Data Protection: The Complete Guide

Your data is probably the most critical asset of your company, no matter your business size and scale. You use it to improve customer experience, make important decisions, know your business’s health…the list goes on.

It’s why experts today claim data is the most valuable resource in the world. Cybercriminals are also aware of its importance, which is why data protection needs to be your top priority.

What Is Data Protection Anyway?

Data protection refers to a set of carefully thought out strategies and processes you can use to secure the integrity, privacy, and availability of all your data.

Having a data protection plan is crucial for every organization that collects, handles, or stores sensitive data. You can prevent data loss, theft, and corruption, while simultaneously minimizing any damage caused in the unfortunate event of a data breach if you have a robust data protection strategy in place.

Even the government has a security interest in ensuring the protection of personal data. In 2015, cybercriminals stole over 21.5 million records from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management that had the personal data of federal employees and their family members. This put them at significant risk since now their private data was out there on the dark web.

Sadly, similar types of cyberattacks are happening increasingly around the globe. This has created a need for everyone to take matters into their own hands and safeguard their personal data.

How Data Protection Works

The principle of data protection is to deploy technologies and methodologies in a way that protects and makes data available in all circumstances—but only to authorized eyes.

Generally, storage technologies protect data by using disk, tape, or cloud backup to store copies of data that can be used in the event of data loss or interruption. You can also use software tools, such as replication, cloning, and mirroring, to provide an extra layer of data protection in addition to traditional backup.

The dynamic advancement in the technology landscape means providing continuous data protection is now (finally) common practice that can backup data whenever a change is made. In turn, this makes data recovery almost instantaneous.

The growing popularity of the cloud has made backup a necessity for organizations that prefer on-the-go access. Organizations need a cloud backup, especially if they frequently move their data backup to public cloud or cloud maintained by third-party service vendors.

While these cloud backups can replace on-site disk and tape libraries and serve as additional protected copies of data to provide a disaster recovery facility, we still don’t recommend storing highly critical assets on the cloud.

Knowing How to Protect Enterprise Data

Thanks to dynamic user privacy requirements, ever-changing regulations, and the need for business-driven identity and access management policies, the new data landscape is constantly evolving.

This also means you need to be extra vigilant when it comes to data protection. A strong security initiative should deliver across three crucial aspects for effective data protection, namely:

  • Intelligent Visibility. Businesses can gain unified oversight across data, endpoints, and cloud networks through a combination of AI-driven solutions and automated monitoring tools. This can be helpful to generate critical insight into extremely crucial assets and potential compromise avenues.
  • Proactive Mitigation. Companies require effective endpoint and application security solutions to create, apply, and enforce optimal security for all data. In turn, this will help empower proactive responses to potential threats.
  • Continuous Control. Organizations should leverage comprehensive security solutions that let them create policies at scale while simultaneously optimizing asset protection, regulatory requirements, and policy compliance. This way, business owners can deliver continuous control across all operational assets.

The idea here is to have a full-featured data protection plan, asset defense, and compliance strategy in place. Having a data-first defense will allow you to leverage data assets to drive business function, prevent unwanted incursions, and ensure compliance with emerging regulatory requirements.

Data Protection Method #1: Encryption

The rule is simple: The riskier your data, the more protection you need.

Encryption is the go-to data protection method when it comes to protecting high-risk data. This includes acquisition (online cryptographic protocols), processing (full memory encryption), and subsequent storage (RSA or AES). Every encrypted data is inherently safe—even during a data breach—as they become useless to attackers in their modified form.

Encryption is mentioned as a reliable data protection method in the GDPR as well, meaning you can get brownie points in the regulator’s eyes by encrypting data. In fact, if you ever experience a data breach that affects your encrypted data, you won’t have to report it to the supervisory authorities as they consider the data adequately protected.

Data Protection Method #2: Backups

Backups are another excellent method of protecting data and preventing data loss that is commonly caused due to user error or technical malfunction. The only condition is that backups should be made and updated regularly.

Furthermore, backups must be performed following data importance. Backups should be stored in a safe place. Avoid the cloud when handling sensitive data.

Data Protection Method #3: Access Controls

Access control can help reduce any risk to your data.

As the name suggests, only a select few people have access to your data, which automatically lowers the risk of accidental data breach or loss. You should ensure that only trustworthy employees have access to sensitive data and have a valid reason to access it.

We also recommend holding regular prior data handling training to avoid negligence.

How to Get Started With Data Protection

As a business owner, you’re responsible for your customer’s personal data safety and security. Keeping their data protected will help you earn their trust, which will ultimately positively affect your business.

What’s more, the recent passing of stringent privacy laws like the GDPR has made data protection necessary across the world. If you don’t want to pay expensive fines and penalties and comply with the established rules and regulations, you need to enforce data protection policies.

Below, we’ve compiled a list of steps to help you get started on the right track.

Step 1: Make a List of All Personal Data

You may have personal data, such as the names, contact details, and bank details of customers, members, or clients, saved on your computer, phone, or tablet. If yes, create a generalized list of all the personal data you have or plan to collect. For example, instead of listing the actual phone numbers, simply write “customer phone numbers.”

If you think you don’t have sensitive data, go through all the data you have. If you can identify someone personally from there, consider them as personal data and add them to your list.

Step 2: Figure Out the Answer to ‘Why’ You Need the Data

If you hold or use any person’s personal data, it must always be fair and lawful. In other words, you should only use the data if you have explicit permission to do so.

If you got the data through misleading or deceitful means, naturally, everything you do after that will be unfair in the eyes of the law. Therefore, you need a valid reason or “lawful basis” to store another person’s data. This is incredibly important to keep out of trouble.

Step 3: Select and Implement Data Security Measure

All your security measures should be in line with the sensitivity of the data you hold. If you have any high-risk or sensitive data, your security measures need to be stronger. It’s as simple as that.

Deciding which security measures to implement is entirely up to you, but you can include steps like locking filing cabinets, setting a strong password across all devices, encrypting emails, and so on.

Step 4: Practice Data Transparency

Transparency is another important pointer when it comes to gathering and storing data.

When you explain to people why you’re holding their data, what you plan to do with it, and how long you plan on keeping it before getting rid of it, it helps build trust. It’s likely for users to permit you to keep their data this way. But if they refuse to give you access, don’t try to store their information behind their backs.

Step 5: Be Prepared For the Worst

Unfortunate events like cyberattacks, theft, fire, or flood can happen anytime, causing you to lose personal data. Precisely why you need a Plan B in place. Think of this step as a curative measure.

Any data breach or data loss will obviously affect all the people whose data you hold, which is why the first step would be to tell the involved parties about the breach or loss. Once that’s done, you should work with your team to launch your data recovery plan to minimize damage and data loss.

If you are careful with your data and took the necessary steps to protect it, you won’t have much to worry about. But if you didn’t, the outcome won’t be as favorable. Therefore, if you haven’t already implemented data protection steps, make sure to do them right now and prepare for the worst.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

Incredible companies use Nira