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Data Security: What is it?

Data Security: What is it?
(Image credit: Shutterstock.com/13_Phunkod)

Today, we do a lot online, and the rise in digitization and networked business activities has created unprecedented amounts of data. Unfortunately, more data means more opportunities for it to be lost, corrupted, sabotaged, or stolen, which is why it is crucial for business leaders to understand the term data security. 

Put simply, data security refers to the policies and processes put in place by a business to protect their data from all sorts of harm, such as unauthorized access and theft, data corruption, or malicious software and ransomware.  

This article will explain the different pillars of data security, and what businesses can do to ensure that their information is safe and secure

 The threat of lost, stolen, or corrupted data 

Data loss, whether due to human error, software or hardware failure, or cybercrime, can disrupt your business in significant ways. Businesses might lose important intellectual property, potentially to rivals. Customer and client details might be stolen and sold on the dark web, potentially leading to legal liabilities. Data loss could even see your business’s financial security compromised if the credentials of bank accounts are misplaced or stolen. 

Cybercrime alone has become a significant and constant threat to businesses. By 2021 cybercrime will cost the global economy over $6 trillion per year. In the UK, 47% of businesses have reported [PDF] a cyber breach or attack in the last 12 months, costing the target business an average of £1,230. Despite this, only 27% have a formal data security policy. 

Protecting your business’s most important information with a data security plan is therefore essential. This article explains exactly what data security means and outlines the key pillars of a comprehensive data security framework. 

The pillars of data security for businesses 

There are several pillars of a comprehensive data security framework for businesses, and without a plan for each, your business is exposed to vulnerabilities. On the other hand, a comprehensive data security plan will protect your business against cybercrime and data loss. It will protect, and perhaps even increase, your organizations’ reputation and fiscal health. 

We will now outline these essential pillars for data security, which all businesses should invest in.

Encryption 

The encryption of data is one of the easiest ways to increase data security within your organization. There are many different types of encryption, but the core idea remains the same: encrypting important data makes it impossible for anyone to read or edit that data without the authentication key. 

Although it is a simple analogy, we like to imagine the authentication key as a recipe or instruction booklet. Without it, you just have an unintelligible assortment of ciphertext. With it, however, it is easy to turn ciphertext into plaintext (which just means useable data). 

So even if your business is the victim of a cyberattack and your data is stolen, well-encrypted data will be useless as it can never be unencrypted without the authentication key. 

For business, you should consider a data security solution that encrypts data both at-rest (when it’s in storage) and in-transit (when it is being sent or received). 

Authentication 

Authentication refers to the use of passwords, pin codes, or biometric data to gain access to applications, websites, and other online and digital services. While in the past, simple passwords would suffice, today compromised credentials are one of the leading causes of data loss due to cybercrime. 

The best way to protect your business is with a password manager. The best password managers, such as LastPass and RoboForm, provide crucial services to businesses that increase their data security and make it almost impossible for your authentication data to be compromised. These include complex password generation, end-to-end encrypted storage of authentication data, and single sign-on solutions. 

Access Control 

Even within your organization, it is likely that you don’t want all employees to have access to all your data all the time. This would increase your exposure to data loss and cybercrime, and would undermine the other security pillars put in place by your business. 

Access control is a type of data security that allows business leaders to allocate data permissions on an employee-by-employee basis or even a team-by-team basis. Access control gives administrators the flexibility to ensure an employee only sees the data relevant to their role, and only as much as is needed to fulfill the task. This limits vulnerabilities and makes it easier to manage sensitive data. 

Backups 

It might seem like a no-brainer, but ensuring you backup your business’ data is simply non-negotiable. 

Data backup means creating a copy of your business’ data that is then stored in a secure location. Normally this is either a physical hard drive owned by the business or a cloud storage solution such as Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive. Ideally, businesses will have both a physical backup of their data and a cloud storage backup.

If your business has a competent data backup solution, you have insured yourself against most forms of data loss, such as accidental deletion or reformatting of a hard drive, or software or hardware failure. But remember, your data is only as secure as the backup; business leaders should ensure that all backup data is encrypted to protect against a cyberattack on the backup service. You can use backup software to manage the process, or a DRaaS.

Data erasure 

Although data deletion and data erasure may seem like the same thing, they’re not. 

Data deletion usually involves moving the data to a hidden folder where it may take months or years before it is permanently deleted. Deleted data can normally be recovered using file recovery solutions such as Stellar Data Recovery or Crashplan.

Data erasure is essential if you want to comprehensively protect your business when selling, exchanging, or destroying old hardware. It ensures no data can be recovered and that deleted data is deleted forever. 

Conclusion 

A comprehensive data security framework is, in 2020, a non-negotiable. Without one, it is only a matter of time before your business is the target of a cyberattack or before an employee accidentally deletes five years’ worth of customer and client data or financial records. 

Developing a comprehensive data security framework won’t happen overnight, but requires a reflection on the type of data your business creates and manages, and how it can be best protected. 

This article has outlined the most important pillars of data security and should provide a starting point for a more data-secure future for your business.