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Data Security Best Practices For Companies

The consequences of data security issues for companies are already dramatic and are only going to get bigger and more impactful. To counter the new cybersecurity risks, companies must invest in data security and consider data security one of the core business activities.

In this article, you’ll learn about best practices in data security as well as concepts that you should know about in order to protect a company’s digital infrastructure.

Data Security Best Practices

Protecting your slice of the internet is no small task. That is why it makes sense to leverage the collective knowledge of other experts. Below are some common best practices in data security that help to reduce the likelihood of data breaches:

  • Access control: Access control sets boundaries on what a user can do within a system. This is pivotal in ensuring that people who leverage your resources (either as clients or employees) are unable to abuse privileges, which can result in data security breaches. An example is granting some users access to view or create specific data that ties to their role, but restricting them from being able to modify or delete any data on the platform.
  • Authentication: This creates measures to identify users who try to access data, which helps ensure transparency and enforces access control. The goal is to create a system where only the most trusted users have unrestricted access to data.
  • Patching: The days of yearly security updates are long gone. New data security vulnerabilities are exposed every day, sometimes in unexpected places. An example of this is the use of the favicon to carry out malicious actions on digital platforms. Patching is the regular practice of identifying vulnerabilities and protecting platforms from them.

How to Secure Data

Securing data can’t only be done once. Rather, data security involves a whole chain of activities that must be carried out. Some of these activities also help create new platforms to collect and store data. The following practices are advised.

Data Privacy

Data privacy defines what data you’re obtaining from users and how the data will be used. There have been multiple political and industry discussions around how best to handle this. Adequate investment in data privacy is not just in the interest of your clients; it’s necessary for protecting your bottom line from government sanctions.

It’s worth noting that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is one of the most common policies out there. In July 2021, Amazon reported an $877 million GDPR fine, which many believe was levied over Amazon’s cookie policy.

Data privacy can be implemented through the use of data loss prevention (DLP) software, which monitors and prevents the sharing of sensitive data outside the domain where it is stored or used. To make DLP work, you must categorize data and implement relevant policies. After data is categorized, user roles can be granted relative to seniority and specific job duties.

Another option is using software that reads and analyzes data before it is sent or received, using the metadata or the content of the file. While this isn’t effective with media content like pictures and videos, it goes a long way with written documents.

Awareness of Vulnerabilities

The saying “yesterday’s touchdowns don’t win today’s game” is relevant here. Data security experts, software engineers, and every professional associated with a software solution must ensure that they monitor the product for new vulnerabilities.

This is one of the areas in which complacency can set in. Just because your digital infrastructure hasn’t been attacked doesn’t mean it can’t be attacked. Monitoring can feel repetitive and mundane, but it’s important to continuously evaluate the level of security of any platform or resource that holds data.

Keeping up with the latest data security practices is one good step. You can also keep tabs on the state of a software solution using automation testing as well as automated breach and attack simulations. These tests and assessments are available through several third-party solutions.

OWASP Recommendations

OWASP, or the Open Web Application Security Project, is the closest thing cybersecurity experts have to a constitution. Addressing the OWASP top ten cybersecurity concerns will prevent most cybersecurity threats. It still may not be enough to ensure security, but it’s a strong start. Keeping up with OWASP is a good way to stay informed on important developments in cybersecurity and leverage the shared knowledge of experts all over the world.

Least Access

According to the concept of least access, clients and users shouldn’t be given more privileges than they need to be able to use the product. As a rule of thumb, it’s better to give less than they need and allow them to request more access as necessary than to offer fuller access and hope to figure it out later.

The principle of least access is enforced through authentication, authorization, and access user roles. These should be handled through policy, documentation, and software implementation.

Least access is also a failsafe that ensures that some crucial transactions aren’t completed by a single individual. Usually, checks and balances exist to ensure that critical requests are first approved by one or more individuals. For data security, entities or clients shouldn’t have access to the data of other entities. Data belonging to an entity should also be stratified so that only administrative or super users have full access to all data and resources.

User Roles

User roles are a key component of data security because it’s highly unlikely that data will exist outside of human supervision. Precautions should be taken when enforcing stratification in data access. The reality is that digital infrastructure is more likely to be compromised as a result of human error than anything else.

User roles enforce role-specific access and help reduce the fallout from a data breach should a user be compromised. Implementation of user roles typically leverages role-based access control (RBAC) or attribute-based access control (ABAC) to enforce least access and to ensure data security risk is reduced.

With role-specific access, a developer wouldn’t have access to the deployment environment because that would be restricted to the DevOps team. Likewise, database access might be restricted to the database management team. Role-based restrictions like these mean that you can more easily limit the consequences of an employee compromise to that employee’s unit. RBAC also makes it easier to hold teams accountable without the staff placing blame on other teams (which is common in organizations without role-based access).

Data Masking

A lot of data moves around inside of software solutions and databases. When data must interact with clients via a frontend interface or a payload, that data can be compromised from overposting, or sharing more data than is needed, during a data transfer or data request. This seemingly innocuous process presents ample opportunity for malignant actors to gain access to personally identifiable information (PII), which is a data security risk.

Data masking hides PII to keep critical data safe from prying eyes. It can be implemented through the use of software solutions such as RudderStack’s Transformations feature, which handles data masking, attribute removal, and event filtering. This ensures that you don’t reveal users’ private data during transfer or while exposing resources to clients.

Encryption

Unlike with data masking, you want the intended receiver to have access to the data. Encryption enables the transfer of sensitive data while eliminating the risk of a hacker stealing data while in transit. This is a viable solution when the intended receiver has the encryption keys to decrypt the data at its destination. Encryption of data has become the norm in data transfer, and there are encryption tools to make the process easier for both sender and receiver.

Encryption is arguably the most sustainable way to ensure data security in motion and at rest, because of the volume of spyware that constantly monitors and tries to intercept data traffic. Encryption ensures any data that’s compromised is rendered useless to the interceptor. Even data that is at rest (in databases and/or archives) benefits from an added layer of encryption in order to reduce litigation and leakage of sensitive information in the event of a cyber attack.

While it’s best to have employees who are properly trained and committed to protecting the data of your organization, tools like AWS GuardDuty and AWS Inspector can help spot security vulnerabilities in data at rest and in motion while providing suggestions to plug holes in your security. Another threat prevention tool, a web application firewall (WAF), goes a long way toward protecting your data from compromises that occur by mistake or as a result of a targeted attack.

Logging and Monitoring

When you’re auditing or investigating a mishap, your ability to know when it happened and who did what can be a huge lifesaver. Monitoring can also give early warnings during cyberattacks. A lot of threats and critical actions involving the creation, transfer, or modification of data can be spotted due to logging and monitoring.

There are several third-party logging and monitoring solutions available depending on your needs, and using one of them can make the process of logging and monitoring seamless. It pays to use an off-the-shelf application, because this saves development time and provides application support from a team that specializes in the practice.

Asset Inventory

It can be surprising how many organizations aren’t aware of everything they own. Asset inventory isn’t the most sought-after activity, since it’s mostly manual and takes up a lot of time for large organizations.

However, asset inventory is necessary to identify devices that require cybersecurity patches, details on high-risk assets that can be compromised, and other possible areas where cybersecurity should be taken seriously. Asset management is implemented through the manual and digital identification of assets. Implementing asset inventory involves keeping accurate digital records of these assets as well as who is responsible for them.

Multi-Factor Authentication

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is an innovative implementation that makes it difficult for hackers to breach data security installations through the credentials or authorized devices owned by clients or employees. Resources that can implement MFA include digital token-key generators, hardware token-key generators, secret questions, one-time password (OTP) systems, and authenticator applications.

MFA is a must when you look at the dizzying statistics regarding device theft and loss. Over 70 million people lose their smartphones yearly, for instance. MFA limits the possibility of data security breaches regardless of possible device compromises, providing a virtually foolproof digital infrastructure.

VPCs and VPNs

The use of virtual private cloud (VPC) and virtual private network (VPN) infrastructure is instrumental in creating a type of sandbox that isolates your organization’s data from the general internet. VPCs and VPNs have become necessary not just for data protection but for enabling seamless remote working opportunities without compromising data safety. Many VPCs and VPNs come equipped with firewalls and other nice-to-have features that go a step further in ensuring the data security of your enterprise.

Load Balancing

The use cases for data warehouses vary between organizations. While some data warehouses are used for in-house analysis, others are queried by multiple individuals for various purposes. Queries performed on data warehouses are also not equal. Some queries are more expensive than others, requiring a lot of processing power, and can create problems if unmanaged. This is especially true if users and their activities on your platform aren’t properly monitored with respect to how much your data warehouse can deliver per query.

Load balancers help ensure that your data warehouse doesn’t take on more than it can handle. This helps prevent distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, which can cost an average $300,000 per hour of downtime and an average $3.86 million in losses due to data breaches. Compared to these costs, load balancing is a small price to pay.

Conclusion

The subject of data security can feel like a rabbit hole because there’s so much to learn, especially since things change quickly as cybercriminals and technologies evolve. However, you should now have a solid grounding in some crucial best practices for data security. Following these practices will help you to guarantee the protection of digital infrastructure under your care, ensuring the safety of organizations as well as individual users.

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