The importance of data security

May 21st, 2024 Posted in Data Protection

Why is data security so important? Data plays a pivotal role in the modern business world and is fundamental to remaining competitive, making better, more informed decisions, improving services, and ultimately increasing profitability. Data is fast becoming the most valuable asset that most organisations possess. However, just as data is extremely valuable to businesses, it is also a very attractive target for threat actors.

A data breach, whether achieved through human error or a malicious attacker, can lead to severe financial, reputational, and legal impacts, not to mention having the potential to cause breaches throughout an organisation’s wider supply chain. It is key that organisations have robust data security measures in place to protect their data against cyberattacks and to minimise the risk of human error and insider threats, which continue to be leading causes of data breaches.

What is data security?

Data security involves the safeguarding of digital information from unauthorised access, tampering, or theft throughout its entire lifecycle. Whilst it may seem a simple enough term, as well as encompassing the security of software applications and the implementation of organisational policies and procedures across a business, the data security concept covers all aspects of information security. This can include the physical security of hardware and storage devices, as well as administrative access controls.

An effective data security strategy protects an organisation’s assets from threat actors, whether that be insider or external threats, as well as human error, which are among the leading causes of data breaches today.

Data security in practice

Data security is the practice of protecting digital information from unauthorised access, corruption, or theft throughout its entire lifecycle. It involves deploying tools and technologies that enhance an organisation’s visibility into the location and usage of their critical data, such as a data governance solution. An example of this would be Microsoft Purview, which provides a unified data governance solution to help manage and govern on-premises, multi-cloud, and software as a service (SaaS) data.

The benefits of implementing good data security practices include being able to have confidence that your data is sufficiently protected wherever it is, and is not vulnerable to unauthorised access or leakage. This is vital for upholding the reputation of an organisation and preventing potential financial penalties. Good data security practices also allow organisations to be able to restore important data and systems at a quicker rate following a disruption, thus supporting business continuity.

Where to start

As with many areas of security it can be difficult to know where to start. Security controls should fundamentally be driven by risk assessments, an understanding of your business’s risk appetite and work to support your overall business objectives. But that’s a lot easier said, than done.

Identifying best practice controls and addressing security misconfigurations could bring more immediate security improvements as you move to a more mature risk lead security programme.

Whether you’re a business just starting out on its security journey, or further down the road, here are some key data security best practices and principles to consider and apply:

Protect data in line with risk: Your organisation needs to know what data it has, where it is stored and what you consider to be the most sensitive, in order to protect it. Any interfaces that enable access to sensitive data should be well defined and only expose necessary functionalities. Additionally, access to data should be logged and monitored for anomalies.

Establish a data lifecycle management process: A data lifecycle management process should be established to manage data from entry through to destruction. The following phases should be encompassed in the data lifecycle process:

Data Creation – While data is of great value to an organisation, it also poses serious risks. Therefore, data should not be collected and incorporated into your business unless it is relevant and supports the objectives of your organisation.

Data Storage – Data must be stored in a stable environment and appropriately maintained to ensure its confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Therefore, data-at-rest should be encrypted using industry standard cryptographic algorithms to ensure that it is protected from unauthorised access and tampering.

Data Sharing and Usage – During this phase data is used to support activities within an organisation. When data is being shared, it should be encrypted in transit to ensure that it is protected even if the data were to be intercepted. This can be done through using a secure filesharing platform rather than sending data via email. Additionally, an audit trail should also be maintained for all critical data to ensure all modifications are fully traceable.

Data Archival – At the point in which data is no longer required by an organisation, it should be archived to a secure, long-term storage solution such as tape storage or a cloud platform. This is important as the data may be required later for compliance, analysis or reporting purposes. Organisations should ensure that data retention periods are clearly defined and adhered to so that obsolete data is not maintained.

Data Deletion – When data has reached end-of-life, it should be permanently deleted. It must be ensured that this is done securely and in accordance with data protection regulations.

  • Managing access permissions: Access to data should be provisioned in line with the Principle of Least Privilege (POLP) to reduce the risk of data being exposed to unauthorised access. POLP means users and services should only have the permissions and access to data that they require to carry out their role. In practices, permissions should be reviewed and adjusted when users change role, and deactivated as soon as they leave the business. Access reviews should be conducted periodically to ensure this control is met. Mechanisms like Role Based Access Control (RBAC) should be used to simplify user access management.
  • Backup data: Data essential for the running of a business must be backed up, as this will facilitate timely recovery in the event of an incident. Back-ups must be held securely, and provide appropriate redundancy e.g., stored in different locations, including at least one offsite backup and offline backup that is kept separate from the network. Backups should also be kept for a sufficient period (at least a month) and a combination of incremental and full backups should be taken. Additionally, backups should be tested on a regular basis and organisations should be aware of the process to restore files of a backup before it must be done in a real scenario.
  • Sanitise storage media when no longer needed: Establish a policy for the reuse, repair, disposal, and destruction of storage media (or any device that stores data). The data sanitisation and disposal methods chosen should be proportionate to the risk posed. If a third party is to be procured for the sanitisation of data, ensure that they operate in line with industry standards and provide the required destruction certificates.

We can help you with data security

Data is a crucial asset that your business must sufficiently protected to ensure that it does not fall into the wrong hands. Consequences of a data breach can be significant and wide ranging. Not just to your business but also to the individuals who’s data is lost, as the consequences could be severe.

Therefore, the importance of implementing good data security practices cannot be understated. If you require advice or assistance around securing your data, please reach out to us using the form below.

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Reference Articles:

What is Data Governance?  |  Google Cloud

Data Security: Definition, Importance, and Types | Fortinet

What Is Data Security? | IBM

Unified Data Governance with Microsoft Purview | Microsoft Azure

What is Data Security? (digitalguardian.com)

Data security – NCSC.GOV.UK

What is data lifecycle management (DLM)? – Definition from TechTarget

What Is Data Lifecycle Management (DLM)? | IBM

The 5 stages of Data LifeCycle Management – Data Integrity (dataworks.ie)

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