint devices like laptops, desktops, and mobile devices in an organisation’s network. As the name implies, these solutions monitor and control how data flows to and from these endpoints, effectively protecting information from being mishandled or leaked.

Endpoint DLP solutions typically employ the following techniques:

  • Content inspection: Scanning files, emails, and other data on the endpoint for sensitive patterns or keywords, similar to email DLP.
  • Contextual analysis: Analysing the context in which data is accessed or transferred, such as the user, application, or destination, to determine if the action is permitted or poses a risk.
  • Data discovery: Identifying and classifying sensitive data stored on endpoints, enabling better visibility and control over data flows.
  • Policy enforcement: Enforcing predefined policies based on the organisation’s data security requirements, such as blocking unauthorised data transfers, encrypting data, or logging events for auditing purposes.

Additionally, endpoint DLP solutions often monitor and control various data transfer channels, including removable storage devices (USB drives, external hard drives), cloud storage services, web browsers, and applications like instant messaging or file-sharing tools.

DLP Adoption

As the cybersecurity landscape changes, organisations must keep up with the latest trends. The trends in security can be challenging to track, but a DLP solution keeps the organisation compliant and on track with effective monitoring. DLP adoption continues to grow because:

  • CISO roles: Organisations see the importance of Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) who frequently recommend adopting DLP solutions.
  • Compliance regulations: Standards to protect data change with the evolving cybersecurity landscape, and a DLP solution is adopted to help bring data protection up to standard.
  • Additional endpoints: Data stored on user devices and in the cloud increases risk to the organisation’s network. However, a DLP solution monitors many endpoints across the cloud and internally to ensure data is protected.

DLP Deployment

As with any integration, DLP deployments require the right strategy to avoid costly mistakes and downtime. Before deploying your DLP solution, consider these tips:

  • Define business requirements: Before deploying a solution, define the business requirements behind the deployment strategy. The business requirements will trigger a plan that creates a smoother deployment process.
  • Define security requirements: Compliance and other cybersecurity standards will also define how DLP solutions are deployed. Use these standards to determine how to monitor and protect data.
  • Audit infrastructure: You need to know where data is stored and transferred. DLP solutions protect data at rest and in transit, so this planning step reveals endpoints and data storage points.
  • Determine responsibilities: Every IT staff member must be involved in deployments to understand changes and support customer questions. It also helps with remediating bugs.
  • Communicate with documentation: Document changes to the environment and required procedures. Documentation avoids mistakes when staff are unaware of changes to the environment and how DLP works to monitor data.

Enterprise DLP

Enterprise DLP solutions are comprehensive platforms designed to protect sensitive data across an entire organisation, covering various data vectors and channels. They provide a centralised approach to data security, enabling organisations to discover, monitor, and protect confidential information from unauthorised access, misuse, or accidental exposure. Here are some of the core aspects of enterprise DLP:

  • Data discovery and classification: Enterprise DLP solutions employ advanced techniques like content inspection, contextual analysis, and data fingerprinting to automatically discover and classify sensitive data across the organisation. This includes data at rest (on endpoints, servers, and storage systems), data in motion (email, web traffic, and network transfers), and data in use (within applications and databases).
  • Policy management and enforcement: Organisations can define granular policies based on data security requirements, regulatory compliance needs (e.g., GDPR, HIPAA, PCI-DSS), and intellectual property protection. These policies are then consistently enforced across all monitored channels, including endpoints, networks, cloud services, and email.
  • Incident response and remediation: When policy violations or potential data leaks are detected, enterprise DLP solutions initiate automated responses, such as blocking unauthorised data transfers, encrypting sensitive content, quarantining files, or notifying security personnel for further investigation and remediation.
  • Reporting and auditing: Comprehensive reporting and auditing capabilities enable organisations to track data flows, monitor user activities, and demonstrate compliance with regulatory requirements. This visibility helps identify areas of risk and optimise data security practices.
  • Integration and scalability: Enterprise DLP solutions integrate with existing security infrastructure, such as firewalls, secure web gateways, and cloud access security brokers (CASBs). They can scale to support large, distributed organisations with diverse data environments.

By implementing an enterprise DLP solution, organisations can establish a unified data protection strategy, consistently enforcing policies across multiple data vectors and minimising the risk of data breaches, compliance violations, and intellectual property theft.

DLP Tools and Technology

Before choosing a DLP provider, find one with the tools and technology for efficient tracking, detection, and remediation. To pinpoint the ideal provider, ask the following questions:

  • Does the vendor support the operating systems installed on your systems?
  • Do they have the deployment options necessary for reduced downtime?
  • Does the provider defend against internal and external threats?
  • Is classifying data done by the provider, or do users classify documents?
  • Is your data mainly structured or unstructured?
  • Do you need protection for data at rest and in transit?
  • What compliance regulations does the vendor support?
  • What technologies must the DLP solution integrate with?
  • What is your timeline for DLP deployment?
  • Will you need to hire additional staff to support the DLP integration?

How Proofpoint Can Help

Proofpoint Email Data Loss Prevention offers integrated data protection for email and attachments. It stops accidental data exposure and prevents third-party attackers or impostor attacks via email. DLP can be leveraged with other information protection suite products, such as Proofpoint Data Discover and Proofpoint Email Encryption.

A full-suite DLP tool has four elements: a central management server, network monitoring, storage DLP, and endpoint DLP. In small deployments, all components other than the endpoint agent may be consolidated on one server. Larger deployments may include multiple distributed pieces to cover different infrastructure elements.

With this tool, organisations always know where their private or proprietary data resides, including intellectual property, personal identification, patient information, financial information, and more. It helps organisations to simplify discovery and quickly evaluate data to respond to any issue. The Proofpoint in-place DLP solution, Content Control, helps organisations:

  • Easily locate sensitive data wherever it resides in the enterprise. The simplified discovery process enables IS and IT teams to be aware of issues without dealing with a complex DLP solution or a lock-it-all-down approach.
  • Evaluate historical data and ensure that newly created data is evaluated. Quarantine or remove violations to prevent adverse effects by the wrong material. For example, if corporate content is discovered in a Dropbox synchronisation folder, the user is alerted, and the data is moved to the IT security team’s sanctioned repository.
  • Evaluate the metadata and the full text within a file. This enables IT security departments to identify credit cards, personal identification, license numbers, medical information, etc. This process also teaches users best practices for data management and security on the job—without hindering productivity or workflow.

Proofpoint’s comprehensive DLP solutions extend data protection across email, cloud applications, and endpoints. These solutions provide deep visibility into user behaviour and data interactions, enabling effective detection and prevention of data loss risks. With its unified console, cloud-native architecture, and advanced analytics, Proofpoint streamlines incident management and empowers organisations to safeguard sensitive data efficiently. To learn more, contact Proofpoint.

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