Data is everywhere — and it’s growing.
Recent estimates suggest that the “big four” — Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook — store more than 1,200 petabytes of data in total. Some of this data is hosted on public cloud servers, some is held securely on premises and some is used to deliver third-party application services.
It doesn’t stop there. While these companies store the lion’s share of digital information, data is also held by private servers owned by enterprises, schools, nonprofits and government agencies.
This sets the stage for a world that’s overflowing with data and one that presents a host of opportunities for attackers. Data that isn’t properly protected is an attractive target for malicious actors. If they can gain network access or eavesdrop on digital messaging, they can steal data to sell, ransom or even destroy.
The result? Data security has never been more important. In this piece, we’ll break down data security basics, examine the key components of effective protection and define four data security best practices.
Table of Contents
What Is Data Security?
Data security is the process of protecting data throughout its lifecycle, from initial collection to specific use to ongoing storage and eventual destruction. Effective security covers all devices and controls that handle data, including server hardware, storage management software, user devices, access controls and data handling policies.
It’s also worth noting that data security practices are designed to guard against both external and internal attacks. For example, intrusion detection systems and malware scanners might be used to detect external threats, while identity and access management (IAM) tools and zero trust policies can help reduce the risk of unauthorized insider access.
Key Components of Data Security
There are three key components of data security: confidentiality, integrity and availability. Also known as the “CIA Triad,” these components form the foundation of effective cybersecurity.
- Confidentiality: Confidentiality refers to the set of policies and processes that companies put in place to limit data access and ensure only authorized and verified users are permitted to use data.
- Integrity: Integrity speaks to the accuracy and consistency of data. This component requires data visibility to limit the risk of data being altered without approval, along with solutions to notify companies if attempts to change data are made.
- Availability: Availability is about consistent accessibility for authorized parties. In practice, this means finding a balance between streamlined access processes and strict security policies.
Data Security Best Practices
When it comes to improving data security, four best practices can help:
First is limiting access. This includes the use of solutions such as multifactor authentication (MFA) which asks users for additional verification of their identity before authorizing access. For example, users might be asked to provide a one-time code or use their fingerprint to verify their identity.
Data obfuscation makes it harder for attackers to use compromised or stolen data. The most common obfuscation approach is encryption. Using techniques such as AES 256, companies can protect data from unauthorized access — without the decryption key, attackers will see random strings of letters, numbers and symbols.
Despite best efforts, data compromises still happen. As a result, companies need to ensure they’re ready to recover as quickly as possible. This means deploying data backup and recovery services that allow organizations to access critical data even if primary storage solutions go offline and recover data quickly if primary sources are compromised.
Finally, companies need to ensure they put effective data destruction processes in place. This means more than simply deleting data — it must be removed from devices and storage hardware in such a way that it cannot be recovered.
Delivering on Data Security
As data volumes increase, so do security risks. With data about everything stored everywhere and more data created all the time, unprotected data is an easy target for attackers.
To reduce the risk of data theft or destruction, companies need to create clear policies for data obfuscation, erasure and recovery, as well as deploy robust access policies that ensure the right people have access to the right data at the right time.
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