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.

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 unauthorized access, theft, or corruption. In turn, these measures help prevent devastating financial loss, reputational damage, consumer mistrust, and brand degradation.

Why Is Data Security Important?

It’s not unusual for organizations to collect a range of personally identifiable information (PII) for both customers and employees, including:  

  • Full name 
  • Address 
  • Social security number  
  • Credit card information 

When this data is lost or stolen in a data breach, people are at risk for identity theft. The goal of data security is to prevent data breaches, keep this information safe and protect customer privacy. 

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.

Compliance standards are developed by governments to regulate how customer data is stored and secured. If organizations don’t follow these regulations, they can be fined. They may also spend millions defending themselves against lawsuits.


Types of Data Security

While administrators can protect data with a variety of tactics, many regulations specifically require them to use standard data security technologies. Plus, this technology must be configured in very precise ways.

Here are some technologies commonly used in data security:

  • Encryption. Sensitive data should always be encrypted—whether it’s stored in the cloud, on local devices or in databases. Data should also be encrypted when it’s transferred across the network or the internet. Make sure to use most current cryptographically secure algorithm. Otherwise, data is vulnerable to dictionary attacks. 
  • Data masking. Only authorized users should be able to view full financial details and communications sent in email or on a website. Make sure to hide details that could be used for phishing or social engineering attacks. For example, customer service representatives should only be able to view the last four digits of a credit card—not the entire number. 
  • Data archiving. Data should be archived in a highly secure storage space that can be accessed during an audit or a forensic investigation. Archived data should be highly secured because it may include financial information and PII. Don’t forget that you must have a process for delete.
  • Backups. If your data is stolen or corrupted, 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. 
  • Authentication and authorization: These processes ensure appropriate users can access specific data sets. Authentication involves proof of identity through passwords, biometrics, or multifactor authentication. Authorization 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 organizations collect customer data. Government agencies oversee the way this information is stored and secured. Some organizations must adhere to more than one compliance standard and may be fined millions if they do not comply. For instance, an organization that keeps medical and financial records is subject to HIPAA and PCI-DSS. Organizations that store data for people in the European Union (EU) are subject to GDPR.  

Here are a few compliance standards to review when considering which data security requirements might apply to your organization: 

Data Security Best Practices

Data security strategies should be tailored to an organization’s infrastructure, its size and the type of data it collects. Here are some general strategies recommended by cybersecurity experts that apply to all organizations:  

  • Install antivirus software on all devices. These apps are the first line of defense against common attacks. 
  • Always have a backup policy. Backups can be automated. Make sure all sensitive data and log trails are included in backup files and stored in a safe 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 ensure administrators can quickly enable and disable user accounts and identify user access rights. 
  • Perform frequent risk assessments. A risk assessment tells you which physical and virtual infrastructure are the most likely targets for an attacker. Your cybersecurity team can then prioritize its resources to protect assets with the highest risk. 
  • Review cybersecurity rules annually. All disaster recovery and cybersecurity procedures should be reviewed annually. During reviews, you can make sure that any new infrastructure added to the network is covered. And you can check to see that you still have the most efficient defenses in place. 
  • Educate users on cybersecurity. Security awareness programs are a great way to educate users on phishing, malware and common attacks. When they’re trained, users are much more likely to detect malicious content and report it. 

Data Security Solutions

When an organization does not have skilled experts on staff, it can be difficult to achieve strong data security. That’s why many outsource their data security to a managed service provider (MSP) or use cloud solutions. 

The solutions are commonly used for data security: 


  • Cloud data security. Cloud providers offer many security solutions that can monitor data to access, provide alerts for any suspicious access requests and help administrators manage user identities. 
  • Encryption. When data at rest and in motion, it should be encrypted. Encryption protects it as it travels across the internet. 
  • Hardware security modules. HSMs are usually in the form of an external hardware device that plugs into a server or network device They are used to protect highly sensitive data such as private keys, digital signatures, and other security functions. . 
  • Key management. If a private is key disclosed, the entire business is at risk for a severe data breach. Key management protects these cryptographic components. 
  • Payment processing security. User financial account and merchant processing data must be protected as it’s transferred across the network and when it’s stored. 
  • Big Data security. Large reservoirs of unstructured data 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 all be protected. This includes the devices that store the data, as well as the communication between the mobile app and the API itself. 
  • Web browser security. Every time users access the internet, they put the organization at risk. Administrators should configure browsers and add content filters to protect local devices and the organization from web-based attacks. 
  • Email security. To avoid phishing attacks, it’s essential to filter out emails with malicious links or attachments. Administrators can quarantine emails to avoid false positives and review messages before sending them 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 prioritize backup and disaster recovery planning, implement robust access controls and authentication methods, and train employees to recognize 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, multifactor 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 organization 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.

Learn About Proofpoint Information Protection

Increase data protection against accidental mistakes or attacks using Proofpoint's Information Protection. Learn more about information security and stay protected.

Top Data Security Use Cases: Webinar

Join us for a 30-minute webinar on data security.

What Is Data Protection?

Data protection is meant to safeguard information from compromise and loss. Learn what data protection is, why it matters, what to consider, and more.