Data security refers to the process of securing digital information from unauthorized access, corruption, or all-out theft through its lifecycle.
When we discuss data security, we mainly talk about security practices within an organizational setting. The concept covers every aspect of information security, such as hardware, software, access controls, and organizational security policies. A sound and thoughtful data security strategy can make a difference in a business environment because it helps organizations protect one of their most valuable assets — data — against cyberattacks.
Why is data security important?
In the digital age, data reigns supreme. These days, all businesses deal with data in one way or another. Whether it's a financial institution handling sensitive customer data or an individual operation collecting contact information of its clientele, data is a significant part of all enterprises regardless of their size or industry. Data informs decision-making, improves efficiency, enables better customer service, and plays a major role in marketing.
With growing public awareness about the importance of data security and more data-related laws and regulations coming into play, companies face challenges in creating secure infrastructures and processes to handle enormous amounts of data.
Failure to establish a secure perimeter frequently results in a data breach, leading to substantial regulatory fines and reputational damage. According to IBM's Cost of Data Breach Report 2022, the global average data breach cost is estimated at $4.35 million. It's not hard to imagine that a data breach could spell the end of a company.
As data breaches and cybercrime continue to rise and become more sophisticated, companies of all sizes and industries look for ways to ensure the security of their data. And the first step in doing so is understanding the threats you're facing.
Data security threats
Cyber threats related to data security come in various shapes and forms. Here are some of the most common ones that every organization has to deal with.
Phishing attacks are designed to acquire sensitive information from unsuspecting users. Hackers achieve their goal by crafting email messages that appear to be from a reputable source. In those messages, you are usually urged to download a malicious attachment or click on a malicious link. If you follow through, the attackers can access your device and get their hands on your sensitive data.
Accidental data exposure
Not all data breaches are caused by a cyberattack. Sometimes it's the byproduct of human error or lack of awareness. In the day-to-day of office life, employees will inevitably share data and exchange access credentials. Unfortunately, security might not be at the top of their priority list, and accidents can happen: data can end up on an unsecured server, and passwords can be stored in a publicly accessible sheet. And that's why cybersecurity training sessions are critical. Once employees grasp what's at stake and what to pay attention to, the risk of accidental data exposure can be drastically minimized.
Malware is usually spread via email. In most instances, hackers will launch a phishing campaign to trick users into downloading and installing a piece of malicious software. Once malware is on a corporate network, hackers can do pretty much anything, from tracking network activity to downloading enormous amounts of data without authorization.
Ransomware is a type of malware that is designed to encrypt data on the affected machine. If a ransomware attack is successful, bad actors will demand a ransom in return for decryption services.
Insider threats might be the hardest to anticipate. As you can guess, insider threats are employees who intentionally harm an organization's security perimeter. They might share sensitive data such as passwords with dubious third parties or steal business data and sell it on the black market.
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Types of data security
As already discussed, data security comprises many different approaches and practices. Usually, the most effective way to ensure data security is to use a combination of security practices to limit the potential surface area of an attack.
Data encryption is one of the easiest ways to ensure the security of sensitive information. Fancy terminology aside, data encryption converts readable data into an unreadable encoded format. Think of it this way: even if a hacker can get their hands on data in your servers, if it is encrypted, the attacker can’t do anything unless they can decrypt it. Fortunately, contemporary encryption is unbelievably hard to crack without a decryption key.
Data, as with anything else in life, can become irrelevant. Like stuff clogs your attic, data can clog your servers. Often, irrelevant data is not thought of as a priority security-wise. And sometimes it's best just to get rid of it for good. Data erasure is an effective data management and security method because it shrinks the potential attack surface and potential liability in an instance of a data breach.
Data masking is a data security technique during which a data set is duplicated but with sensitive data obfuscated. The benign copy is usually used for testing and training for cybersecurity purposes. Masked data is useless for a hacker because it is essentially incoherent unless the hacker knows how that data has been obfuscated.
Data backups are one of the easiest steps an organization can take to mitigate the potential dangers of data loss in a cyber event. Backups ensure that even if data is compromised or stolen, it can be recovered to its previous state rather than entirely disappear.
Data security vs. data privacy
Today, the terms data security and data privacy are used a lot. At times, they might seem interchangeable. While in a sense that can be true, the two terms are technically distinct concepts.
Data security is a broad term that encompasses data privacy. However, when we talk about data privacy, we mainly refer to cybersecurity practices that are aimed at protecting data from unauthorized access or corruption.
Data privacy, on the other hand, is a concept that aims to ensure that the way businesses collect, store, and use data is compliant with legal regulations.
Data security compliance
Today, most countries have laws and regulations that govern the way organizations should collect, store, and use data. Regulatory compliance can be a challenge for companies of all sizes and industries. Still, they're vital in ensuring that your data will not be abused and remain secure at all times. Here are some of the most important regulations that relate to data security.
General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
The GDPR is the European Union's primary data protection and privacy legislation. Passed in 2016 and implemented in 2018, the GDPR ensures that organizations handle consumer data responsibly and securely. The GDPR was one of the first legislative efforts requiring companies to ask for user consent to collect their data.
California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA)
The CCPA went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020. It provides consumers in California with additional rights and protections regarding how businesses use their personal information. The CCPA is very similar to the GDPR and imposes many of the same obligations on businesses that the GDPR does.
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
HIPAA is the United States' data protection and security legislation that regulates electronically protected health information (ePHI). It is aimed mainly at healthcare providers and partnering institutions that deal with such data. HIPAA lays out requirements for the security of ePHI, which involves specific physical, technological, and administrative safeguards.
Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) Act
The SOX act was passed in 2002 to protect shareholders and the general public from fraudulent corporate practices and improve corporate disclosures' accuracy. Even though the act does not specify how an organization should store records, it does define which documents should be stored and for how long. The SOX act primarily applies to public corporations.
Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)
The PCI DSS is a set of regulations geared toward organizations that process, store, and transmit credit card data. It lays out requirements to ensure that all credit card-related data is handled securely.
International Standards Organization (ISO) 27001
ISO/IEC 27001 is an Information security management standard that outlines how business entities should manage risk related to cybersecurity threats. Defined within the ISO 27001 standard are data security guidelines and requirements intended to protect an organization's data assets from unauthorized access or loss. The ISO/IEC 27001 is not a piece of legislation in the sense that the GDPR is. It is rather a standard that helps businesses comply with regulations such as the GDPR cost-effectively.
Data security best practices
Data security is a complex concept that includes a variety of practices and processes working together like a well-oiled machine. The data security strategy within the organization depends on its size, IT infrastructure, resources, and a number of other variables. However, a few security measures can be applied in any organization.
Access management and controls
Access management and controls help organizations set rules for who has access to networks, systems, files, and various accounts within the digital ecosystem. Proper access management and control integration can significantly shrink the potential attack surface area.
One of the leading causes of data breaches is human error. The obvious counter is education. For an organization that wishes to be successful security-wise, a team that is aware of the risks that might face and how they would be handled is crucial.
Weak, reused, or old passwords also play a significant role in data breaches. It's understandable because today, an average person needs about 100 passwords. Ensuring that each one is unique and complex is impossible without help from technology. Password managers are tools designed to help individuals as well as organizations to create strong passwords and securely store them and access them whenever there's a need. Today's business password managers improve organizational security as a whole and spur productivity with handy features such as autofill and autosave.
Cloud data security
Many organizations rely on cloud technologies to carry out daily operations. While cloud technology offers significant benefits, it simultaneously opens up additional security risks. Misconfigured cloud technology services can lead to data leaks and breaches. Therefore, you must take action to ensure that any cloud apps you use are properly configured to limit potential risks.
As discussed earlier, data encryption is a way to secure information within databases and servers by making it unreadable without the decryption key. Encryption is essential to overall data security and should always be employed.
Data loss prevention and backups
These days, most business related information is stored in databases. The data they contain may be customer records, credit card details, or internal company documents. Backing up data protects the organization from accidental data loss or corruption. Regularly scheduled backups can also help in the case of a ransomware attack because the backups could be used to restore the affected data.
Incident response and disaster recovery plans
An incident response plan is an organization's systemic approach to managing a security-related event. Usually, such plans are purpose-built to address malware attacks, data breaches, unauthorized network intrusions, and other cybersecurity-related events. With a comprehensive incident response plan, the organization has a clear pathway to mitigating a cyber attack in a swift and coordinated manner.
How NordPass Business can help
As mentioned, weak, old, or reused passwords are often the cause of a data breach. Password fatigue is a major factor that leads people to use weak and easy-to-remember passwords across multiple accounts. However, password fatigue can be mitigated with the help of a corporate password manager.
NordPass Business is purpose-built to improve organizational security and take a load off employees when creating and remembering passwords. Keep all your business passwords, credit cards, and other sensitive information in a single encrypted vault and securely access it whenever you need. Thanks to company-wide settings present in NordPass Business, you can set password policies across your organization. And with the help of the Admin Panel, access management is easier than ever.
Because NordPass Business is certified according to ISO/IEC 27001:2017 and SOC 2 Type 1 regulatory standards, it can be a critical security tool for companies trying to meet GDPR and HIPAA compliance standards.
Try NordPass Business with the 30-day free trial and enjoy improved productivity and security within your organization.
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