Every organization, regardless of size or industry, needs a data loss prevention (DLP) plan. This includes all of the strategic tools and processes that will help a business avoid having their data lost, mishandled, or accessed by someone who shouldn’t have access.
Whether your goal is to protect customer data, intellectual property, or corporate data, your DLP policy should be crafted and implemented with great care. Failure to do so could result in catastrophe.
Data Loss Prevention Best Practices
It can be difficult to know where to start with DLP, so remembering a few key best practices can help ensure the long-term success of any DLP strategy:
- Assign user roles
- Classify your data
- Strategize your backups
- Eliminate unnecessary data
- Refine your policies and procedures
Assign user roles
Before doing anything else, it’s important to clearly outline the roles and responsibilities for everyone in the organization who plays a part in data loss prevention. As Baruch Labunski, CEO of Rank Secure, puts it, “DLP strategies involve many things but some of the best practices include identifying those in the company hierarchy and what their responsibilities or roles are within the DLP policies. You need to determine who creates policy, who makes revisions to it, and who implements it.”
This differentiation helps keep a tight leash on who is able to access your data. One of the best ways to prevent a data breach is to use the principle of least privilege, where individual users only have access to the information they need to do their jobs—nothing more and nothing less. That way, if a user’s account gets hacked or otherwise compromised, it’s easier to pinpoint how much data is at risk.
Clear-cut user roles also keep things running smoothly in a worst-case scenario. With other types of emergencies like fires or floods, it’s common to assign responsibilities to individuals so everyone knows exactly what to do and can jump into action. Data breaches are no different. Defining these roles will help you avoid situations where miscommunication leads to confusion and, ultimately, inaction.
Classify your data
It’s also crucial to clearly define your data. As organizations become increasingly data-driven, it’s inevitable that some types of data will be more sensitive—and valuable—than others. By separating the sensitive data from the non-sensitive data, you can prioritize what’s most important to your business and make your risk management processes more efficient.
It’s worth noting that this should incorporate all data that touches any aspect of your organization. Consider the data you share with and receive from your vendors, partners, and other third-party platforms. All data that flows in or out of your systems is at risk of being lost, so a bird’s eye view is essential to make sure you’re not missing any blind spots. Once you’ve scanned your organization from top to bottom and side to side, all of the data you identify should be organized according to its relative importance.
The distinction between sensitive and non-sensitive data naturally lends itself to a distinction in how this data is treated. Sensitive data should be stored separately from its non-sensitive counterpart, and should likewise be the priority of all data protection efforts. This data is your crown jewel—it can make or break your organization, and it should be treated as such.
Strategize your backups
It’s common knowledge in the security industry that backups are important. Without them, data that’s lost would be gone for good, and businesses would be scrambling to stay afloat. Having backups for your data can help minimize the fallout of a security incident, but the quality of those backups will determine to what degree.
Your backup strategy is key: you need to strike a balance between the breadth and depth of how your backups are stored. “It’s important to have a separation of systems,” says Kirat Singh, CEO and cofounder of Beacon Platform. “However, the fewer systems you have the better. You don’t want to create a system of ‘little islands’ that will make for more complications. You want to build a system in layers to ensure a more bulletproof system for preventing data loss. Depending on your level of paranoia, the more layers you add, the more bulletproof your system becomes.”
Additionally, you should strategize how frequently you perform your backups. If you don’t back up your data frequently enough, you could create gaps in the data you store. Most experts recommend performing backups at least once per week, but daily backups are preferred. A backup and recovery solution like Cohesity or Veeam can help you manage this process automatically. The cost of backing up your data every day will be more than worth it in a disaster recovery scenario. In these cases, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Eliminate unnecessary data
The trend toward artificial intelligence and automation might suggest that all data is good data and that more data is always best. This couldn’t be further from the truth—data is only valuable if it serves a clearly defined purpose. Excess data can actually hinder productivity and efficiency, and it creates a considerable risk for data loss.
For this reason, it’s important to address excess data that doesn’t have a specific purpose. If it appears that some data is being collected and stored simply because it’s available, it’s likely doing more harm than good. Not only does it clutter your data landscape, but it also distracts from the most important data and creates a greater opportunity for data loss.
Minimize your risk by eliminating dead weight. If the data isn’t helping drive the business forward in one way or another, get rid of it. It may seem obvious, but you can’t lose data that isn’t there in the first place.
Refine your policies and procedures
One of the most important best practices to keep in mind when implementing a DLP program is that there will never come a time when you can dust your hands off and consider the job done. As long as the data exists, so does the job of actively protecting it and preventing its loss.
Similarly, the specific implementation of your DLP strategy should align with and reflect each evolution of your business. When your business grows and stretches, your data loss prevention plan should change shape too. Your policies and procedures might address the needs of your business today, but that doesn’t mean they can’t change tomorrow.
Mathie Gorge, CEO and founder of VigiTrust, explains that DLP implementation isn’t always clear-cut or linear. “Protecting data isn’t an overnight fix,” he says, “but rather a process of implementing proper controls and procedures concerning its handling.” Often, this requires you to actively consider all of the ways your data-focused mechanisms intersect with your business needs, but in many ways, that’s the whole point of the process. As Gorge puts it, “Security is a journey, not a destination.”
The Risk of Poor DLP Strategies
When you weigh the benefit of a well-implemented DLP strategy, it’s important to also consider the risks associated with the alternative. Data breaches can be detrimental to a business’s bottom line—the average cost of a data breach to companies worldwide, according to PurpleSec, is $3.86 million. This impact includes quantifiable financial losses, of course, but it also includes the irreparable harm to the business’s reputation if it’s caught in the crosshairs of a successful breach.A strong data loss prevention strategy can help avoid the fallout of a disastrous situation like this.