5 Sensitive Data Questions Every Business Should Know the Answer To

Over the years, the global digital landscape has witnessed significant changes. This trend is expected to continue in the coming years as well. Cyber threats, data privacy regulations, and vast interconnectivity -through the internet of things (IoT), bring your own device (BYOD), and virtual machines- have been the driving force behind this change. While all have welcomed these changes, there are certain risks associated with them. Wondering what these risks are and what can be done to mitigate them? Experts believe that business should adopt a data-centric approach to lower compliance risks and fight them successfully during a cyber-attack.

It is essential for every data-driven organization to be aware of certain essential questions and find answers to ensure that they can successfully manage an ever-growing database, data sprawl and address any data related challenges apart from gaining insights on how to manage data security and regulatory risk. Considering the growing cases of data breaches across the globe, you should make sensitive data management a business priority.
If your organization is planning to design a data management strategy soon, be sure you have an answer to each of the following questions.

1. What data is considered sensitive?

While sensitive data is generally defined as information that is protected against unwarranted disclosure, the specific definition or elements of sensitive data may vary from one business to another.

For instance, a retail business is most likely to treat customer financial data as sensitive data, and a pharma player may consider protection of trade secrets and intellectual property as sensitive data. A law firm usually treats customer data and privileged data as sensitive data.

Every company, irrespective of its size and industry vertical, should create a custom definition of ‘sensitive data’ keeping their business interest in mind.

2. Where is sensitive data stored?

Previously, security teams were responsible for managing data that was often stored in siloed geographic locations. Things have changed now as in today’s time, multi-cloud hybrid environments and virtualization mean security teams are responsible for dealing with humungous multi-dimensional landscapes located in data stores without any borders. The onus lies on the information security teams to map sensitive data across cloud repositories, private networks, and even the third-party applications along with offering business justification for any stored data.

Data mapping help companies to strengthen security efforts around sensitive and business –important data. During data breach, it prepares businesses to deal with the loss of impacted data. Data mapping also allow organizations to be aware of the vast extent of the data sprawl and identify the potential risks.

For instance, human error has been often the reason for accidentally spreading sensitive data – data hidden in excels, placed as notes in PPT or even part of an email thread. But when data is mapped, scanning happens which removes all sensitive information from the authorized locations and reduces the data breach threat.

3. Who has access to sensitive data?

After you determine what sensitive data is for your business and where it should be stored, it is time to decide who should be allowed to access the sensitive data. Roles and responsibilities decisions should be clearly documented and applied.

Apart from educating employees about efficient data handling, technical controls also help to reinforce data hygiene. Since hidden threats are lurking everywhere and difficult to control, use of advanced access management tools and multi-factor authentication ensure that only the right people have access to sensitive information.

4. When was the data transferred?

Maintaining data compliance is no easy task. Companies should be vigilant about their data transfer process. They should be aware of and track when the sensitive data was shared or transferred outside the organizational premises (such as to data processors, third-party vendors, or partners).

Businesses under the GDPR jurisdiction should keep a close watch on how the EU data subjects’ data is processed and managed outside Europe. It is essential to understand that GDPR has strict rules in places and fines organizations for violating norms. Did you know that viewing a file outside the European Economic Area is treated as data transfer? Cross-border data transfer should be treated with the utmost care. If needed, consult a vendor who will be able to offer end-to-end sensitive data audit and protection to help you meet GDPR compliance requirements.

5. What data management strategies should be followed?

Now it’s time to focus on designing a data-centric privacy strategy and management process. Looking at the global average cost of a data breach which, according to the Data Breach Study by Ponemon, jumped to 6.4% in 2018 with the average cost for each lost or stolen record (containing sensitive information) also going up by 4.8%, you’ll need to devise a foolproof data management strategy.

According to industry experts, your organization should initiate developing a data management strategy when the organization knows what sensitive data is available, where within structured, semi-structured, and unstructured formats it can all be found, and whether or not it is being masked or encrypted.

Final words

Ensuring sensitive data management and maintaining GDPR compliance for your organization depends on your answers to the questions above. After all, it takes years for a company to build trust and a moment to lose. Once lost, it is next to impossible to regain. So, regardless of you being a newbie in your market or a leader or somewhere in the pack, choose a proactive approach and follow the best practices to stay ahead of the curve.

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