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4 min read

4 Tips to Help You Get a Handle on Unstructured Data Sprawl

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Written by
Mandy Bachus
Published on
March 17, 2021

Spoiler alert: compliance audits become simpler when data is properly inventoried and classified.

If you’re an IT, compliance or security professional this isn’t a news flash: the amount of data that lives on your company’s network proliferates every day. It’s collecting on your servers, computers, devices and across the applications employees use. Data sprawl is real problem. Many businesses deal with high volumes of unstructured data, which is overwhelming when combined with increasing data sprawl.  

IT and security budgets might be holding or increasing, but your team is likely still doing more with less and so buried with urgent operational tasks that best practices or data sprawl initiatives end up on the back burner.  

Data sprawl and unclassified, unstructured data is driving security risk and regulatory requirements.

Why does it matter?

Regulators take data privacy seriously and are focusing on building out measures that ensure that businesses are taking appropriate steps to guard the sensitive and personally identifiable information (PII) that lives on business networks. Regulators are also acutely aware of the vulnerability risk that unclassified data presents. If you don’t have visibility to that data, you can’t track it. And if you can’t track it, you can’t protect it.

We’re all familiar with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and its cousin, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Depending on the industry you operate in, your business is expected to comply with multiple frameworks, regulations and acts. While each is unique, they share a common foundation when it comes to data storage, sharing and right to erasure measures. Compliance is more than just ticking a box; in an audit scenario you must have a clear record of data inventory, audit trails and reports.

Data discovery and data privacy are mutually exclusive

Regardless of where your company is headquartered, the industry you operate in, or the type of product or service you provide, you’re expected to align and comply with several global, regional and industry-based frameworks and acts. All define data classification, lifecycle management (including creation, storage and destruction), data subject rights and inquiry management requirements. Acts and frameworks like the GDPR, CCPA and industry-based frameworks like NIST go further, defining data inventory and classification.

For many, running a compliance exercise is full-time job...on top of your day-to-day responsibilities. Here are four tips you and your team can reference, whether you’re just getting started or refreshing your company’s approach to compliance:  

1. Stand up a cross-functional compliance committee (if you haven’t already)

Data protection and data privacy is a business issue and requires sponsorship from business units across the organization. Include representation from IT, finance, HR and even marketing, recruiting individuals who have an understanding of the type of data their department gathers and what it’s used for. Every business unit handles sensitive company and customer data either directly or through third-party software and therefore has a stake in data privacy and protection obligations.

2. Compare your existing data inventory to your asset inventory

Whether you’re starting your inventory from scratch or updating what you’ve got, your asset inventory offers a quick way to cross-check whether your existing data inventory captures all data sources and hosts across the network, cloud applications and devices.

3. Assess your auditing process

Are you using a spreadsheet to build and manage your inventory? Even if you have confidence in your document and the method you used to build it, you could still end up with blind spots. Manual inputs like spreadsheets are prone to unintentional error and inaccuracies, especially with the rate of data proliferation.

4. Consider a risk assessment consultation

Staying on top of multiple regulatory acts, frameworks and guidelines is a daunting but necessary task, as most regulators revisit and update requirements on an annual basis. A risk management professional can create a requirements matrix to streamline audit activities and requirements. It’s a worthy investment, especially if you don’t have the skillset or capacity to run your own internal risk assessment.

Once you’ve completed your inventories and aligned your compliance requirements it’s important to benchmark your risk to monetize and prioritize your highest value remediations, though this can be tough to achieve without internal expertise.

The Cavelo platform’s risk reporting feature can help. The platform continuously scans your hosts and data sources, maintaining your data inventory in real-time. The risk reporting feature can show you how much your data will cost you if breached or exploited based on data type.

Whether you’re using spreadsheets, technology or a combination of both to track your data, compliance audits and exercises become simpler when data is properly inventoried and classified. Not all compliance acts and requirements are the same – download our regulatory matrix for a high level look at where data discovery maps across eight of North America’s most dominant regulatory acts and frameworks.

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Guide to Data Discovery for Regulatory Compliance

As cybersecurity is, data protection boils down to having good security hygiene and baseline processes in place to guard your data. This guide is designed to help you organize and prioritize data security and best practice planning.

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