Safeguarding Your Sensitive Data

Sensitive Data

Advancements in technology have made humanity overly dependent on digital products for their everyday activities. One of the benefits of most digital products is the ability to store vast amounts of data. However, the rate of technology advancements is increasing almost proportionately with the rise in cyber-crime activities. Nowadays, sensitive information stored in digital products can be easily accessed by hackers and used for notorious purposes. Therefore, individuals and organizations need to adopt certain tried and tested practices for safeguarding sensitive data.

Data Classification

Before you can classify data, you need to identify what data you have and where it is kept. The next step is to categorize it. You need to create a data classification policy. This policy will help you classify data according to sensitivity.

At least three levels of data classes are required:

  • Restricted: This type of data is very sensitive, with the potential of causing great harm to you if compromised. Restricted data should be accessed only where completely necessary.
  • Private: This type of information is moderately sensitive, with the potential of causing moderate damage to you if compromised. Private data should be limited to the members of the department that controls this information.
  • Public: This type of information is not sensitive and poses little to no risk if leaked. Access is not as limited as other data classes and may even not be controlled at all.

Some organizations use data discovery and classification tools to scan their data sources for the data that is important based on their custom requirements or industry standards. The data is then broken down and labeled with a digital signature that shows its classification.

1. Firewall

A firewall helps isolate your network from other networks. It prevents unauthorized traffic from penetrating your network. Firewalls also allow you to open up specific ports, thus giving a cyber-criminal limited space to enter the network or download your information. Each organization employs its own firewall policy. Some firewall policies disallow specific traffic while others prevent all traffic. There are even firewall policies that verify traffic before either allowing or disallowing it from penetrating the network. There are software and hardware firewall solutions. Some firewalls are included in hardware devices like servers or routers, while others come as standalone systems.

2. Encryption

You should encrypt all your sensitive information. There are many encryption strategies. Some organizations encrypt their entire hard drives while others encrypt folders with confidential data. The rule of thumb is to use secure encryption that cannot be easily cracked. It is also important to encrypt any sensitive information before sharing it over other networks.

3. Anti-virus Programs

Anti-virus software is a common tool that helps you identify malicious code that hackers use to penetrate your network and gain access to your file servers. Anti-virus solutions allow you to detect and remove viruses, Trojans, and rootkits before they steal or damage sensitive information. You need to update your anti-virus program regularly with the latest virus definitions. There are many anti-virus software vendors today, making it challenging to identify which one is reliable and which one is not. Perform your due diligence after researching widely and comparing different vendors.

4. Intrusion Prevention and Detection Systems

Conventional intrusion detection systems and intrusion prevention systems inspect the packets passing through the network and identify potentially harmful activity. Intrusion detection systems can be set to monitor system event logs, identify suspicious activity, and raise alarms about sessions that seem to be breaching security systems. Intrusion prevention also has detection functions, but it can prevent a session from continuing if it is classified as malicious.

An intrusion prevention system mainly terminates attacks like DDoS (Distributed Denial of Services). These systems are operated by security administrators who determine whether there is a threat and how it affects them, and also what measures they can take to mitigate or eliminate the threat. These prevention and detection systems prevent cybercriminals from accessing data through malware and phishing tactics.

5. Cloud Security

When you store your information in the cloud, it is like you are storing it on another person’s computer. This means you have no control over it. The best way to protect data stored in the cloud is to encrypt it before you upload it to the cloud. Ensure you familiarize yourself with the Cloud provider’s policies like their backup policy, access to information policies, and data breach policies. This will help you decide whether that Cloud provider will protect your sensitive data sufficiently.

6. Addressing The Insider Threat

Many organizations are over-occupied with protecting their data from external threats and lose focus that many data breaches are internal. Users should not be permitted to copy sensitive data locally or to store them on a portable system. Users should be forced to use the data remotely, and login should be required with the option of locking the system if restricted access occurs.

The Snowden leak is a typical example of an inside job. Snowden copied vast amounts of data to thumb drives without any challenges. He had access to sensitive content he should not have had to do his job. By acknowledging and addressing internal threats with the right security and controls, it becomes easy to prevent insider breaches.

7. Auditing

To protect sensitive information, you need to keep track of changes in your systems and any attempts to gain access to critical information. The ability to detect changes to sensitive data is necessary if you are to prevent security breaches. For example, if a person exceeds the required number of login attempts, they should be reported to the security administrator. Security personnel should understand how critical information is being used and who has access to it and where it is being channeled to develop effective policies and anticipate breaches.

Importance of Safeguarding Sensitive Data

  • Reputation: The impact of a security breach can significantly impact an organization’s reliability. Take the example of TJX; the company suffered a security breach that gave hackers access to 45.6 million credit cards. This significantly affected the company’s credibility in the market, with many of its customers shifting to their competition.
  • Complying with Legislation: Many laws have been passed to ensure companies safeguard their data. For example, HIPPA laws were passed to protect patient information. Since the legislation on securing sensitive data varies depending on one’s location, it is essential to consult a legal expert to ensure you have the right data security policies and measures in place.
  • Loss of Data: One of the most straightforward reasons you should be safeguarding sensitive data is to prevent it from being lost. Measures such as backing up confidential information, encrypting files, and using anti-virus software can help prevent data from being compromised.

Summing It Up

Many people think that securing data is only for large corporations or celebrities who have a lot to lose if their information is leaked. However, even small businesses and individuals stand to lose a lot from data breaches. For example, cybercriminals can use your personal information to falsify their driving license or to steal your identity. Therefore, safeguarding sensitive data is a crucial lesson for everyone with any information that would affect them adversely if it got out in the public domain.

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