Over the past decade, data has transitioned from mere information to a precious asset. Numerous enterprises thrive on data, while others crumble with its loss. Customer personal information, analytics, financial transaction records and more hold monetary value. Yes, there's an abundance of informational "clutter" around, but even amid hard-to-spot data, a skilled cybercriminal can discover a gold mine.
The acceleration of information technology is rapid, with fresh information emerging and being processed every moment. Often, companies simply lack the time to sift the "wheat" from the "chaff" and, as a result, release sensitive data, like customers' home addresses for delivery, into the open.
Most firms have mastered data collection, some have ventured into processing it, and a fewer number into analyzing it, but not all have grasped how to safeguard it. In this article, we’ll explore what qualifies as sensitive data, how to shield it, and the primary blunders made while handling sensitive data.
What sets apart ordinary data from sensitive data?
With the trend of data accumulation in the market, corporations have embraced it wholeheartedly. This opens up numerous avenues for growth, business broadening and optimization, and introducing new offerings to the market. For instance, by scrutinizing customer conduct, you can present them with the products they need at the opportune moment. Or, simply, knowing customers' birthdays, send a discount coupon as a present, encouraging a new purchase. The possibilities are myriad, and they stem from entirely diverse data types. That's why enterprises amass data even before understanding its use. It's for the just-in-case scenario.
Similarly, it's not always feasible to instantly determine the significance of data and the extent of protection required. Some opt for overcaution, storing data securely from the outset, while others leave it in public view, thus risking it. The sensitivity of data can be gauged by asking — what’s the fallout if it’s pilfered?
Two outcomes exist. Nothing occurs — the data isn't sensitive. The offender, directly or indirectly, could inflict harm on the business or customers. For instance, by pilfering personal data, like full names and phone numbers, and releasing them online, the company’s reputation takes a hit. Or, by stealing an individual’s data — their address, purchasing tendencies, and, say, date of birth, orchestrate a social engineering assault.
Sensitive data encompasses information that could potentially jeopardize its possessor. For regular folks, it’s mainly personal and financial data, medical details, relationship data, personal visuals, and data on preferences. For companies, it includes internal business records, customer and employee databases, confidential documents, market evaluations, and the like.
Recognizing sensitive data
The theft or exposure of sensitive data undermines a company's customer privacy, triggers financial setbacks, and could even threaten an organization’s security. Hence, distinguishing sensitive personal data from common data is crucial. This involves carrying out a data classification and risk assessment.
This could encompass evaluating potential damage in case of a data breach, as well as examining legal mandates for specific data types. Primarily, anything related to sensitive information and personal data should be guarded. However, the task of identifying data types doesn’t conclude here. For instance, trade secrets can be shielded under 21 orders or at your discretion, but personal data must be classified and shielded by law. Information security experts opine that to pinpoint sensitive company data, the IS division, along with representatives from various sectors — accounting, legal, HR, and marketing — should formulate guidelines to identify sensitive information. The primary focus here would be potential financial or reputational harm from information leakage. Yet, the potential threat indicator of a data breach may not always be objective. Numerous cyber incidents involving social engineering demonstrate that even seemingly harmless data about a person can be utilized to perpetrate a crime.
Key blunders in handling sensitive data
Both enterprises and users can be culpable for sensitive data leakage. On the corporate side, the usual culprit is a basic disregard for information security norms. For instance, unprotected corporate networks, operating on outdated operating systems, or absence of antivirus protection. On the user side — unawareness of cyber hygiene norms and a lack of understanding of what data might be sensitive. Common errors enabling sensitive data leakage:
• Inadequate password and account safeguards
• Lack of data categorization within the firm
• Improperly set up security systems
• Absence of data encryption
• Employees are untrained in cyber hygiene
Moreover, information is often undervalued by both corporations and individuals. For instance, a person may deem their passport information crucial but be indifferent about sharing their health information on social networks. Like any other domain of information security, elementary measures are paramount. For example, remembering updates, prompt training of staff in cyber hygiene, and employing protective software.
The subject of sensitive data is steadily gaining traction, as only in recent times have assailants learnt to actively exploit personal or corporate data to commit offenses. For larger and more technologically advanced companies, the issue is being addressed at a more sophisticated level, as they have not only learnt how to analyze and segment data but also how to defend it. However, there's another facet to consider - the company service users themselves. They may possess minimal awareness of the worth of their personal data and trigger leaks.