What is Data Security? 

Data security is the practice of safeguarding a company or individual’s data that resides in a digital format and can be accessed – legally or not – via the internet. From an enterprise standpoint, there are many reasons a company would want to vigorously protect data: trade secrets, adhering to customer or patient data privacy laws, and maintaining a good public reputation.

Companies can go about securing critical data by building a robust cybersecurity program that includes both offensive and defensive measures to thwart would-be attackers and/or malicious actors.

Data Security vs. Data Privacy

There are a few key differences between these concepts. They might seem the same at first glance, but securing data is not always the same as maintaining privacy of data. There may be some data that are critical to secure, but that are partially available to anyone on the public internet.

To that point, the main difference to be aware of is that data security safeguards digital information while data privacy is the power of the owner of the digital information to control where it goes and who can access it.

That being said, these two concepts can and do regularly become conflated, particularly in the case of a data breach. In that scenario, the security of an organization’s data has been breached, which means customers who have previously submitted private data to the breached business have lost control of their private information. The two concepts are very entangled with one another and affect both business and customer/patient/user.

Why is Data Security Important? 

Data security is important because, as stated above, data security affects both a business and the people that interact with that business as customers, patients, users, contractors, partners, etc. When a person submits their personally identifiable information (PII) to an organization or business, there are certain expectations on the part of the person that the business will do everything in their power to protect that information.

Certain scenarios could be disastrous for a business’ reputation. These could include delayed communication to affected parties that their PII is part of a breach or the use of faulty security products that were exploited by bad actors.

What are the Benefits of Data Security? 

The benefits of data security are numerous and cannot be overstated. Let’s start with how data security affects a business. Staying aligned with regulatory standards – both internal and external – is critical to business continuity. Maintaining proper data security means a business is likely in good standing with governmental as well as internal compliance auditors with regard to specific standards like HIPAA, PCI DSS, or GDPR.

In terms of cloud service providers (CSPs), it is standard for a customer business’ data to be protected by multiple protocols when going to and from the cloud. Layers of data encryption are used to ensure the safety and security of data in transit. This provides peace of mind to businesses operating in the cloud.

In terms of reputation, the European Union’s Data Protection Guide for Small Business states that “an organization known for its diligent approach to data protection is more likely to retain users or customers.”

For customers, the main benefit is clear: their PII is protected and they need not worry about it ending up in the hands of a threat actor looking to sell stolen data or use it for any number of other nefarious purposes.

Types of Data Security

Data security as a concept is very pointed and clear: any individual or organization today must take it seriously if they do not wish to become a victim. The question is, how would a security organization go about protecting data in a well-rounded manner to more effectively thwart attackers?

Data Encryption 

Data encryption transforms the data’s original format into something unreadable. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, encrypted data typically will look like a long sequence of random letters and numbers, with the intended recipient usually in possession of a key that can decode the encrypted data into readable text.

Data Masking 

When a threat actor masks data, they are attempting to change the characters and numbers that make up the original configuration of the data. These changes are meant to create a feeling of confidence in users due to the fact that the data are still meant to look real. Of course, data masking can also help to secure code development processes and mitigate risks.

Data Erasure 

This process is meant to ensure peace of mind that data will not fall into the wrong hands due to the fact that – after it has completed its usefulness – it is erased from the internet. Of course, there is always the risk that a copy of sensitive data like PII remains somewhere on the internet or servers of threat actors.

Data Resiliency 

While attacks aren’t 100% inevitable, there is a high likelihood that anyone who has ever submitted data or completed a transaction over the internet will experience a breach of that data someday. And if that breach hobbled the organization’s defenses to an extreme degree, the question becomes one of data resiliency: how fast can the business or organization return operations to a normal baseline?

Data Security Risks

In attempting to secure data and impart as much confidence as possible to customers, providers always face risks. Threat actors are great at impersonation and there is always the very real possibility of simple human error, but let’s take a look at some specific risk scenarios:

Accidental Data Exposure 

No one ever intends to expose data and leave it vulnerable to threat actors, but sometimes it happens purely by accident or repetitive behaviors – like password reusing – that don’t have malice behind them. Think of it like this: Accidental data exposure is the same as accidentally enabling attackers, so good data-security hygiene is always a best practice.

Phishing and Social Engineering 

Phishing attacks typically arouse the interest of a user via a message intended to solicit a specific response like clicking a link in an email or a text message that could unknowingly download malware onto a phone or endpoint. If that endpoint is part of a larger enterprise network, it could leave the entire company vulnerable.

Insider Threats

Insider threats can come from employees, contractors, the C-Suite, or anyone else that has a connection to the business at hand. One person can – intentionally or unintentionally – not only leave a network open to a breach or attack, but can also help to further it.


A malware attack will typically execute unauthorized actions on a user’s system. The malicious software can come in the form of ransomware, spyware, and much more. In theory, a security organization would be properly trained and experienced enough to contain a malware attack before it affected an entire network.


Threat actors will deploy malicious code to disrupt an organization’s operations so they can hold the data hostage until a ransom is paid. The attackers’ hope is that the desire of the company to return to normal business operations will be so strong they will simply pay the ransom and be done with the entire situation.

Cloud Data Storage

As data travels through a cloud network, there are more inherent risks it will be intercepted and stolen than if an organization only operated on-premises data centers. In today’s world however, on-prem only is becoming an increasingly limiting option. Cloud providers enable fast-scaling, money-saving operations at an enterprise level. Therefore it is incumbent upon both the cloud services provider and its customers to work together in the shared responsibility model in order to secure the cloud and the data it contains.

Components of a Data Security Solution

The following is not an exhaustive list of the components an organization might need for an effective data security solution, but they are critical to its foundation. 

Authentication and Authorization 

As mentioned above, credentialing methodologies like IAM and MFA help ensure that only the right people have access to a system, network, or application.

Cloud Security

Cloud data security is the principle of protecting information and applications on public and private cloud platforms. This is accomplished by applying cybersecurity to cloud infrastructures, with the resulting groundwork working toward cloud security success in these more ephemeral environments. 

Data Loss Prevention (DLP)

Data Loss Prevention tools can help detect information that is being actively exfiltrated after a breach. They do this by monitoring network endpoint devices and analyzing the traffic and interactions for suspicious activity. Instituting credentialing and advanced identity checks for humans and endpoints can help to mitigate the risk.

Email Security

Securing enterprise email against unapproved users sounds like a challenge that might have been solved years ago, but with phishing attacks and data breaches so pervasive, email is still a primary opportunity area for threat actors.

Governance, Risk, and Compliance (GRC)

It's critical to ensure security solutions align with regulatory standards set forth by nation, state, local, or territory-specific governing bodies. Compliance obligations are always changing, so it’s important to build a plan that anticipates ever-shifting regulations.

Key Management

Key management puts encryption control in the hands of the user. For example, Google’s Key Management Service (KMS) enables cryptographic key management in a central cloud service and provides the flexibility to encrypt data with either a symmetric or asymmetric key in control by the user.

Network Access Control 

Put simply, network access control concerns who can access a company network or system and who can’t. Identity and access management (IAM) checks come into play here so that users can be properly authenticated.

Password Hygiene

This is the practice of ensuring passwords and authorization credentials are optimized to best protect sensitive data. This includes security protocols like multi-factor authentication (MFA), regularly changing passwords, and proactively cleaning up weak credentials across the organization.

Zero Trust 

In a zero trust security model, every human, endpoint, mobile device, server, network component, network connection, application workload, business process, and flow of data is inherently untrusted and must go through an authentication process to be granted access.

Data Security Standards

Let's now take a look at some of the many regulatory compliance standards meant to protect data across different industries and territories around the world. 

  • General Data Protection and Regulation (GDPR): The European Union (EU) GDPR requires the protection of personal data of EU citizens, regardless of the geographic location of the organization or the data. This includes technical and organizational security measures regularly updated to mitigate risks.
  • ISO/IEC 27001: ISO/IEC 27001 is a security management standard jointly published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), and specifies general security management best practices and controls.
  • California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA): This standard gives consumers more control over the personal information businesses collect about them and provides guidance on how to implement the law.
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA): This is a healthcare-specific standard that requires patient medical records and other protected health information (PHI) be safeguarded against security breaches.
  • Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX): SOX requires publicly traded companies to ensure their internal business processes are properly monitored and managed, due to the fact that financial reporting processes are driven by IT systems that need to be securely configured and properly maintained.
  • Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS): This compliance measure holds retail businesses to the standard of safeguarding credit cardholder information via strict security measures.

Data Security Best Practices

Of course, there are always best practices to follow to secure data. Let’s take a look at how organizations might go about keeping data secure on behalf of their customers – and their reputations:

  • Expand and consolidate visibility: Most enterprises lack visibility into all the cloud and container environments their teams use throughout each step of their digital supply chain. Implementing a system to continuously monitor all cloud and container services provides more insight into associated risks.
  • Prevent risk earlier: By leveraging Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) template scanning, security organizations can get context-rich results to help strengthen data security foundations. Solving problems in the CI/CD pipeline improves efficiency by correcting issues once as opposed to fixing them over and over again at runtime.
  • Embrace artificial intelligence (AI): AI-based tools can take on some of the repetitive and time-consuming tasks that security pros face, allowing analysts to tackle more nuanced data security issues while focusing only on the alerts and issues that matter most.
  • Leverage integrations and automation: Integrations allow teams to quickly and seamlessly coordinate actions across multiple vendor systems, making it easier to create a holistic security environment formed by a consistent set of controls. Automated actions – or even self-driven bots – across this set of controls enable more efficient responses to suspicious activity.

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