It’s no secret that sensitive data management is a top priority for security teams, particularly during periods of widespread workforce changes like layoffs and pay reductions. But workforce volatility has made it increasingly difficult for organizations to prevent and resolve issues of insider threat and data loss.
Without the proper workflows (backed by powerful tools for support), security teams struggle to protect business’s data. Of course, this leads to more network security risks, increased vulnerability against cyber attacks and a greater possibility of data breaches and loss. Inadequate solutions that focus on only conventional and data-specific content inspection methods simply aren’t enough to account for all the data-exposure risks associated with a nuanced, enterprise environment.
The cost of potential data breaches is too great for businesses to ignore, though. In fact, the average cost of a data breach in 2022 skyrocketed to $9.44 million in the US and $4.35 million globally. This means that controlling and protecting valuable data maintains the productivity, profitability and well-being of an organization.
Here, we’ll walk through six practical tips that security teams can use to protect their company’s sensitive data and, in turn; protect the interests of the organization and its employees, customers and partners alike.
What is sensitive data?
Sensitive data includes any essential information that an organization chooses not to disclose to outside parties. Unlike other types of information, companies typically protect their sensitive data using a higher level of security to ensure it’s inaccessible to unauthorized users. Sensitive data might include:
- Client lists
- Digital assets
- Trade secrets
- Customer and employee data
- Legal information
- Personal information
- Personally identifiable information (PII)
- Unstructured data (e.g., PDFs, spreadsheets or improperly stored word documents)
Businesses collect this type of data for a variety of purposes: meeting payroll, fulfilling orders or performing any other relevant business function. A protection plan for data is vital for safeguarding any confidential employee, customer and business information. Proper data security helps organizations comply with legal obligations, prevent reputational risk and avoid financial losses from lawsuits, mass refunds or even ransoms.
The most significant threat of failing to protect sensitive data is Insider Risk, which refers to any employee, contractor, partner or vendor who has access to the organization’s data or systems. While external threats (like hackers) can also pose a threat to data loss, businesses must properly plan for, quickly detect and swiftly respond to Insider Risk to protect sensitive data without hindering productivity.
6 Tips to protect your sensitive data
Keeping sensitive data safe can feel like an uphill battle for already-busy security teams, especially in a time where employees are 85% more likely to take valuable data (like customer lists, sales strategies and roadmaps) than they were pre-pandemic.
To mitigate the threat of data exfiltration and exposure, businesses should implement these 6 best practices:
1. Know where all your data lives
Your company’s data likely lives in myriad apps, like Microsoft 365, Google Drive and SalesForce. Without the right strategy or tools, you don’t have the visibility required to identify key vulnerabilities or focus your attention on the areas of highest need. And while some may think that organizing and classifying their data is enough to ensure protection, what actually gives a business greater security and control is transparency into data movement.
Data activity happens constantly (and even off-network), so your security team needs tools that help them monitor all of the places that data lives and moves. Traditional data loss prevention (DLP) tools rely on time-consuming, costly classification to identify high priority data, but your team can achieve a truly holistic data loss prevention strategy with a modern solution that offers both visibility and context of all your sensitive data.
Make sure the software your team chooses ensures total transparency so you can easily understand your risk, and only review what matters. Also, consider utilizing a software that can automatically respond to incidents without missing a beat.
2. Encrypt your data
Encryption is a crucial part of any strong data security strategy, as it allows businesses to securely store data on hardware while transmitting it between devices without interception. Depending on your company, industry and customers (like healthcare), you may need to use device encryption, network encryption or cloud-based storage encryption to meet certain compliance regulations.
Regardless of your business’s regulatory requirements — or lack thereof — encrypting your data is crucial for any information that you deem sensitive. Some companies skip this best practice because it requires a notable amount of system resources; but the potential repercussions of forgoing encryption can cost you more than just dollars. Your reputation and company well-being could get damaged, which can curb your business’ growth. Plus, customers whose data is stolen are unlikely to remain loyal.
3. Keep your operating system up-to-date
Keeping operating systems (for both on-site computers and laptops assigned for remote access) up-to-date is an essential part of maintaining compliance and meeting security needs. Updating these systems in a timely manner helps your team protect data from weaknesses, since updates fix security flaws and resolve compromised codes that may otherwise leave you vulnerable to breaches.
4. Enforce a strong password policy and set up multi-factor authentication
A strong password policy won’t necessarily keep all of your precious data safe — but it’s a great first-line of defense. In fact, in 2022, 50% of confirmed data breaches involved weak or stolen passwords. Bad actors can use these stolen credentials to gain access to valuable company information, which leaves your organization susceptible to data exfiltration and exposure. To help strengthen individual and team credentials, implement a password policy that prioritizes:
- A suitable password length
- A healthy mix of password numbers and characters
- An account lockout limit
- A reasonable password expiration length
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) acts as an added layer of protection against unauthorized users, so be sure to add this extra verification measure. Because MFA requires users to enter their password and verify their identity with additional information, another device or a form of biometric ID (like a fingerprint), it enhances protection and limits data access for unauthorized users.
5. Leverage an Identity and Access Management (IAM) software
Identity and Access Management (IAM) software helps security teams authorize and control access (often by employee role) to company data, which minimizes the risk of granting too much access to certain users. Alongside an effective data loss prevention program and an easily integrated tool, your business should use IAM software to define access controls and set specific permissions across each platform.
6. Backup your data
While there are much better ways to handle data security (e.g., monitoring data movement and correctly identifying risks), backing up data can still be an important part of protecting sensitive information from (un)intentional destruction. Your security team should establish and follow a strict backup plan that maintains an audit trail, reduces necessary recovery time after an attack and is legally compliant with retention policies.
Protect sensitive data with the help of Code42
Loss of intellectual property and exposed personal employee data and customer account information can easily diminish an organization’s well being, reputation and competitive edge; so teams must work to drive more secure data protection. Still, CISOs rank insider risk (27%) as the most difficult threat to detect, placing it above cloud data exposures (26%) and malware (22%) — so how can teams keep up?
While it’s important to have the right tools and strong security policies, it’s absolutely vital to have effective response controls in place, including blocking unacceptable data exfiltration, containing data leaks and employee education. These are the fundamental pillars of protecting sensitive data from leaving the business in the future.
Code42 is committed to protecting sensitive data, using tools like Incydr to minimize data exfiltration and prevent data loss. Incydr is an intelligent data protection solution that gives your team the visibility, context and control you need to stop data leak and IP theft.