Organizations today collect huge amounts of sensitive data known as personally identifiable information (PII). To protect this data from being breached by third parties, implementing company-wide and robust data security practices are crucial.
Yet this is no easy task. Data security is a complex process, especially when information is collected and processed through manual processes and multiple, fragmented, tools. This leaves most organizations with a complete lack of visibility into their sensitive data, making it difficult to implement robust data protection and data compliance measures.
So what can businesses do to improve their data security policies?
We’ve created a list of the top eight data security best practices to help ensure your organization mitigates cybersecurity risk and better meets the compliance requirements of the regulations in the geographics and industry your business collects and processes data:
#1 – Take inventory of all sensitive data
The first step to improving your data protection strategy and ensuring compliance with sensitive data regulations (such as GDPR, HIPAA or CCPA) is to gain complete visibility of where your company’s sensitive data lives, how it’s used and who has access to it. After all, you can’t protect what you can’t see.
Data discovery software scans your organization’s entire environment to find and identify where both structures and unstructured data resides. By doing so, your business can identify, classify and track sensitive data so that you have complete visibility into where all sensitive data lives across your organization in real time.
When you have visibility into where sensitive data lives, your business can better protect that data.
#2 – Classify sensitive data
Once you have gained visibility into where sensitive data lives across your organization, it’s crucial that you identify and tag data into categories based on file type, content and other metadata that makes it easier to track and locate.
By doing so, your business can eliminate multiple duplications of data, reducing storage and backup costs and organizing data by the compliance regulation that it is governed by. When you perform data classification, your organization is able to better achieve its compliance goals.
#3 – Monitor access to sensitive data
Since it’s crucial that your organization doesn’t let personally identifiable information fall into the wrong hands, it’s important that you monitor who on your team has access to sensitive data. An important part of that is only providing data access to users who truly need it.
Look at your team and who truly needs access to sensitive data, and then provide the access privileges necessary for staff members to complete their jobs. There are four primarily access permissions for sensitive data:
- Full control: Users have total control of the data, and can store, access, modify, delete and assign permissions as they see fit.
- Modify: Users can access, modify and delete data.
- Access: Users can access the data, but they can’t modify or delete it.
- Access and modify: Users can access and modify the data, but they cannot delete it.
#4 – Focus on employee training
Cybersecurity threats will explore your entire organization’s infrastructure for vulnerabilities, and unfortunately your employees are likely your company’s biggest weak spot. Cybercriminals know that they’re more likely to manipulate a staff member, than find their way through your company’s infrastructure.
That’s why employee training is a highly-important element of any data protection strategy. All employees should be educated on cybersecurity best practices and company policies, and your organization should conduct regular training to keep these practices top of mind and update with any new policies.
#5 – Encrypt your sensitive data
Data breaches are made easy when your sensitive data is easily readable by hackers, but encryption can mitigate those risks. When you encrypt your company’s sensitive data, hackers can’t read it even if they have access to it.
#6 – Use endpoint security systems to protect data from unauthorized access
Any company’s endpoints are constantly under threat, no matter if they’re a small business or an enterprise. Third party threats will target a wide range of organizations repeatedly until they find a vulnerability that gives them access to sensitive data that they can use for financial profit.
To mitigate these risks, businesses should ensure they have robust endpoint security technologies in place to protect them against potential breaches. These technologies can include:
- Antivirus software
- Pop-up blockers
- Endpoint Detection and Response solutions that track individual company endpoints (like computers and connected devices), monitor them for malicious activity and alert on suspicious activity.
#7 – Use multi-factor authentication where possible
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) adds an additional layer of security when signing into an account, and is considered one of the most effective and proven forms of data protection. With MFA, even when a hacker has access to your account with a password, they still need to produce a second (or even third) method of authentication, such as a code sent to a cell phone or a fingerprint, to access the account.
#8 – Create a sensitive data protection policy for remote workers
Data security has become even more complex since the explosion in remote work, with employees working on personal devices, from public WiFi connections and accessing sensitive data from outside a physical office space.
This brings some new challenges to data protection that companies need to keep in mind, with the most successful strategy being to create separate remote work data protection policies. This should include only providing access to data for employees that truly need it, mandating that employees work on company-issued devices and ensuring team members use a VPN when working from public WiFi connections.
Using an asset and data discovery platform like Cavelo can help you and your team easily build an inventory of all devices and applications that connect to company networks, classify sensitive data by type and benchmark your business’s cyber risk, providing critical baseline data security.