What is Data Security? | Best Practices, Benefits, and Risks
It's 2023. Your business is almost entirely digital, dependent upon the secure storage and transmission of data. Your revenue is on an upward trajectory and your team is growing, but you're also increasingly vulnerable to cyberattacks.
There are two ways this story could go: you could become the victim of a data breach, or you could be one of those wise business owners who has invested in data security.
Data security is a critical issue for businesses of all sizes. Whether you’re a startup or a Fortune 500 company, you have data that needs to be protected. Let's take a look at what data security is, best practices for protecting your data, and the risks of having outdated or incomplete data security policies.
How Data Security Works
Data security is a set of protocols, processes, and technologies that work together to protect an organization’s sensitive data. It can be used to prevent unauthorized access, corruption of data, or theft of data throughout its lifecycle. Data security measures can include encryption, authentication, and authorization. It also includes physical security measures such as locking down server rooms and installing firewalls.
Data Security vs. Data Privacy
Data security and data privacy are often confused, but they’re not the same. Here's the key difference:
Data security is focused on protecting data from unauthorized access or theft.
Data privacy is focused on ensuring that the data is used responsibly and ethically. It includes a set of laws and regulations that govern how companies collect, store, and use personal data.
The two disciplines do have some overlaps, however. Both focus on protecting personal data from unauthorized access, and they are both essential for businesses to remain compliant.
What Types of Businesses Need Data Security?
Any business that collects, stores, or transmits sensitive data needs to invest in data security. This includes companies that process credit card payments, store customer data, or host websites. Data security is also essential for companies that use the cloud to store data, as well as those who exchange a lot of sensitive data via email or other means.
However, the criteria we mentioned above make some industries risk higher than others. For example:
With the rise of connected medical devices such as pacemakers, healthcare organizations are at a higher risk for data breaches. Any organization that stores and processes patient data needs to invest heavily in data security.
Financial institutions, such as banks and credit card companies, are at a particularly high risk for cyberattacks. Data security measures such as encryption and two-factor authentication are essential for these types of businesses.
Government agencies are charged with protecting citizen data and are thus under immense pressure to ensure their digital security. As such, they must go to great lengths to protect their data using the latest technologies and security protocols.
Education is another high-risk industry for data security. With the growth of online learning and the widespread use of personal information for student achievement tracking, schools must ensure that their data is secure.
Three Core Pillars of Data Security
Data security is multifaceted, but there are three core pillars that all organizations should focus on:
This is the practice of protecting networks, systems, and programs from digital attacks. It includes antivirus software, firewalls, and intrusion detection systems. In modern digital environments, cybersecurity is essential for data security.
With data recovery, you can restore data that has been lost or corrupted due to a human error or a technical issue. It's essential to have an effective system in place in case of an emergency.
Data storage refers to having a secure place to keep your data. It can involve physical storage, like servers and hard drives, or cloud-based storage solutions.
Although data security is a complex process, there are some basic practices that all organizations should follow. Let’s take a look at the best practices for data security.
General Best Practices For Data Security
The best data security measures are layered and tailored to the specific needs of an organization. Additionally, it is critical to focus your organization's strategy on prevention, not detection. Once a data breach has occurred, the damage is often irreversible.
Here are some best practices to keep in mind:
Creating Access Policies
Organizations should establish policies regarding who has access to which data and systems. You should limit the number of people who have access to sensitive data and information. For example, you might only allow senior managers and IT staff to have access to customer data. Access control is essential for preventing unauthorized access.
Investing in Security Software
It's also important to invest in security software. Security software can detect malicious activity, alert you when someone attempts to access your data without authorization, and protect data in transit between systems. It can also provide extra layers of protection against data breaches.
Regularly Monitoring System Logs
System logs can help you detect any suspicious activity on your systems. Monitor these logs regularly to ensure that there are no unauthorized access attempts or abnormal behavior.
Performing Regular Backups
Backing up your data is one of the most critical steps in protecting it. Perform regular backups and store them in a secure location, such as an offsite server or the cloud. We recommend doing backups at least twice a week to ensure that your data is secure and up-to-date.
Establishing Strong, Unique Passwords
Passwords should be at least 8 characters long, and should not be words that can be found in a dictionary. It's also essential to use different passwords for each system or application. Otherwise, if one password is compromised, all of your data will be vulnerable.
Cybercriminals know how to exploit weak passwords, so make your passwords as difficult to guess as possible. Prohibit your employees to use their names, birthdays, or any other identifying information as passwords.
Encrypting Sensitive Data
Encryption is the process of encoding data so that only authorized parties can access it. Encrypting sensitive data is especially important when transmitting it over the internet or storing it in the cloud. As more organizations move to the cloud, encryption becomes even more critical for data security.
Using Multi Factor Authentication (MFA) or Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)
Multifactor (MFA) or two-factor authentication (2FA) requires users to have two or more forms of identification before being granted access. This could include a password and a code sent to their mobile device.
Many cybercriminals acquire lists of credentials that have been leaked or stolen. These lists are inexpensive to purchase, and anyone can easily find them on the dark web. MFA and 2FA can prevent cybercriminals from gaining access to your data with stolen passwords by adding an extra layer of security.
These are essential best practices, but it's also crucial to dive deeper and understand how data moves through its lifecycle and what processes need to be in place to secure it. By doing so, you can ensure that the data stored and transmitted within your organization is protected and secure.
Modern Security Developments That Present Data Security Challenges
As technology evolves, new challenges present themselves when it comes to data security. Let's take a look at some of the most pressing ones.
The Impact of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the way organizations protect their data. As more businesses move to remote work, they must ensure that their data is secure and accessible to authorized users.
This means investing in the right security tools, such as virtual private networks (VPNs) and secure file-sharing services.
Example of a Remote Work Security Challenge
Problem: Employees are using their own laptops and devices to access the corporate network from home, which presents a security risk. Additionally, the corporate network may not be properly configured for secure remote access. The external devices may not have the same security features as corporate-issued laptops and devices.
Challenge: If these devices are not properly secured, it can put your company's data at risk. They could be out of date, have old versions of software, or even be infected with malware.
Solution: Invest in endpoint security software to protect devices that are accessing the company network remotely. This will ensure that all devices are secured and monitored for any suspicious activity.
As organizations increasingly move their data to the cloud, new security challenges arise. It is essential to understand the cloud provider's security protocols and make sure that they align with your security requirements.
Example of a Cloud Security Challenge
Problem: An organization has recently moved their data to the cloud, but they have not taken the necessary steps to ensure that their data is secure.
Challenge: Without proper security protocols in place, this organization is vulnerable to a potential data breach. Cybercriminals could easily gain access to sensitive customer information and confidential business documents. This could lead to financial losses, reputational damage, and legal repercussions for the company.
Solution: The organization needs to take proactive steps now by implementing strong security measures such as two-factor authentication, encryption of sensitive data, regular backups and system monitoring logs. These measures will help protect them from any potential cyber threats and keep their customers' information safe.
Internet of Things (IoT) Security
IoT refers to the network of connected devices that collect and exchange data. Think about smart home appliances, wearables, and connected cars. With more and more devices connected to the internet, it is increasingly important to secure these devices from potential cyber threats. If a malicious actor gains access to a smart device, they could gain access to its cloud storage data.
Example of an IoT Security Challenge
Problem: Your organization has recently implemented an IoT device to streamline operations, but you're now facing a major security breach.
Challenge: Malicious actors have gained access to your system and are using the device as a gateway into your network, stealing confidential data and disrupting operations. You need to secure this device quickly before any further damage is done.
Solution: The best way to protect against these types of attacks is by implementing robust data security measures that include encryption, authentication protocols, and regular monitoring of the system for suspicious activity. With these safeguards in place, you can ensure that your organization's data remains safe from bad actors.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) Security
AI and machine learning are becoming powerful tools for organizations to leverage, but they also present data security challenges. Advanced technologies such as facial recognition and natural language processing allow for the collection and analysis of large amounts of data. If not properly secured, this data could be vulnerable to malicious actors.
Example of an AI/ML Security Challenge
Problem: Your organization is using AI and ML to gain insights into customer behavior, but the data they are collecting is not secure.
Challenge: Without proper security measures in place, the customer data your organization is collecting could be at risk. Malicious actors could access this data and use it for financial gain or to disrupt operations. It’s essential that you take steps to protect this data from these potential threats.
Solution: To protect the customer data your organization is collecting, implement a comprehensive data security policy. This policy should include measures such as robust authentication protocols, encryption of data in transit and at rest, and secure storage of customer data. Additionally, it’s important to regularly monitor activity on your systems for any suspicious behavior and respond quickly to any potential threats.
Although new risks have emerged from the increasing complexity of data security, there are solutions that organizations can implement to mitigate the risks. But first, security teams must understand the scope of the data lifecycle.
The Data Lifecycle and How It Affects Security
With the rise of the cloud, organizations are increasingly storing and processing vast amounts of data, often spread across hundreds or thousands of devices. This means that data security has become a significant challenge.
Now, organizations must protect data across every device, cloud, network, and application. Instead of thinking about each siloed system, it's essential to take a holistic view on the data lifecycle.
Why Data Loss Prevention (DLP) Isn't Enough Anymore
DLP is a security practice that protects data from unauthorized access, alteration, or deletion. DLP solutions typically use encryption, access control, and other methods to protect data.
However, these solutions are often too narrowly focused to offer a truly comprehensive security. They rely on manual processes, which can be cumbersome and time-consuming. Additionally, most DLP solutions are reactive rather than proactive. In other words, they don't detect malicious activity until it has occurred.
To truly protect data, organizations must look beyond DLP and move to a holistic security strategy that focuses on prevention.
Antivirus (AV) Solutions Are Not Foolproof
AV solutions are the most common security software used to protect against malicious actors. While they can be a useful tool for stopping malicious software, they can't detect all threats. Additionally, AV solutions are often outdated and slow to respond to new attacks. As we've learned in the past decade, you cannot be slow when responding to security threats.
Furthermore, AV solutions may not be enough to protect data stored in the cloud. Cloud-based systems often require more specialized solutions that can detect malicious activity across multiple platforms.
Application-Specific Rights Management Systems (RMS) are Not Comprehensive Enough
RMS allows admins to control who can view, edit, and delete data. However, these systems are not comprehensive enough to protect data because they can only defend specific file types.
To secure data, organizations need to look beyond RMS and consider a full-scale security strategy. This includes encryption, authentication protocols, and analytics to detect malicious activity.
But What About Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR)?
EDR solutions detect and respond to cyber threats at the endpoint. While this strategy is a great start, it's not enough. Endpoints are only one piece of the puzzle, and organizations must consider their whole data security strategy to protect data end-to-end.
Prioritization is one of the most critical components of a data security strategy. Organizations need to focus on protecting their most sensitive data first while also preparing for potential threats. While EDR solutions do prioritize threats, there is still a significant gap between detection and prevention. This makes the prioritization and risk scoring process more difficult.
Zero Trust is Key
Zero trust is a security model that assumes all users, devices, and networks are potentially compromised. Organizations must apply stringent access controls and authentication procedures to protect data.
Cyber threats become more sophisticated daily, and data security is no longer as simple as deploying a few solutions. The zero trust philosophy acknowledges this fact and focuses on preventing attacks rather than simply reacting to them. After all, would you let a stranger into your house? Of course not.
A zero trust mindset should be applied to your data in the same way. By leveraging two-factor authentication or multi-factor authentication (MFA) with zero trust, organizations can stay one step ahead of attackers.
As we mentioned, some modern data security threats are extremely intelligent, and they can beat defenses that were once thought infallible. Let's take a closer look at the types of threats you should be worried about.
What Advanced Cyber Threats are Out There Today?
The most advanced cyber threats can bypass traditional security measures. These include:
Malware is malicious software designed to infiltrate or damage a computer system. Advanced malware can bypass traditional security measures and remain undetected by traditional antivirus software.
Types of Advanced Malware
Zero-day malware: Designed to exploit an unknown security loophole. It works by taking advantage of a bug before the software developer is aware of it.
Fileless malware: Runs in memory and doesn't require files to be stored on the system.
Polymorphic malware: Changes its code with each infection, making it difficult for antivirus software to detect it. Think of this malware like a virus that mutates with each new host it infects.
This is malicious software that encrypts files and prevents users from accessing their data until a ransom is paid. It can be devastating to organizations, especially ones that don't have backups.
Unfortunately, ransomware is becoming increasingly common and sophisticated. Attackers can now use ransomware to target specific organizations or individuals, increasing the likelihood that they will pay the ransom. And many organizations agree to pay it to avoid the disruption of being locked out of their data.
Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs)
An APT is a sophisticated attack that targets specific organizations or individuals. It typically involves a long-term, targeted campaign that is designed to gain access to sensitive information such as financial data, intellectual property, and trade secrets.
APTs are challenging to detect because attackers often use legitimate software and processes that blend in with normal system operations. This makes prevention the best approach to protecting against APTs.
Phishing attacks are emails or websites designed to look like legitimate sources to steal sensitive information, such as passwords. These attacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and they can be difficult to detect.
Social engineering attacks use psychological manipulation to gain access to confidential information. Attackers use tactics such as impersonation or intimidation to persuade victims to provide access. Since social engineering attacks rely on the manipulation skills of the attacker, their potential to succeed is only limited by the human mind.
Common Social Engineering Tactics to Look Out For
Impersonation: Pretending to be an authority figure.
Intimidation: Scaring victims into providing access or information.
Deception: Lying to gain access or information.
Supply Chain Attacks
Supply chain attacks occur when attackers gain access to a company's software or hardware via their suppliers. These attacks can have serious ramifications on a company's security.
So, how do these attacks work? Attackers can exploit the weaknesses in a company's supply chain to gain access to the data. This could include manipulating the software code, injecting malicious code into hardware components, or exploiting a vulnerability in the supply chain.
Living-off-the-land attacks are a type of cyberattack in which attackers use legitimate tools and processes to access a system. For example, attackers can use an organizational VPN to access the system. They may get the VPN by stealing an employee's credentials or exploiting a system's vulnerability.
Insider threats occur when a malicious employee, contractor, or vendor steals confidential data. They are a major threat to organizations because of the high level of access they have to sensitive information.
Types of Insider Threats
Non-malicious insiders: These insiders may accidentally expose sensitive data due to a lack of security awareness or due to negligence.
Malicious insiders: These insiders intentionally seek to misuse confidential data for their own gain.
Compromised insiders: These insiders have been hacked or infiltrated by an attacker and are now unknowingly used to carry out malicious activities.
Organizations need to be aware of these attacks and employ countermeasures to protect themselves from these sophisticated threats.
How Advanced Attacks Bypass Endpoint Detection & Response (EDR) Solutions
Modern attacks are so sophisticated that they can bypass even the most sophisticated EDR solutions. Here's how this process works:
1. Exfiltration of Data
Data exfiltration is the process of stealing data from a network. Attackers can use various methods to exfiltrate data, such as malware, scripts, or even manual processes. Scripts can send data via email, FTP, or other protocols.
2. Disabling of EDR and Endpoint Security
Once the data has been exfiltrated, attackers can then disable EDR and endpoint security solutions by exploiting vulnerabilities or using advanced techniques.
How Attackers May Exploit Vulnerabilities
Zero-day exploits: Exploiting a security vulnerability before the software developer is aware of it.
Remote code execution: Running code remotely to gain access to a system.
Buffer overflow: Sending too much data to an application and taking control of it.
Privilege escalation: Exploiting vulnerabilities to gain higher access privileges.
3. Encryption of Files via Ransomware
Once the data has been exfiltrated, attackers can encrypt it using ransomware. This makes the data inaccessible and allows attackers to demand a ransom for its release.
Often, ransomware encrypts the data in such a way that it can only be decrypted using an encryption key. That's why prevention is key when it comes to avoiding ransomware attacks.
Organizations need to secure their systems and data before an attack occurs. Otherwise, they may be forced to pay the ransom demand.
The Consequences of an Inadequate or Incomplete Data Security Strategy
When you leave your organization vulnerable to a wide range of attacks, the consequences can be dire. Here are some of the risks you face if you don't have a comprehensive data security strategy:
Exposure of Sensitive Data
Without proper data security measures, attackers can access sensitive information such as customer data, financial records, and confidential business plans. This can lead to serious legal repercussions for your organization. In fact, many companies have been fined for failing to protect their customers' data.
But not all exposure is intentional. Human error or a breach in security can also lead to the exposure of sensitive data, resulting in the same legal issues. That's why it's essential to train employees to be aware of data security best practices, including password security and data encryption.
Damage to Reputation and Loss of Customers
If attackers gain access to your data, the public may become aware of it. This can lead to a serious loss of trust in your organization, resulting in a damaged reputation and ultimately lost business.
According to a study by IDC, 80% of customers said they would defect from a business if their personal information was leaked in a data breach.
This is bad news for any organization. Customer loyalty and trust are essential for long-term success, and the truth is that a data breach can impact any business, regardless of size.
Compromised Business Processes
Attackers can manipulate or tamper with data if a company's systems are infiltrated. This can lead to serious consequences for the organization, such as disruption of operations and lost productivity.
Time is money, and the longer it takes to restore operations, the more money is lost. A data recovery strategy should be in place to ensure that operations can resume quickly and efficiently in the catastrophic event of an attack.
Increased Cost of Security
Inadequate data security can also result in increased costs for organizations. Companies need to invest in advanced security solutions to protect their data. Security is no longer optional. It's a necessary part of any business that stores or transmits data.
Data security is a complex issue and it’s vital for organizations to be aware of the risks they face and how to protect against them.
Taking proactive measures to secure data can help organizations avoid costly losses due to data breaches and other security incidents. Investing in the right security solutions can protect against advanced threats and ensure your business remains safe and secure.
Why Choose Cigent For Data Security?
Cigent offers a new approach to data security for organizations of all sizes to stop ransomware, data theft and achieve compliance. Cigent protects your data against the most sophisticated adversaries. We protect data throughout its lifecycle via prevention-based defenses embedded into storage and individual files. From decades of data recovery, cybersecurity, and device sanitization experience, the experts at Cigent have developed prevention methods beyond anything that exists today.
When you choose Cigent, you can rely on us to:
Stop Ransomware and Remote Attacks
By using prevention, not detection, Cigent effectively stops attacks, ensuring only trusted users can see and access data using multi-factor authentication (MFA) for file and storage access.
Stop Physical Data Exfiltration
Cigent is as close to the data as possible, protection is in the storage itself and individual files. It keeps data safe on PCs and stops physical data exfiltration, an approach that is more secure than software-only or policy-based data loss prevention. Our solution renders data invisible to those without proper access and privileges. This helps prevent attackers from exfiltrating data via USB drives or other physical methods.
Protect Data Wherever It Goes
Data security throughout its lifecycle from file creation on your PC to complete data and key destruction, all files are protected wherever they go across any device, cloud, network, or application.
See for yourself how Cigent can provide the best data security throughout its lifecycle. Schedule a demo today.
Cigent. Data Protection that Works.™