There are very few organisations around today that don’t handle data. And keeping on top of it all can be difficult, especially with so many platforms and applications to track.
Regular data risk assessments can help your team understand where their sensitive data is stored, so they can take the necessary steps to protect it.
A data risk assessment allows an organisation to see where their vulnerabilities and risks lie. Carrying out a data risk assessment can help you identify high-risk assets and prioritise those that pose a threat to your business.
Sensitive data such as Personally Identifiable Information (PII), and Protected Health Information (PHI), can be mapped out so that security teams can understand where it is stored, and take steps to protect it. After all, you can’t protect what you don’t know.
During a data risk assessment, you’ll analyse the risk to understand the severity of the consequences if the data were to leak, and put strategies in place to mitigate those risks.
Data risk assessments should be carried out regularly so that you can keep on top of emerging threats, and ensure you’re remaining compliant with any regulatory requirements such as GDPR and HIPAA.
There are a few reasons why it’s important to conduct a data risk assessment:
Your key objective should be to keep sensitive information safe - whether it’s customer data, financial data, PII, company secrets or intellectual property. Ensuring your sensitive data is secured is vital for your company’s success; if you were to experience a breach or leak, you may find yourself paying the price financially, legally, and reputationally.
Complying with regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) can be difficult if you don’t know where your data resides. A data risk assessment is vital to understand whether you’re in breach of regulations, and to ensure you won’t suffer any consequences for non-compliance.
One of those consequences could be financial as if you were to suffer a data breach, you could be fined. The reputational impact can also have financial consequences as your customers may lose faith in you, and take their business elsewhere.
Artem Tabalin, VP of Engineering at Metomic, says,
“There are some new regulations that make companies publicly communicate their breaches. This can lead to a huge reputational impact for organisations who can’t sweep anything under the rug.”
Carrying out data risk assessments can improve your overall data security posture, and form an integral part of your security strategy. Taking a holistic approach to data security, you’ll be able to assess all of your systems together, and understand where your biggest weaknesses lie.
Completing a comprehensive data risk assessment involves several key steps:
Lay out your objectives for the assessment, and what you hope to achieve. You should understand the assets you want to review, the processes you need to assess, the regulations you’ll need to follow and the people who need to be involved.
Once you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve, you’ll need to get full visibility over where your sensitive data is stored - whether that’s on desktops, laptops, intranets, or SaaS applications like Slack, Jira, or Microsoft Teams . Mapping where your data is stored is key to understanding how much sensitive data you’re storing, and the types of data you need to protect.
Classifying your data will help you understand how to begin prioritising your risks. Your data should be classified by the level of sensitivity, and the risk it poses to the business. This can be a manual process, but a data security tool like Metomic will automate this, and speed up the process.
Now you’ve classified your data, you can assess the risks and evaluate the potential impact of each identified threat. You should determine the likelihood of each risk occurring, and calculate the overall risk level for each one.
From here, you can prioritise identified risks and focus on the ones that require your immediate attention.
Understanding your risks can help you identify the measures you need to take to mitigate them. Outline exactly what controls, policies, and procedures you need to put in place to address the threats posed.
Activating your human firewall is key to minimising the impact of a data breach. Your team can be instrumental in reducing risks if they follow data security best practices, so you should provide ongoing security training to maintain awareness.
For instance, Metomic sends real-time employee notifications to your team directly whenever they violate your security policy, allowing them to understand the mistakes they’re making within the context of their role.
It’s important to note that your organisation may warrant additional security steps to be taken, depending on your industry and regulatory requirements.
There are many benefits to conducting a data risk assessment. Firstly, you can enjoy enhanced data security, as a data risk assessment can identify vulnerabilities and help you mitigate risks. You’ll also be able to remain compliant with regulatory requirements and adhere to data protection laws, avoiding legal disputes, financial losses and reputational damage.
A data risk assessment also allows you to see where you should be allocating resources and to plan for any business disruption that may occur as a result of security incidents.
Conducting assessments is a proactive approach to data security and risk management that is essential for any business that handles sensitive data.
Whoever is responsible for data security within the business should undertake risk assessments. That responsibility could lie with IT teams, compliance officers, data protection officers, risk management teams, external auditors, or business stakeholders.
You should conduct your data risk assessment in line with your organisation’s needs, and regulatory requirements. Plan a regular schedule, say annually, for your data risk assessment, unless there are specific events that would require you to conduct it sooner - for instance, the introduction of new technologies, applications, or data types.
If you unfortunately suffer a data breach or leak, you should carry out a data risk assessment immediately to understand where your vulnerabilities lie, and to prevent any further data being accessed.
A data risk assessment highlights where your sensitive data lives, and who has access to it, as well as uncovering a multitude of other factors you’ll need to consider.
For instance, in our Metomic Risk Audits, we uncover:
Let’s take the example of an insurance company conducting a data risk assessment.
They discover that the assessment reveals their online quotes system is using outdated software, making it vulnerable to malicious actors who can take advantage. The data risk assessment also uncovers access controls that are misaligned with best practices, exposing sensitive data to those who don’t need visibility.
Due to the data collected by the insurance company during the quotes process, their security team realise they are in breach of data regulation laws that require them to hold data for a limited period of time.
As a result of these findings, the insurance company decides to immediately update their software, patching vulnerabilities within the system, and helping them to get a tighter hold on their data security. They also assess their access control strategy, and decide to implement a least-privilege approach where access is restricted for those who don’t need the documents for their roles.
They also introduce employees to an awareness program that can help them understand exactly where sensitive data should be stored, and how to flag any cybersecurity issues they spot.
All of these actions help to keep them compliant with data protection regulations, reducing the risk of them facing hefty fines, and reputational damage. The insurance company agrees to run data risk assessments annually to ensure they take a proactive approach to data protection in the future.
A Risk Audit with Metomic can help you identify where sensitive data is stored, and allows you to assess the risk to your organisation.
You’ll speak with one of our SaaS Security Specialists to understand the impact this could have, and how Metomic could help limit exposure to your most valuable assets.
One of the main benefits of Metomic is that once it becomes part of your security tech stack, it can offer an ongoing data risk assessment, detecting and remediating risks in real time, to minimise the impact on your business.