There aren’t many businesses around these days that don’t handle data. Even your local bakery likely takes card transactions, which means they’re handling your data when you pop out for a loaf of bread.
It’s not just down to big businesses to have their data security under control. Understanding data security fundamentals is key for any organisation that handles sensitive customer or employee information.
Data security is the process of putting tools and measures in place to protect and safeguard your data from unauthorised access, corruption, theft or loss. Imagine it as a multifaceted fortress, designed to protect one of your most prized possessions.
Data can easily be bought and sold on the web, so it’s a highly valuable asset for hackers. But whether the cyber threat comes from outside the business, or from negligent employees uploading data to the wrong places, ensuring data is secured should be a key part of any security strategy.
It’s imperative that any business handling data secures it to ensure:
When you’re considering the type of data you’ll need to protect, it’s worth mapping out the data you currently handle, and classifying it to understand how much protection each data type will need.
Types of data you should be considering include:
Once upon a time, threats to data came from a purely physical perspective like the risk of devices being stolen or accidentally left behind. However, threats now come from a wide range of places, both digital and physical, and there are new vulnerabilities emerging every day.
Let’s take a look at the different types of threats your data could be hit by:
As we just mentioned, the theft of devices can still pose a problem today, but data can also fall victim to natural disasters like floods or fires that can destroy infrastructure, resulting in the loss of important data.
Malware such as viruses or ransomware can put your data at risk of being infected or stolen, while hackers can use techniques such as phishing to trick your team into giving away sensitive data or allowing them access to your network.
Denial of service (DoS) attacks can also be detrimental to your data, overwhelming your networks so that you can no longer access the services you need, and Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attacks allow hackers to intercept data while in transit.
Surprisingly, the greatest risk to losing data isn’t from hackers. In fact, 83% of data loss from SaaS apps is caused by well meaning, but negligent employees and only 11% is caused by hackers. The final 6% is the fault of malicious employees who are deliberately disrupting data to sabotage the business.
Insider threats can pose a danger to your business - whether intentional or not - as data can be shared in the wrong place or with the wrong people. For instance, customer email addresses could be shared in Slack by employees who are looking for the quickest way to get things done.
While you might not have a zero-trust strategy in place, you’ll certainly need adequate access controls set up so that unauthorised users cannot access sensitive data. Adopting this from day one can ensure that your sensitive documents are kept safe.
Having your cloud environment and SaaS apps set up correctly will also mean there’s less chance of data being leaked, although it’s a good idea to have Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) and Data Security Posture Management (DSPM) solutions in place to keep your data locked down.
Failure to update or patch software that you use can also leave systems vulnerable so this should never be neglected.
Further reading: SaaS Security: The 9 Most Common Issues & How to Prevent Them
Sheree Buller Lim, Head of Product at Metomic, says,
“The regulations you’ll need to abide by will be specific to your location and industry. You’ll need to be aware of any regulations that could affect you as you have a legal obligation to uphold them, as well as a moral obligation to your customers. If you fail to comply, you can be fined and legal action may be taken against you. However, it’s not only the financial consequences that can be crippling. The reputational damage can last a lot longer, and customers may choose to take their business elsewhere, if they lose trust in you.”
Your organisation may also suffer from a decreased market value, and your operations may have to be paused while an investigation takes place. All of this can be difficult to navigate for any business, but smaller businesses can particularly feel the effects.
GDPR applies to businesses handling personal data within the 27 member countries of the European Union. It was brought in to protect the privacy of individuals, and gives them the right to know how their data is used as well as the right to request their data be deleted.
If you are found to be in breach of these rules, you can face fines of up to €20 million or 4% of global annual revenue - whichever is higher.
Specific to California, CCPA ‘applies to for-profit businesses that do business in California’ and meet a certain set of criteria. Businesses outside California may need to comply with CCPA if they are working with California residents.
CCPA protects consumer privacy rights, and gives individuals a certain amount of control over their data.
As with most regulations, you can face fines and legal action if you’re found to be in breach of the rules.
If you’re a healthcare organisation operating in the US, you’ll need to be complying with HIPAA regulations, in order to protect patients’ Protected Health Information (PHI).
As patient data is passed from one insurance provider to another, it is imperative that sensitive data is protected. If it isn’t, you could be fined or face criminal charges. You can read more about HIPAA here.
PCI DSS is applicable to organisations that handle credit or debit card transactions. It helps protect data so that fraudsters cannot take advantage of it.
As this was created by some of the biggest names in the card industry, most businesses will need to comply with it, and protect cardholder data. If you don’t, you could be facing fines, lawsuits, and you may not be able to process cards in the future, limiting your ability to take payments.
If your data should be leaked or breached, there can be massive repercussions for the business, but there can also be implications for individuals too.
Businesses may face financial losses from legal costs, regulatory fines, and disruptions to operations that can spell disaster for organisations who aren’t prepared for a data breach. As well as the financial impact, the brand’s reputation can also take a dramatic hit as customers and partners lose loyalty to the company.
Important data can be permanently destroyed too, leaving businesses without the data they need to function effectively. And, if your trade secrets are released to the world, there’s no stopping your competitors getting their hands on your plans.
Individuals who have their data leaked or stolen can be victims of identity theft, losing money in the process, and taking on much emotional distress.
Individuals who are in charge of security may also face consequences from the organisation itself, and will need to co-operate fully with any investigations in order to prevent any further legal repercussions.
It’s always best to take a proactive approach to data protection, and put measures in place before anything goes wrong.
Make sure you have all the following in place, to ensure your data is protected:
Whereas data security used to centre around the perimeter of an organisation’s network, the implementation of the cloud and the profilteration of SaaS applications in the last few years, means that there are evolving challenges to keep on top of as a security professional.
Accessed from anywhere in the world, cloud platforms have helped businesses employ teams globally but with so much sensitive data held in insecure SaaS apps like Slack, or Google Drive, businesses run the very real risk of data being leaked or breached.
The rise of AI tools, such as Chat GPT, also presents a new security risk as employees can regularly use it to check sensitive data such as source code, unaware of the dangers of sharing this with a Large Language Model (LLM), for instance.
As cyber attacks become more sophisticated, the danger of losing data only increases, making the requirement for Data Security Posture Management (DSPM) tools even greater.
Metomic is a data security solution, helping businesses to protect sensitive data across their entire SaaS stack.
Read our recent case study with Jeffrey May, Managing Counsel at Oyster, to learn more about how our automations helped him educate his team on data security best practices.