What is the Primary Method of Protecting Sensitive Data?Over the past couple of decades, the world’s digital footprint has grown exponentially. This sheer amount of data, and unprecedented connectivity, means businesses must do more than ever before to protect sensitive data.
But when it comes to cybersecurity, organizations are in a vicious circle. As cyber threats continue to grow, organizations must make sure they are doing everything they can to protect sensitive data, but advancing threats means securing sensitive data is becoming increasingly complex and challenging.
Breaches are becoming more common and more expensive. According to IBM, data breach costs increased from $3.86 million to $4.24 million in 2021, the highest average to date.
So, how can businesses better secure sensitive data and mitigate the risk of threats? In this blog, we explore what sensitive data is, why it’s critical to protect it, as well as some primary methods of doing just that.
What is sensitive data?
Sensitive data is confidential and personally identifiable information (PII) that must be kept secure, ensuring that it cannot be accessible to anyone unless they have explicit authorization to access the data. It’s essentially any information that an organization must keep from being publicly available because the release of that information can violate data privacy requirements and lead to identity theft and other crimes.
Examples of sensitive data include:
- Customer information
- Employee data
- Personally identifiable information (PII) like addresses and phone numbers
- Intellectual property and trade secrets
- Operational and inventory information
- Industry-specific data
- Financial, banking and credit card information
- Health records
Why is it important to protect sensitive data?
Data protection is a cybersecurity strategy that focuses on protecting a company’s data from breaches and fraudulent activities, including ransomware, identity theft, phishing and other external threats.
There are two primary reasons why protecting sensitive data is important. Firstly, because protecting company data is critical to the seamless operations of your business. Stolen or lost data can have a significant impact on your employees’ ability to do their jobs.
Secondly, because when handling sensitive data your business is required to comply with data privacy regulations that apply in the locations in which you collect, store, manage and use sensitive data.
Regulations - such as the GDPR in the EU, the CCPA in California, PIPEDA in Canada, the LGPD in Brazil or the PDPA in Thailand - all dictate how your business can collect, store, manage, use and protect sensitive data.
Primary methods for protecting sensitive data
Here at Cavelo, we often get asked the question “what is the primary method of protecting sensitive data?” In reality, there is no one method. Protecting sensitive data comes down to a range of processes and technologies that give you better visibility of your risk and help you protect your attack surfaces.
With that in mind, here are some of the top methods and technologies organizations can use to protect their sensitive data:
1 - Gaining visibility of your attack surface
The first step of protecting data should be gaining visibility into what data your business has across its network, where it lives and who has access to it. After all, you can’t manage what you can’t measure.
Data discovery technology gives your organization the ability to run continuous scans across your entire environment, finding and identifying where both structured and unstructured data resides across your business. This gives your company complete visibility into where sensitive data lives, with insight into where you are most vulnerable to threats.
2 - Organizing and classifying data
With visibility into where sensitive data lives across your network, you can now organize that data through data classification - the process of identifying and tagging data into categories based on file type, content and other metadata that makes it easy to track and locate.
Data classification makes it easy to eliminate multiple duplications of data, reduce storage and backup costs, as well as organize data by the compliance regulation it is governed by so that your employees always follow the appropriate rules when handling data. When data is organized, it’s easier to protect.
3 - Data encryption
Sensitive data that can be easily read by hackers is vulnerable to cyber threats. That’s why it’s crucial for organizations to encrypt their sensitive data, so that if it’s stolen or intercepted by a hacker, it’s still nearly impossible for them to access it.
Encryption is the process of using complex algorithms and ciphers to protect sensitive data from being stolen or exposed. If a hacker manages to steal encrypted data, it’s virtually impossible for them to access that information without a decryption key - ensuring the data remains confidential even when lost.
4 - Continuous attack surface management
Traditionally, organizations undertake one or two vulnerability assessments a year, which offer point-in-time results that quickly expire and fail to give the business an accurate picture of their digital assets, the sensitive data they contain and the risk they produce.
Cloud adoption, the distributed workforce and the ever-changing nature of today’s average company network means organizations can no longer rely on point-in-time assessments. Instead, continuous attack surface management should be implemented, giving the business real-time visibility into their vulnerabilities.
5 - Data backups
In most cases of cybercrime, hackers don’t steal the information because they want to use that data themselves. They steal it because they want to blackmail the organization they stole it from to buy it back (such as ransomware, the fastest growing attack vector targeting businesses and critical infrastructure today). In these scenarios, they steal the data, encrypt it, and then demand a fee for the decryption key.
While you don’t want to lose data in the first place, having an effective data recovery and backup strategy will ensure that even if you lose sensitive data to a malicious threat, you will still be able to recover the data from your backup. This means you won’t fall into the trap of paying the blackmail, which doesn’t even guarantee the hacker will send the data back to your business.
6 - Multi-factor authentication
Protecting sensitive data is all about making it as difficult to get to for cyber threats as possible. If a hacker sees you have defenses protecting your sensitive data, they’ll probably just move on to a business that they deem more vulnerable.
Multi-factor authentication (often called MFA) adds an additional layer of security when signing into your business accounts. A hacker may steal your password, but if you have MFA enabled they’ll still need to produce a second (or third) method of authentication to access the account.