Protect sensitive data: a guide for your business

Protect sensitive data

In a world where a DNA test can unlock the stories of our past, it was hard to imagine these discoveries leading to danger. DNA testing kits, often given as gifts, opened up new worlds of understanding about where we come from.

But in October 2023, a significant data breach turned these journeys of discovery into something much more troubling. A bad actor not only accessed but categorized this data, targeting people based on their heritage, like those with Ashkenazi Jewish and Chinese backgrounds. This incident sparked fears, especially when it coincided with violence in Israel and Gaza.

This breach served as a reminder of the risks associated with handling sensitive information and the devastating impact of a security breach. The response from 23andMe, the company involved, drew criticism for not doing enough to protect its users' data and for blaming the victims.

This event highlights how crucial it is to protect sensitive data. It shows us why understanding sensitive data and ensuring its safety is so important. Keeping sensitive information secure is not just about technical steps; it's about protecting our identity and privacy. In this article, we'll explore the nature of sensitive data and discuss ways to safeguard it.

Understanding sensitive data

Sensitive data is information that needs careful handling to prevent harm to a person or an organization if it gets leaked. It covers various personal and business details that laws protect or are private by nature. This includes things like social security numbers, bank details, health records, and secret business information such as security plans or unique technologies.

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Keeping sensitive data safe is key to avoiding identity theft, financial loss, and preserving privacy. To protect sensitive data, it's important to follow strong security practices, comply with data protection laws, and always prioritize the safety of personal information. These efforts help in securing sensitive data against unauthorized access and data breaches.

Examples of sensitive data

No one ever wants to face a security breach or lose any data. Yet, losing sensitive information can have far worse consequences than losing ordinary data. While it may seem that sensitive data only refers to personal identifiable information, its scope is actually much broader. Here's a list to help you understand whether your business deals with sensitive information:

Examples of sensitive data
  1. Personal Identifiable Information (PII): data that can identify an individual, such as names, social security numbers, and home addresses.

  2. Financial information: bank account numbers, credit card details, and investment information.

  3. Health information: medical records, treatment history, and insurance details, which are essential for protecting patient privacy.

  4. Employment information: details like employee ID numbers, payroll information, and performance evaluations.

  5. Educational records: student IDs, academic history, and admission applications.

  6. Legal information: criminal records, legal disputes, and court documents. Securing sensitive data in this category is vital for respecting individuals' privacy and upholding justice.

  7. Commercially sensitive information: trade secrets, business strategies, and customer information, which are critical for a company's competitive edge.

  8. Biometric data: fingerprints, DNA profiles, and facial recognition data.

  9. Internet and network information: IP addresses, login IDs, and browsing histories.

  10. Government-issued IDs and documents: passports, driver's licenses, and social security cards. Protecting these documents is essential for preventing identity theft.

  11. Location data: GPS data and travel itineraries that can reveal an individual's movements.

  12. Communications: private emails, text messages, and chat histories. Ensuring this data's security helps protect personal information and prevent unauthorized access.

As you can see, the range of sensitive data is quite extensive. If your business handles any of these types of information, it's crucial to consider how to protect it. It's about safeguarding your stakeholders' trust and preventing a security breach that could have devastating consequences. Securing sensitive data should be a top priority for your business.

Compliance regulations for protecting sensitive data

Compliance regulations guide organizations on how to keep sensitive data safe from security violations.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union is a key example. It provides strict rules for handling data and ensures people have control over their personal information.

In the United States, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) lets people manage their own data, affecting how companies deal with sensitive information.

Healthcare and finance are areas with their own rules. In the U.S., the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) keeps patients' health information private. The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) sets rules for businesses that process credit card payments.

Following these rules is about more than avoiding penalties. It's about building trust by protecting sensitive data.

How to protect sensitive data

Securing sensitive data involves a blend of strategies to keep information safe from data compromises.

Ways to protect sensitive data

Adopt Zero Trust architecture

Zero Trust architecture is becoming essential as cyber threats grow more sophisticated.

It operates on the principle that no one inside or outside the network is trusted by default. Every access request is verified.

This method is especially effective in environments where remote work is common, as it can significantly reduce the risk of breaches. However, due to its complexity and cost, small businesses might find it challenging to implement. For instance, large corporations like Google have successfully adopted Zero Trust to secure their networks.

Use Advanced Endpoint Protection

Advanced Endpoint Protection, through EDR (Endpoint Detection and Response) or XDR (Extended Detection and Response) solutions, provides comprehensive monitoring and response to threats targeting devices connected to a network.

It's valuable for companies with many endpoints to protect, including remote devices. Industries like finance and healthcare, which deal with a lot of sensitive data, can benefit greatly from this method.

However, it might be less effective in environments that do not regularly update or patch their systems. But it's generally challenging to protect systems that aren't kept up-to-date. Think back to the Wannacry attack, which affected over 300,000 computers globally. This happened largely because of neglected Windows system updates. Even if your operations need to run 24/7, scheduling those patches and updates is crucial.

Encrypt data

Data encryption secures information at rest and in transit, making it unreadable without a decryption key. It's a fundamental practice for all types of companies, from small businesses to large enterprises.

Encryption is critical for industries such as healthcare and banking, where data privacy is a legal requirement. However, encryption can be less effective if the encryption keys are not managed securely or outdated encryption methods are used.

Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA)

MFA improves security by requiring users to provide two or more verification factors to access sensitive data. It's particularly effective in preventing unauthorized access due to stolen or weak passwords. MFA suits all types of companies. However, it may be less effective if users choose insecure backup authentication methods, like easily answered security questions.

Deploy Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASBs)

CASBs protect data as they move to and from the cloud, making them essential for businesses using cloud services. They help enforce security policies and provide visibility into cloud application usage.

CASBs are particularly useful for organizations with a significant cloud presence but may offer limited benefits for companies not utilizing cloud services extensively. Large companies like Netflix use CASBs to secure their cloud environments.

Conduct regular security audits and penetration testing

Security audits and penetration testing identify and address vulnerabilities. They are crucial for maintaining a strong security posture.

They benefit organizations of all sizes but are particularly critical for those in sectors with high regulatory requirements, such as finance and healthcare.

However, these practices require skilled professionals to conduct, which might be a barrier for smaller organizations.

Secure your supply chain

It's important to make your supply chain secure because attackers often search for weak spots to attack. Make sure every supplier and partner follows your security rules. This builds a strong defense together.

If you run a small business, you can start by discussing security steps with your suppliers. Bigger companies might check their suppliers' security more formally and help them get better at protecting data.

Plan incident response

A predefined incident response plan will help organizations respond quickly and effectively to a security breach. This approach is suitable for all companies, as it minimizes the damage and costs associated with data breaches. But don't forget to regularly update the plan and train employees on their roles during an incident.

Use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML)

AI and ML are used for predictive threat detection and behavioral analytics. They help identify potential threats before they occur.

Using AI for cybersecurity is particularly useful for large organizations with vast amounts of data to analyze for cyber threat patterns.

Apply data masking and tokenization

Data masking and tokenization protect sensitive information in non-secure environments by replacing it with non-sensitive equivalents. This method is great for development and testing environments where real data is risky to use. But it's unnecessary for companies that do not use sensitive data outside secure environments.

How NordLayer can help

NordLayer's Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) solution is changing how businesses protect sensitive data by merging network and security features into a unified, cloud-based service. This method makes it easier to secure sensitive data, lowers the chance of data breaches, and aids in preventing identity theft by using cutting-edge technologies like SD-WAN and security services.

By choosing SASE, companies can safeguard data security for all users and devices. It is a reliable method for protecting personal information and sensitive data from the constantly changing threats.

NordLayer provides businesses with various tools to protect sensitive data, including SaaS security, secure remote access, and threat prevention. These tools join forces to offer thorough protection for sensitive data, improve data security, and ensure secure data processing. This simplifies the management of security policies and reduces the complexity found in traditional security setups.

NordLayer addresses business needs for sensitive data protection in any setting. Contact our sales team for a simplified solution for securing data processing and reducing the risk of security breaches.

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