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Data security is a term for all the security solutions that help organizations protect their sensitive data from security risks such as data breaches, phishing, ransomware attacks, and insider threats. Data security solutions also draw on compliance frameworks such as HIPAA and GDPR to support data privacy and simplify audits.
With advancements in cloud computing technology alongside broad cloud adoption globally, sensitive information is far more widely distributed—and subject to a greater variety of security risks—than it was when it all sat in a local data center. The cybersecurity industry has developed many new security tools that take advantage of advanced AI and automation, yet cybercriminals remain persistent and continue to evolve their tactics.
Many organizations are implementing tighter information security measures to protect critical data from next-generation cyberattacks. This trend is a result not just of new security threats, but also the exponential increase in the volume of data organizations are processing and generating. Of particular concern are the large amounts of personal data (e.g., protected health information [PHI] and personally identifiable information [PII]), used in heavily regulated industries such as healthcare, finance, and the public sector.
Data Security Regulations
Industries and governments throughout the world maintain regulatory compliance frameworks that pertain to data security requirements, how specific types of data should be handled, where certain data can be kept, and more. A few of the major compliance frameworks include:
The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) grants California residents the right to know what personal data businesses collect, share, or sell, as well as the right to opt out of these actions.
The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) standardizes an approach to the assessment and authorization of cloud service providers working with US federal agencies.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires businesses to promptly report data breaches as well as obtain consent to process the personal data of EU citizens, who reserve the right to access, modify, and erase it.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) imposes privacy and security requirements on US healthcare providers and entities handling PHI.
ISO/IEC 27001 lays out an approach for organizations to establish, maintain, and improve information security management, focusing on risk assessment, security controls, and ongoing monitoring.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework offers a comprehensive set of guidelines for organizations to reduce security risks and improve cybersecurity resilience.
The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) obligates organizations handling credit card transactions to implement encryption, access controls, and more to protect cardholder data.
These and other frameworks are frequently reviewed and amended to reduce organizational data risk as much as possible. More on risk in the next section.
The Biggest Risks to Data Security
It’s safe to assume that data is at risk no matter what, so it’s important to know what to look out for when handling it. Some of the biggest data risks include:
Unauthorized access and insider threats: Weak or compromised authentication mechanisms can allow unauthorized users from inside or outside an organization to gain access to sensitive data and intellectual property.
Vulnerabilities and misconfigurations: Unpatched software can contain known vulnerabilities that enable hackers to gain access. Insecure configurations can create similar gaps even in otherwise secure systems.
Ransomware and other malware:Ransomware can encrypt, exfiltrate, destroy, and/or leak data, potentially causing catastrophic data loss. Other forms of malware can do anything from spying on users’ activities to giving attacks control of the system.
Phishing and social engineering:Phishing attacks, often delivered via email, use manipulative social engineering techniques to trick users into revealing login credentials or sensitive information.
Insufficient data encryption: Transmitting or storing an organization’s data in plaintext—without encryption—puts it at greater risk of being intercepted by unauthorized parties.
Third-party and cloud security risks: Outsourcing data processing or storage to third parties can introduce risk if their security is lacking, shared security responsibilities are unclear, configuration mistakes occur, and so on.
To mitigate these risks, it’s critical to have a holistic cybersecurity strategy that includes robust access controls, vulnerability management, strong encryption, continuous real-time monitoring, auditing, and more.
Different Data Security Solutions
Effectively protecting data requires multiple security controls working together as one to provide comprehensive protection for data at rest and in motion.
Here are some of the basic and most common means of keeping data secure:
Data encryption is a process wherein plaintext data is converted into scrambled ciphertext using an encryption algorithm and an encryption key, which can subsequently be reverted to plaintext with a decryption key.
Tokenization disguises data values to appear as a non-sensitive values to threat actors. Also called data masking, tokenization links these placeholders, or tokens, back through to their sensitive counterparts.
Firewalls,in the traditional sense, secure data by managing network traffic between hosts and end systems to ensure complete data transfers. They allow or block traffic based on port and protocol and make decisions based on defined security policies.
In addition to these, other more advanced solutions help fend off modern advanced threats:
Data loss prevention (DLP) technologies monitor and inspect data at rest, in motion, and in use to detect breaches and attempted data erasure or exfiltration. The most sophisticated DLP solutions are part of a broader data protection platform built to secure users, apps, and devices anywhere.
Identity and access management (IAM) secures data by enforcing access control policies throughout an organization. IAM typically grants users access to resources through multifactor authentication (MFA), which may include single sign-on (SSO), biometric authentication, and more.
Zero trust network access (ZTNA) enables secure access to internal apps for users regardless of their location, granting access on a need-to-know, least-privileged basis defined by granular policies. ZTNA securely connects authorized users to private apps without placing them on the private network or exposing the apps to the internet.
Data Security Best Practices
You’ll need to take a few steps beyond simply deploying data security measures if you want to maximize their effectiveness. Here are some ways to help ensure you’re getting the most out of your data security:
Perform regular risk assessments: Understanding where your organization’s vulnerabilities lie helps your team and leadership see where you can close open doors for hackers.
Maintain regulatory compliance: Operating within given compliance frameworks not only reduces risk but helps your bottom line, as noncompliance penalties can be steep.
Keep high-quality data backups: Good data backups are a crucial component of modern security, especially with ransomware on the rise.
Set strict security policies: This may seem obvious, but many breaches stem from a lapse in policy that ends up letting a bad actor in through an unlocked door.
Zscaler Data Protection follows users and the apps they access—protecting anywhere and anytime against data loss. Our Zero Trust Exchange™ inspects traffic inline, encrypted or not, and ensures your SaaS and public cloud apps are secure while delivering a dramatically streamlined approach to protection and operations—benefits not possible with legacy on-premises solutions.
Zscaler Data Protection secures the four major sources of data loss by:
Preventing data loss to the internet: Enterprise data is threatened when users access the internet and its risky destinations. Legacy appliances can’t follow users off-network or secure their web traffic. The cloud native Zscaler platform scales to inspect all traffic, everywhere. A single DLP policy protects data across web, email, endpoint, SaaS, and private apps, along with advanced classification techniques.
Securing SaaS data with CASB: Securing data at rest in SaaS apps is critical for security—it only takes two clicks to share data with an unauthorized user through apps like Microsoft OneDrive. Our integrated, multimode CASB secures SaaS apps without the cost and complexity of a point product. Inline functionality delivers full shadow IT discovery and control. Out-of-band DLP and ATP remediate risky file sharing and malware at rest in the cloud.
Protecting public cloud data: Most cloud breaches are caused by dangerous misconfigurations or excessive permissions. Zscaler CSPM and CIEM find and remediate potentially fatal misconfigurations, compliance violations, permissions, and entitlements; continuous scanning prioritizes risk. Integrated SaaS security posture management extends this functionality to apps like Microsoft 365, Salesforce, and Google Workspace.
Securing unmanaged devices: BYOD and other unmanaged devices are significant threats to data. Zscaler Browser Isolation safely enables unmanaged device access without the performance challenges of VDI or reverse proxy. The solution streams data as pixels from an isolated session in the Zero Trust Exchange, enabling BYOD, but preventing data loss via downloading, copying, pasting, and printing.
Data security refers to keeping data safe from cyberthreats and data loss, whereas data privacy speaks more to the regulations and policies that revolve around the proper use of data to lower risk for a business and its customers.
For example, data protection will secure a transfer of data between a public cloud and endpoint whereas a data privacy law such as GDPR ensures that companies are using their customers’ data in a responsible and ethical manner.
How Do You Implement Data Security?
Data security is not an all-at-once implementation. Rather, it’s programmatic, with different products and functions for data protection, privacy, and compliance making up a holistic data security strategy.
How Do You Respond to a Data Security Incident?
A Security Operations (SecOps) team is responsible for mitigating data breaches and/or data loss. If the team discovers a data breach or that a threat is inside the environment and searching for data, they must hunt the threat or discover the source of the breach to remediate it.
How Can Healthcare Organizations Ensure They Have Strong Data Security Protocols in Place?
It’s much harder for businesses handling healthcare data to ensure the tools they’re using work within HIPAA guidelines. To this end, it’s important that IT security professionals representing these businesses remain in close contact with their IT partners or consultants to ensure the products they offer remain compliant.