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The amount of data that the average enterprise manages today is enormous. This data is a treasure trove for insights on how to better products and meet customer needs. Yet, such vast information also introduces new challenges over how to keep it safe and secure from unauthorized access and use.
Effective enterprise data protection calls for a holistic approach that encompasses technology, process, and people. Many organizations place inordinate emphasis on technology in their data security strategy. Whereas it’s impossible to adequately protect electronic data without some form of technical controls, process and people arguably play a more important role.
The following are the core building blocks of a successful data protection policy.
Data Classification Program
A business hosts a wide range of electronic data. That includes passwords, credit card numbers, mailing addresses, phone numbers, transaction histories, vendor contacts, payroll lists, medical insurance payments, and more. Yet, all data isn’t created equal. Some information is more sensitive than others due to the legal protections around it or the impact it could have on the business goals and reputation.
A data classification program helps you categorize enterprise data based on its importance and risk weight. The program should have at least three categories—public, internal use, and confidential. Appropriate controls must thereafter be established to protect data in each category. Confidential data should attract the highest degree of protection while public data may not require any protection at all. Classification also determines what data is given priority in your enterprise cloud backup plans.
Note that the same information can change categories over its lifetime. For example, product design plans would be considered confidential while in development but become internal or public once the product is available on the market.
Manage Data Flow
Data in an enterprise is constantly changing its state. It regularly undergoes retrieval, transmission, and storage. Recognizing that information must flow throughout the organization is crucial in ensuring that data is consistently protected irrespective of its status at any given point in time.
This requirement is especially important for sensitive data such as credit card information that has to be managed in accordance with regulatory and industry requirements. The Payment Card Industry’s Data Security Standards (PCI DSS), for instance, provide clear guidelines on how credit card data should be managed at rest and in transit.
Encrypt Sensitive Data
Enterprises should develop appropriate controls that make it difficult for unauthorized persons to access the places or channels where sensitive data is stored or transmitted. However, hackers may still gain access to these locations or channels.
Businesses should, therefore, encrypt their most critical information such as passwords and credit card information to ensure that it’s unreadable even if a hacker stumbles upon it. The data should be encrypted not just at rest but also when in transit to prevent interception via packet sniffing and man-in-the-middle attacks.
Treat New Technology with Caution
All technology follows a maturity path. In the initial months and years after its launch, the technology is often plagued by bugs, errors, and security gaps. As the system’s developer responds to and resolves these issues, the technology becomes more reliable, stable, and secure.
Ergo, businesses must steer clear of technologies that are still in the early adoption phase as they often have vulnerabilities that could endanger the security of enterprise data. Some may even be infected with malware that becomes an entry point for hackers to infiltrate the corporate network. Let the market test out and perfect a product before you bring it on board.
Protect Portable Devices
We’ve come a long way from the time when the sole tool of office computing was the desktop computer. Today, we not only have laptops but smartphones and tablets too. In addition, removable disks have grown enormously in their capacity. The average thumb drive has the capacity that’s thousands of times higher than what a floppy drive had.
While portability has come with numerous efficiency advantages, the risk of theft and loss is much higher than it is for desktop computers. To protect the data on portable devices, organizations should ensure the gadgets are encrypted, password-protected, and where applicable, can be disabled remotely.
Threats to the security of enterprise data are here to stay. By systematically applying these controls, you have a better shot at protecting your organization’s most critical data.