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6 Data Loss Prevention Tips to Protect Your Information Assets

Today’s businesses store vast amounts of data within their IT systems. As we discussed, this data can hold an immense amount of value, but it can also expose businesses to a range of risks in the form of data loss, whereby information is stolen, lost, misused, or subject to unauthorised alteration, deletion or viewing. The consequences of data loss can be far-reaching and extremely injurious, so it’s imperative that businesses do all they can to prevent it.

Data loss prevention (DLP) is a blanket term for technical and organisational controls an organisation can apply to prevent the compromise, loss or theft of sensitive information. A data loss prevention strategy should aim to identify and classify sensitive information, monitor its use business-wide, and apply controls that prevent it being misused, insecurely handled, viewed or altered by those it’s not intended for.

To maintain compliance with regulations and standards like GDPR and PCI DSS, it’s vital to gain visibility over data within your control, understand how that data is being used and the risks it’s exposed to, and implement policies and controls to maintain security and confidentiality. In this blog, we’ll outline 6 ways your Reading or Berkshire business can safeguard its information assets by leveraging effective data loss prevention strategies.

 

Appoint a Data Protection Officer

To get your data loss prevention (DLP) strategy off on the best possible footing, appoint a data protection officer. This should be someone within your business with DLP skills or experience. They should ideally possess knowledge of data protection regulations, have data risk assessment experience, and awareness of breach response or reporting procedures.

While appointing someone to undertake DPO responsibilities is advisable in any case, the appointment of a dedicated DPO may be legally mandated upon your business based on the type of data it processes, under the requirements of GDPR. You’re required to appoint a DPO if:

  • You undertake regular and systematic monitoring of data subjects.
  • You process large volumes of ‘special category’ data.
  • You undertake any form of ‘large-scale processing’ involving personally identifiable information.

If you’re not confident in your in-house data loss prevention expertise, reach out to external support in the form of a managed security service provider or your IT support provider. They’ll be able to work with you to develop a comprehensive DLP strategy, and establish the controls you need to effectively govern and safeguard information.

 

Classify Your Data According to Its Sensitivity

Before you can apply data loss prevention mechanisms, you should first gain visibility and awareness of your business’s data processing landscape. The end goal of this process is to identify and classify the most sensitive and business-critical information types, and apply the appropriate controls to this data both at rest and in-transit, with a view to preventing data loss. Here are some steps you should take to inform an effective DLP strategy:

  • Carry out a data audit. Create an inventory of all the data your business processes and stores. Recognise and catalogue all storage locations, including databases, file systems, cloud storage accounts, desktop devices, mobile devices and portable storage media.
  • Map data flows. Visualise and map the way data is transferred between departments, across systems and how it’s shared with external parties.
  • Define classification criteria and identify sensitive information types. Establish classification criteria covering every data type your business holds. Delineate each category of information according to its sensitivity and level of criticality for your business. Pay close attention to your regulatory obligations to ensure information afforded elevated legal provisions is correctly identified. Sensitive information types should include personally identifiable information (PII), banking details, finance information, patient healthcare records and intellectual property (IP).

Consider using a data classification tool to help you identify and label sensitive information. These tools apply automation to scan content and metadata for the attributes of sensitive information. This can reduce the manual effort required, and greatly expedite the data classification process.

 

Apply the ‘Principle of Least Privilege’

Identity and Access Management (IAM) is a crucial component of data loss prevention. IAM should adhere to the principle of least privilege: a security concept that advocates granting user privileges and access rights based on job role necessity. This approach helps minimise data protection and cyber security risks.

Here are some things you can do to ensure your identity and access management efforts help support your data loss prevention strategy:

  • Implement Role-based access controls (RBAC). Allocate permissions and data access according to job role. This gives staff the resources and capabilities they need to complete role-related tasks, while limiting access to sensitive information and mitigating account takeover risks.
  • Conduct access reviews. Continuously reassess the permissions granted to employees to ensure their access rights always align with their current responsibilities. This is vital for ensuring that access is withdrawn following role changes. Ensure that all access rights and privileges are immediately withdrawn from individuals who leave your company.
  • Implement Access Monitoring. Ensure you have the facility to track, record and audit user activities and access events. This ensures you’re able to respond to and investigate unsanctioned access activity in a timely manner.
  • Deploy Multi-factor authentication. Multi-factor authentication helps reliably verify the identities of those trying to access your digital systems and data repositories, by requiring an additional identifier in addition to an account password. Activate this extra layer of protection where you have it available.

Use Encryption

Encryption is a data security technique that involves converting information into an indecipherable code, that can only be decoded into its original format by those possessing the ‘decryption key.’

Encryption is one of relatively few data protection controls actively advocated by the GDPR as an ‘appropriate technical measure.’

There are a number of options you can consider for applying encryption, the implementation of which should depend on the criticality and sensitivity of the data stored and handled within each setting:

  • Mobile Device Encryption. Mobile devices often incorporate native encryption features which can be activated to protect data in the event of device loss or theft.
  • Cloud Encryption. Reputable cloud service providers tend to offer encryption capabilities to protect data in transit, server-side and client-side. Most of these features are enabled by default, but in the case of client-side encryption you may have to proactively activate it.
  • Email Encryption. Email encryption is an effective safeguard that protects sensitive data held within emails against malicious interception. Leading email services usually offer either end-to-end encryption features, or support the integration of third-party encryption tools.
  • Database Encryption. Modern database management systems usually contain in-built encryption features that can be used to apply encryption at both file and database level. Backups and log files should also be encrypted.
  • Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). A VPN creates a secure, encrypted tunnel that protects data as it travels across networks. A VPN can help remote workers access resources securely, supports secure communication pathways between dispersed office locations, and applies encryption between users and cloud services for elevated data privacy.

 

Have an Incident Response Plan

While prevention is the best course of action when it comes to data loss incidents, it’s important to be prepared in the event that circumstances outside your control cause your data to become compromised. An incident response plan gives your business an actionable strategy for recovering from a data breach, and limiting the spread of harm to other systems and data storage locations.

Incident response measures are also a crucial component of maintaining data availability, which itself is a legal obligation under data protection laws such as the GDPR. Therefore, by implementing a comprehensive incident response strategy, you not only assure that you’re able to restore data and critical business processes, but you also help your business stay secure and compliant.

Ensure your incident response plan achieves the following:

  • Limit the spread of harm. The plan should make provisions for minimising further data loss and/or operational disruption. This might involve neutralising or creating barriers to an active threat, isolating or shutting down affected systems, and beginning the data recovery process.
  • Notify affected parties. Create guidance on how and when affected parties should be notified of the breach event, ensuring the details align with your regulatory and legal obligations.
  • Guidance on investigative procedures. Your plan should outline the steps to be taken to conduct a thorough investigation into the incident. Such actions might include reviewing activity logs, conducting forensic examinations of impacted systems, and putting questions to individuals connected with the breach.
  • Rectify Security Vulnerabilities. The plan should assist your business in identifying security vulnerabilities and deficiencies in security controls, so that you can take proactive action that reduces the chance of such a breach occurring again. Such action might include patching vulnerabilities in software systems, introducing new security controls and threat countermeasures, and making changes to security policies and data handling practices.

 

Enrol Staff in Security Awareness Training

The majority of data breaches can be traced back to end user error in some form. Whether that’s poor password hygiene that leads to an account takeover, or an employee complying with the requests of a phishing scammer, end user negligence or cyber security naivety can materialise as a harmful data breach incident in the absence of proper staff security awareness training.

Security awareness training involves equipping staff with the knowledge they need to identify and inhibit the most common cyber threats, as well as introducing them to security best practices that promote safe data handling and account management hygiene. Training should focus on raising awareness of phishing attacks: the single biggest online threat faced by businesses. It should advise on the dangers of opening unsolicited email attachments and downloading software from untrusted websites. User account security should also feature heavily, including the importance of using unique and complex account passwords, and deploying multi-factor authentication where available.

 

Training regimes should be reinforced by the introduction of information security policies, which set out clear guidance and instructions on the secure use of your business’s IT systems, and employee responsibilities in relation to the secure and compliant handling of sensitive information types. Through regular refresher training, breach simulation exercises and providing information on emerging online security threats, you can foster a culture of cyber security awareness that supports your business in keeping its data secure and tightly controlled.

 

Final Thoughts

Data loss can have severe legal, financial, and reputational consequences for any business. Fortunately, you have the power to minimise the chances of data loss incidents and mitigate their impact should disaster strike. By taking inspiration from the points discussed in this article, and working closely with your business’s technology partner, you can construct a sound data loss prevention strategy that empowers you to maintain a firm grip on your business’s data, and keep sensitive information away from cybercriminals.

 

Solution Consultants – Superlative IT Services for Reading and Berkshire Businesses

Based in Reading, Solutions Consultants offers tailored IT services and futureproof solutions to help businesses overcome their greatest obstacles to operational success. We work closely with our clients to understand their IT pain points, and support them in their digital journey with solutions that deliver a tangible business value. Get in touch with us today for a friendly, no obligation chat about your tech challenges, and together, we can make IT propel the success of your business.

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