What is data security?

Data security protects company data from internal and external threats and is a critical element of business operations. This encompasses protecting digital information from multiple threats of unauthorized access, data corruption, or theft through its lifecycle. It’s an all-encompassing term that covers hardware and its physical security and includes protection of storage devices, administrative controls, accessibility, and the safety of applications. It also covers company policies and protocols.

When data security is planned and implemented correctly, a company’s data assets are protected against multiple forms of cyber-criminal attacks. It also ensures that data is safeguarded from internal threats and possible human error–the latter continues to be a common cause of data breaches. The vast majority of data security breaches are caused by human error.

As part of their data security procedures, companies deploy a range of tools and technologies to increase the visibility of their critical data and monitor its usage. These tools can protect encryption and data masking. Sensitive files are redacted, and reporting is automated to streamline audit procedures. All this helps with regulatory compliance.

Why is data security important

Having high-end data security is essential as a breach can have dire consequences for a business. More often than not, a breach results in financial losses. The average cost of a data security breach is millions of dollars. Not only that, but most violations had a financial motivation behind them. There are people out there that want money and will do anything to get it.

The most significant impact of a security breach on a corporation is the financial harm. However, brand equity and the organization's brand value are also harmed. For giant corporations, the impact could reach billions of dollars. Consumer surveys show that most consumers would end their relationship with a brand if it had a data security breach.

The impact of a data security breach on a company is enormous. Therefore, having solid protocols in place to ensure ongoing security is critical to the success of a business.

Benefits of data security

There are multiple benefits for an organization that decides to invest in its data security.

Safeguarding sensitive information

A company often collects a wide range of data that is not meant to be shared. These can be personal details of clients, vendors, customers, etc. Data security measures keep all kinds of information safe and within the confines of where it should be. Imagine if personal customer data was released. The consequences, both individually and for the organization, would be massive.

Protecting an organization’s reputation

Today, people value their privacy more than ever and having a robust data security plan helps build confidence across the organization and with all customers.

Providing an edge against the competition

When an organization protects sensitive data from the prying eyes of hackers, it can stay ahead of the competition curve. Data leaks related to business plans can slow down business progress and development.

Prevents additional support costs

A business that does not have a good data security plan runs the risk of facing the consequences of that lapse. It may require additional investments to deal with the ramifications and invest more heavily in protecting the data in the long run. Plugging any security loopholes right at the beginning ensures that an organization does not incur these additional costs.

Protection from fines and lawsuits

When an organization is faced with a data breach, customers will opt for legal measures to protect their interests. This means that they can file legal cases against an organization, and if any non-compliance is found, it will be liable for fines. Additionally, the organization may have to pay compensation to their clients, not to mention the immense costs of a legal battle. The correct data security protocols can prevent this from happening.

Saving reputation

An organization must ensure that the privacy and security of a customer's data is the ultimate pact. Not keeping this information safe can result in a loss of trust and business. Data security measures can prevent such things from happening.

Preventing data tampering

If cyber-criminals attack an organization, it’s not always to steal data but could also to tamper with it. Hackers can delete, alter, and corrupt data. They can hijack processes with deadly Trojans or even introduce ransomware into information technology systems. The results can prove disastrous. Data security protocols protect a business to a large extent.

Unreliable data security systems can severely impact a business and affect day-to-day functioning. The problems can drip down the hierarchy with a domino effect leading to several complications. The need for solid data security protocols is critical.

Types of data security

There are different kinds of data security measures, and each has a method or approach to implementation.

Data encryption

In this security system, an algorithm scrambles text characters to an unreadable format so that authorized viewers can only read it. When there are volumes of sensitive information, solutions such as file and dataset encryption protect data with encryption or/and tokenization. Most of these solutions also come with security key management features.

Data erasure

While data wiping is a standard procedure, it may not be thorough. This is where data erasure comes in. It utilizes software to overwrite data stored in any kind of device altogether. It verifies that data cannot be recovered. This is the modern-day equivalent of a letter self-destructing after being read.

One of the benefits of a data virtualization solution is that it doesn't store data so erasure is only required on the source systems. This enables additional governance and eliminates the potential of data inconsistency.

Data masking

Here, personally identifiable information (PII) is masked so that various teams can continue developing applications and training recruits with accurate data. All development happens with actual data in compliant environments.

A data virtualization layer can also implement row and column based security based on users and roles at run time.

Data resiliency

Data resiliency is how fast an organization can spring back from a failure, whether hardware, power deficiencies or any other factor affecting team data availability. The speed of recovery is crucial to reducing the impact on the organization.

Best practices for ensuring data security

Creating a data security plan is about putting together several variables and ensuring that they all work together seamlessly, in real-time, to ensure data safety. Implementing a data security plan depends entirely on the size and architecture of a company’s computing structure.

While there is no way to provide a 100% fool-proof approach to the creation of a data security plan, there are certain key elements that an organization needs to keep in mind.

Secure data in every storage format

An essential first step to data security is ensuring that data is safe irrespective of where it is stored. These three best practices to provide digital and physical security should be prioritized.

  1. User ID-based Access: Ideally, when working with sensitive information, it is best to restrict access to the data only to those who will work with it. Creating user ID-based protocols is a simple yet effective way to ensure that only those who require access to data get it. This way, data remains safer even if usernames and logins are stolen.
  2. Use Encryption Everywhere: Encrypting is a great way to ensure that hackers cannot use any information to create trouble. For an added protective layer, consider encrypting all information transmissions as well.
  3. Create Authentication Practices: Protection of user data can begin right at the source. Whether logins are happening for the first or multiple types, including a verification step with authentication protocols like a social login can go a long way. The process is simplified, and all sensitive data can be organized in a single dataset instead of many.

Evolve to meet new threats

Cyber-criminals are constantly evolving in the manner they launch attacks. With every new solution, the attacks get more sophisticated, and businesses need to ensure their data security protocols can keep up. Here are a few best practices to ensure an organization is well prepared for attacks and has quick, dependable solutions in case of a breach.

  • Regularly stress test system(s): Work on the offensive. Ensure data is never lost by having a secure data recovery process. Automation is an often-preferred mode for monitoring, but it cannot keep up with human creativity in finding new ways to break-in. Have an internal team in place to regularly stress-test systems or engage the services of an external organization for the job.
  • Inculcate best practices for employees: The most common forms of data security attacks happen through USB traps or phishing emails that employees fall prey to. Not every employee is aware of the possible threats to security and the various ways they can come about, and this can cause significant harm to company data. Regularly training and informing employees on the various forms of attack can safeguard data and mitigate risks.
  • Create a detailed response plan: Always be prepared. In the case of an attack, always have a response plan in place. This should be as comprehensive as possible and have tasks outlined for everybody necessary. Setting a recovery plan in motion quickly can mitigate the negative impact of an attack to a large extent, saving the organization on multiple counts. From IT to management to executives and others, every department must be aware of the plan.
  • Ensure back-ups of all data: To a large extent, data recovery depends on solid data backups. The quickest way to respond to a data breach that has possibly erased or corrupted the data is to revert to a blockage in place. This backup should be created independent of any data systems the organization uses regularly.

Erase unused data

Data can become obsolete, but it can still prove to be a source of danger if it is leaked. To reduce this happening, a company should ideally erase all unused data. Old passwords of users are an excellent example to consider. Despite warnings, people tend to use the same password across multiple platforms, even if it is changed in one place. If the information gets leaked, it can lead to several aspects of a client’s online presence being compromised.

  • Wipe Things Clean: Assign all data with an expiry date. These parameters can be created internally based on the kind of data worked with. When it is time to dispose of, ensure that everything is erased, including from backups and from projects that may have accessed this information for any purpose. Tracking the presence and use of data across the board is an excellent way to ensure it can all be removed.
  • Never Forget Physical Storage: Data is often stored in physical devices. These can be external drives, USB drives, printed files and documentation, and other formats. They tend to be forgotten about but can be a significant source of data breaches. Getting them all and deleting them is essential.

Ensure compliance with regular audits

Several standards for data management can help reduce the chances of a data breach. Many of these standards are a requirement by law. Compliance regulations are mainly based on where the organization is located geographically and how businesses work in that region. While having an internal compliance team to ensure the organization is in keeping with the law, it is good to invest in regular compliance audits. This will help identify any loopholes in the data security, which provides a pathway to address them.

Without quality data, an organization will not be able to ensure an upper hand in a highly competitive business world. Companies are constantly working on data security to prevent breaches and the fallout of an attack on the company. Investment in the sector will increase with each passing year and with the sophistication of attacks. However, the stronger a company’s data security protocols, the higher the chances of ensuring the data is always safe.

Data Security diagram