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9 Data security best practices and how to implement them

Companies today are consuming and deploying more data than ever. At the same time, there's also a growing cybersecurity talent shortage, as well as an increasingly dangerous threat landscape. Unfortunately, this combination leaves companies at risk for costly breaches and vulnerabilities. 

For this reason, many traditional IT security engineers are upskilling and transitioning into data security to help close the cybersecurity gap and protect private data. Information technology and cybersecurity are similar fields, which makes this a natural fit for security professionals looking to transition to another role. 

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at some key data security best practices and some tips for implementing them.

Actionable Tips for Improving Data Security 

How exactly can you improve data security? Here are some tips that should help you in your journey.

1. Identify Your Data  

One of the first things you should do is audit your data assets by identifying and locating them. In other words, it’s necessary to determine what digital assets your company has, where they live, and who has access to them.

Once you have a general understanding of what your company has in its inventory, you can then classify and prioritize it. Your company most likely has a mix of sensitive and non-sensitive data with different security requirements. This is especially true for financial and healthcare organizations.

Consider using an open-source data classification tool like Apache Atlas to automatically classify personally identifiable information (PII) and sensitive data. This type of platform eliminates manual data collection and offers greater accuracy and security. 

2. Establish a Data Governance Policy

Data is an asset that requires careful planning, orchestration, and management. As such, it’s necessary to set up a strong data governance policy. This is necessary for mitigating risk and ensuring the company operates with integrity, security, and accountability across all touch points. 

Data governance encompasses the creation, valuation, storage, transfer, and integrity of data within an organization. As a best practice, companies should create robust data governance frameworks that define rules, roles, and processes to ensure data compliance and security. 

3. Clamp Down on Identity Management 

Control who has access to your data—especially if your business operates in the cloud. 

Companies today have many human and non-human identities that access and interact with data. For example, an identity could be a human worker like a software engineer, third-party consultant, or data intern. And a non-human identity could be a workload, or digital service (e.g., a Lambda function). However, many organizations still lack visibility into who these identities are and their capabilities. 

With this in mind, it’s important to gain visibility into the various identities across your organization and understand their roles and responsibilities to prevent unauthorized access. Consider using an open-source platform like Keycloak for user management, authentication, and federation. 

4. Encrypt Your Data

Encryption involves rendering data unreadable to unauthorized identities. When you encrypt data, intruders can’t decipher it or use it for personal gain. It’s possible to encrypt files, disks, folders, and drives.

To ensure bad actors can’t access company data, organizations need to encrypt data on the service level. By investing in solutions that offer end-to-end encryption and using protocols like Transport Layer Security (TLS), Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), and HTTPS, organizations can protect the data they transmit via the internet.

5. Back Up Your Data

Companies are at risk from system outages, ransomware attacks, and device theft, all of which pose direct threats to business continuity. As such, every organization needs to have a comprehensive data backup plan in place to protect data and ensure it remains accessible at any time. 

In a robust data backup strategy, you should back up business data regularly. It’s also important to protect your backup environment, whether it’s in the cloud or in a secure off-site location.

Keep in mind that backing up data is different from archiving it. Backups are short-term and for disaster recovery while archiving is for long-term storage.

6. Use Real-Time Monitoring

As businesses become more remote and cloud-driven, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to protect data. Therefore, companies need to be very careful about where information lives off-site, as well as who has access to it and when they can tap into it.

Now more than ever, security teams need to deploy real-time security information and event monitoring (SIEM) systems to control and manage private data. A reliable SIEM service lets you set rules for accessing data and triggers alerts when it detects violations. 

To illustrate, you might use a SIEM system to restrict data access to workers in certain countries or regions or during night or weekend hours. With this type of service in place, you can potentially thwart attempts to hack and pilfer information.

7. Scale Down Your Data 

It’s common for companies to collect more data than they need and store it for later use. But the truth is that the vast majority of data doesn’t move into production. And when data idles in storage systems, it can become more of a liability than an asset. 

Because of this, it’s a good idea to routinely audit and analyze data to assess its value and potential use. Eliminating unnecessary data and scaling down frees storage, lowers operating costs, and reduces your threat surface. 

8. Rethink Your Authentication Strategy 

Most businesses today are going through digital transformation and increasing their reliance on internal apps. But many apps have outdated and inefficient authentication mechanisms in place, which are difficult or time-consuming to use. And as a result, employees often disable or disregard them, leaving applications wide open for unauthorized users. 

Authentication is a big part of data security. Users need fast, easy, and reliable access to private applications. As such, it’s a good idea to assess your current authentication mechanisms and look for ways to fortify or streamline them. 

For example, you may need to set and enforce a clear password policy. Or, your business may be in a position to try passwordless authentication. 

9. Integrate Security and Development Teams

A growing number of companies are breaking down silos between security and development teams and integrating data security into their software lifecycles. This strategy involves testing early and often instead of waiting until the very end. It’s a great way to improve application security and prevent vulnerabilities from slipping into production.

Improve Data Security with Bearer

Bearer offers a data security risk platform that DevSecOps teams can use to integrate data security into software development. This platform helps with a variety of needs, including data flow mapping, data identification and classification, and more. 

To experience Bearer in action, request a free demo today.

This post was written by Justin Reynolds. Justin is a freelance writer who enjoys telling stories about how technology, science, and creativity can help workers be more productive. In his spare time, he likes seeing or playing live music, hiking, and traveling.

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