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Hackernoon logoA Guide To Protecting Sensitive Business Data by@hayley-hoskins

A Guide To Protecting Sensitive Business Data

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@hayley-hoskinsHayley Hoskins

San Francisco-based business & tech blogger, internet nerd, and data enthusiast.

Each year, we’re witnessing growing trends of digitalization and connectivity. However, the more data businesses are storing digitally, the more exposed the data is to breaches.

Data breaches can have far-reaching consequences, from revealing sensitive information to public eyes and compromising your reputation to massive financial losses.

According to IBM’s Cost of a Data Breach Report for 2020, the average cost of a data breach is $3.86 million and it takes 280 days on average to identify and contain a breach.

When it comes to sensitive data, the stakes are simply too high so you need to handle it with care and do everything you can to protect it.

Classify your data

Data classification is the first step to successfully protecting your sensitive business data. Before you start creating security policies, you need to know what types of information you have in your arsenal.

Keep in mind that not all data is equally sensitive. Some information can be public, while you want to keep other data strictly confidential and restricted.

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Once you’ve determined the different levels of data sensitivity, you can direct your resources into protecting only the information that needs to be kept from the public eye.

Be selective

Now that you’ve classified your data, you can start to filter it out and decide which information you actually want to keep. 

While you must keep some records, trying to minimize your sensitive data collection should be something you strive to do. Remember —  the more sensitive the data you keep, the bigger the risk that it will fall into the wrong hands.

Have a clear retention policy

You might feel tempted to get rid of some data you think you’ll never really need, but there are some records you’re legally required to keep for a certain amount of time.

The retention period can vary depending on the type of information. Most of your important business data will go through your email system, so it’s crucial to have a good email archiving solution and a clear email retention policy.

You can use your current classification to organize different labels and design a specific retention policy for each category. That way, you’ll not only ensure that you’re following all the relevant regulations, but also be able to clear out your data from time to time and free up some storage.

So, how long should you keep your emails?

According to different retention policy requirements, some emails should be kept for up to 7 years. Although some regulatory bodies allow the retention period of only one year, it is recommended to keep your email data for at least 7 years if it’s not precisely specified by any regulatory body.

Secure the information you keep

Once you’ve classified your data and figured out what you want to keep and for how long, you need to make sure that every sensitive piece of business information you decide to keep is secure.

A reliable and secure storage solution is the foundation of every effective data protection strategy.

Most of the storage nowadays is cloud-base. These solutions usually come with multiple levels of security, but sometimes it’s not sufficient, especially if you’re dealing with hefty amounts of sensitive data.

Make sure that all of your sensitive data is encrypted before you upload it to the cloud. But encryption is only one layer of security. Some of the other methods that can help you reduce cybersecurity risks are multi-factor authentication, access control list (ACL), role-based access control (RBAC), activity monitoring, data loss prevention (DLP), etc. 

Keep your employees informed

According to a report by Kaspersky, careless or uninformed employees are the second most likely cause of serious security breaches, right after malware. No wonder that the three most common fears regarding cybersecurity are all related to employee behavior and human errors.

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That’s why keeping your employees educated and informed is of utmost importance for keeping your data secure and preventing data breaches.

Having clear data classification, strict security policies, and the right tools will help you ensure that everyone is on board.

Be prepared for an emergency

Even if you take all the necessary measures to prevent security breaches, accidents can still happen. According to the 2019 MidYear QuickView Report, there were 3,813 publicly disclosed breaches in the first half of 2019 only.

In case you ever find yourself in the middle of a data breach, it pays to have a response plan laid out in advance.

In case of an emergency, you should immediately shut down your system and close off existing vulnerabilities or threats. Start a detailed investigation to find out what’s causing the problem so you can start working on stopping it as soon as possible.

It is also important to have a detailed communication plan and clearly defined roles, so everyone knows exactly what they’re supposed to be doing in case of a breach.

Over to you

Your data is one of the most important assets of your company and keeping it safe in today’s digital world can be challenging. Follow these steps to minimize the risk of a data breach and protect your sensitive data from falling into the wrong hands.

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