The Ultimate Manual to Enterprise Data Loss Prevention

Any modern enterprise relies on its data. Finding a way to protect this data from hackers and internal loss is vital to the health of the enterprise.

Protecting the enterprise’s data requires a proactive approach, and one of the most common solutions involves deploying enterprise data loss prevention (DLP) systems.

What Is Enterprise Data Loss Prevention Anyway?

Enterprise data loss prevention is a security strategy that large businesses will employ to protect their data and the systems they use. A DLP strategy will focus primarily on protecting sensitive information the enterprise holds and uses.

The strategy must tackle data protection from two angles. First, it attempts to prevent data loss from a security breach, where hackers would enter the network and take sensitive data and files.

It also tries to prevent inadvertent data leakage or loss, where team members using the network may use files and sensitive data in an unsafe way. This could expose the data to hackers, or it could allow third parties to take or receive the data from employees using it in an unauthorized manner.

Challenges With Deploying Enterprise DLP Systems

Versus a small business, an enterprise is almost certain to have far larger amounts of sensitive data. Additionally, employees will use this data in a wide range of applications and in numerous places. Employees may store sensitive data on the company network, on secondary networks in a branch office, in the cloud, and on mobile devices.

Couple the use of data in a wide variety of places with the significant amount of data the enterprise owns, and the challenges are easy to see.

Any data loss prevention system for an enterprise needs to be able to migrate its data usage rules and policies to all of these locations.

Some of the other challenges a data loss prevention system must handle include:

  • Identifying sensitive data: Any DLP system must be able to use automated processes to identify sensitive data that needs the maximum level of protection. These identification processes must be highly accurate, or the system will not operate in the most efficient manner.
  • Controlling data in the cloud: As more enterprises rely on cloud software and cloud storage, protecting the data stored inside the cloud is a challenge for the DLP system. It needs to be able to use the system’s data protection rules in the cloud.
  • Controlling data on the move: Some enterprises may find that the greatest threat to the data occurs when it’s in motion. As the data moves from the network to the cloud and back, a security hole could leave the data vulnerable in transit. A DLP system can identify the security issues during this process.
  • Understanding use of data: To create DLP system usage rules that will work for employees, system administrators need to understand how the employees access the data. They don’t want to create rules that make it too difficult to work with the data, but they still need to protect the data.

How Enterprise Data Loss Prevention Works

Deploying an enterprise DLP system should help employees use files and data efficiently, while also protecting these items. The DLP system helps the enterprise find the sweet spot between these two often contradictory goals.

If the system administrators make the restrictions on file usage too strong, employees will become frustrated. They won’t be able to work efficiently, either being unable to access the data or needing to make requests regularly to administrators to gain access to data.

On the other hand, if the system administrators make the restrictions too lax, sensitive data won’t receive the protection it needs from the DLP system.

For this reason, a high-quality data loss prevention system will differentiate between general-use data and data containing sensitive information. The DLP system will place the toughest restrictions on the files with sensitive data while leaving files without sensitive data easier to access for anyone.

Data loss prevention software greatly automates this process. The best DLP software packages will make use of a few steps to find and protect sensitive data, including the following.

Analyzing Data

DLP software will analyze the data the enterprise stores on the network and elsewhere. It is looking at the types of files on the network and studying the properties of the files.

DLP software also can analyze the context of the files, looking at the type of information stored inside the file. It will be looking for information in the file like credit card numbers, personal health information, contact information for customers and clients, and intellectual property for the enterprise.

Certain enterprises will have different thresholds for determining what type of information equals sensitive data. With this in mind, system administrators will be able to set the parameters for the DLP software to use when it’s classifying sensitive data.

Monitoring the System

DLP software can constantly monitor the enterprise’s network and connected devices for potential data breaches and violations of the DLP system’s rules.

When employing a data loss prevention system, the software is not trying to identify data breaches as they are occurring. Instead, the system is trying to spot weaknesses and violations that could lead to a data breach.

DLP systems try to be proactive about catching potential data security problems, rather than being reactive.

Understanding Actions and Alerts

When the software spots a violation, it can generate an alert for system administrators. They then can decide how to tweak the DLP software’s settings to fix the problem in the future.

In the meantime, the software can take automatic actions to protect the system until administrators have the opportunity to make a correction.

For an enterprise that has a huge network with huge numbers of files, having the option of automating many processes is important. Automation makes the DLP system run as efficiently as possible. If administrators had to perform every step of operating the DLP system manually, the work would be overwhelming.

Here are some real-world examples of how and why enterprises can make use of data loss prevention systems.

Example 1: Protecting the Enterprise’s IP

For some enterprises, intellectual property (IP) is the most valuable data on the network. However, this type of data is not always the easiest to protect.

If the DLP software has rules in place to search files for typical types of sensitive data, the data contained in IP files may not match these rules. IP isn’t likely to contain personal health information or credit card numbers, for example.

In a situation like this, the network administrators may want to have the DLP software search the parameters of the files. Within the IP files, system administrators can add parameters that will trigger the DLP software to mark these files as containing sensitive data.

As another option, some models of DLP software will allow administrators to create rules that are specific to IP files. The software may search the content of the files for certain items that are common to IP data, including:

  • Copyright symbols
  • Trademark symbols
  • Patent forms
  • Patent illustrations

If an enterprise uses particular words frequently in its intellectual property, the team can instruct the DLP software to look for those words in the files’ content. It then can mark those files as sensitive.

Monitoring the Movement of Intellectual Property

By having the DLP software monitor the movement of any files containing intellectual property, network administrators can feel confident the system is protecting the data.

Through the monitoring of these sensitive files, administrators can gain a feel for any potential vulnerabilities the network may have. Such vulnerabilities could include the types of employees who have access to the IP data, as well as how and where employees can make use of this data. This monitoring information can show areas where employees may not be following the security policies as well.

Network administrators then can fix those problems to keep the IP files out of peril in the future.

Example 2: Maintaining Compliance With Data Regulations

When files on the network contain sensitive data and must comply with regulatory requirements, DLP software needs to closely monitor the use of these files. Many different types of enterprises handle highly sensitive files like this. Data protected through government regulations can include:

  • Social Security numbers
  • GDPR
  • CCPA
  • PHI

Enterprises that fail to protect this type of data when they’re storing it on their networks can end up suffering significant fines.

Through the use of DLP software, the network administrators can create policies and rules to closely monitor these regulated files.

The DLP software should make certain that only approved employees can gain access to these files. By greatly limiting who can access these files, the enterprise will reduce the chances of placing the data in jeopardy from someone behaving carelessly.

Should any of this regulated data become lost or end up in the hands of a third party outside the network, the DLP software can help the enterprise track who accessed the files. This information should simplify understanding how the breach occurred. The enterprise then can figure out how to prevent the same problem from occurring in the future.

Finally, the data loss prevention software should be able to provide an extra layer of protection for these files containing sensitive and regulated information. This extra protective layer should reduce the chances of a hacker finding and accessing the files.

Example 3: Avoiding Insider Mistakes When Handling Data

DLP software can help an enterprise protect its most sensitive data from hackers trying to penetrate the network. But it also can protect the enterprise’s data from breaches that originate from inside the organization.

Employees who mishandle data and who don’t follow the rules for managing sensitive files could create a significant risk for the enterprise’s data. They may not intend to cause an issue, but they do so by being careless.

Other times, an employee may purposefully attempt to cause a data breach or to pass sensitive information to a third party outside the network.

Stopping Inadvertent Data Breaches

Employees who don’t take care of the enterprise’s sensitive data in the required manner could leave this data vulnerable to misuse or loss. Unintentional exposure of sensitive data to danger is one of the most common reasons for data to end up in peril.

After the enterprise implements a new DLP system, employees who don’t understand how the system works and the policies in place could end up creating a violation. They may not even realize the error they made.

They may believe they can continue working with files in the same manner they did before the installation of the DLP software. However, those actions no longer fit under the enterprise’s new DLP policies.

During the implementation of the DLP software and system, enterprises should provide employees with extensive educational materials to help them understand the new policies. As long as employees understand the new rules, they almost certainly will be more willing to follow them.

Stopping Purposeful Internal Data Breaches

Some employees may attempt to steal sensitive data from the enterprise. Or they may make a conscious decision to share data with third parties who should not have it.

Having a DLP system in place helps the network administrators spot strange behavior on the network. If sensitive files are moving to unusual locations on the network or in the cloud, or if the files are moving onto thumb drives, this could be a sign of an insider attack.

Through the alerts that the DLP software will generate for unusual uses of sensitive data, network administrators should be able to catch these problems. This should occur early enough to prevent significant consequences from an insider-led data breach.

How Enterprises Can Get Started With Data Loss Prevention

Here are some steps an enterprise can follow to put a DLP system into place.

Step 1: Create a DLP System Oversight Team

Deploying a data loss prevention system for the first time involves creating a system of rules, policies, and procedures that the enterprise wants the system to follow.

Most enterprises will want to set up a committee of network administrators, company executives, and data analysts to provide input on the parameters of the DLP system. It is important to have multiple people involved in the creation of the system’s rules to ensure buy-in across the enterprise.

The oversight team can decide what kinds of data should have a sensitive label. It also can set rules for how system administrators should respond to any alerts from the DLP system about violations or weaknesses.

In other words, the oversight team will create the guidelines and parameters for using the data loss prevention system.

Step 2: Select and Deploy DLP Software

Members of the implementation team can determine which DLP software package the enterprise should purchase and use.

After selecting the software package, the enterprise should assign another team to handle the installation. This team can implement the data protection rules in the software as well.

Additionally, this team should have the responsibility to teach employees how to use the system and what types of files they can access. Education is an important part of implementing a DLP system. Employees are far less likely to unintentionally try to skirt the data access rules if they understand exactly what those rules are.

Step 3: Respond to System Software Alerts

With the data loss prevention software up and running, it should begin generating alerts about potential violations.

If the oversight team created clear rules regarding how system administrators should react to alerts, this step should be easy to follow.

System administrators may find that they want the DLP software to perform a first response to any alerts. The software may automatically limit access in the area of the network showing vulnerability, for example.

The automated steps should be temporary in nature, though. System administrators can perform the precise steps for fixing the problem after analyzing it a little more.

As the system administrators work with the DLP software for a few weeks, they should gain a feel for any tweaks they need to make to the system’s rules and settings. It is important to always keep an eye on the performance of the DLP system. Don’t be afraid to make changes as needed, keeping the system running efficiently and performing its job properly.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

Incredible companies use Nira