What is data security?

Data security is both the practice and the technology of protecting valuable and sensitive company and customer data, such as personal or financial information.

Think about the valuable data your company collects, stores, and manages. Information like financial or payment data, intellectual property, and sensitive personal information about your employees and customers are a goldmine for hackers. Data security—the processes and technologies you should be using to safeguard that data—is a crucial element in protecting your company’s reputation and fiscal health.

Why is data security important?

The data that your company creates, collects, stores, and exchanges is a valuable asset. Safeguarding it from corruption and unauthorized access by internal or external people protects your company from financial loss, reputation damage, consumer confidence disintegration, and brand erosion. Furthermore, government and industry regulation around data security make it imperative that your company achieve and maintain compliance with these rules wherever you do business.

Types of data security controls

Understanding the importance of data security will help you formulate a plan to protect that data. There are many data security technologies and processes that can support your company’s productivity while safeguarding data. Types of data security controls include:

Authentication

Authentication, along with authorization, is one of the recommended ways to boost data security and protect against data breaches. Authentication technology verifies if a user’s credentials match those stored in your database. Today’s standard authentication processes include using a combination of ways to identify an authorized user, such as passwords, PINS, security tokens, a swipe card, or biometrics.

Authentication is made easier through single sign-on technology, which, with one security token, allows an authenticated user access to multiple systems, platforms, and applications. Authorization technology determines what an authenticated user are allowed to do or see on your website or server.

Access Control

Authentication and authorization happen through the process called access control. Access control systems can include:

  • Discretionary access control (the least restrictive), which allows access to resources based on the identity of users or groups,
  • Role-based access control, which assigns access based on organizational role and allows users access only to specific information,
  • And mandatory access control, which allows a system administrator to strictly control access to all information.

Backups & Recovery

Prioritizing data security also requires a plan for how to access your company’s and client’s data in the event of system failure, disaster, data corruption, or breach. Doing regular data backups is an important activity to help with that access.

A data backup entails making a copy of your data and storing it on a separate system or medium such as a tape, disk, or in the cloud. You can then recover lost data by using your backup.

Encryption

Data encryption software effectively enhances data security by using an algorithm (called a cipher) and an encryption key to turn normal text into encrypted ciphertext. To an unauthorized person, the cipher data will be unreadable.

That data can then be decrypted only by a user with an authorized key. Encryption is used to protect the data that you store (called data at rest) and data exchanged between databases, mobile devices, and the cloud (called data in transit). Your encryption keys must be securely managed, including protecting your critical management systems, managing a secure, off-site encryption backup, and restricting access.

Data Masking

Data masking software hides data by obscuring letters and numbers with proxy characters. The data is still there, behind the masking. The software changes the data back to its original form only when an authorized user receives that data.

Tokenization

Tokenization substitutes sensitive data with random characters that are not algorithmically reversible. The relationship between the data and its token values is stored in a protected database lookup table, rather than being generated by and decrypted by a mathematical algorithm (as in the case of encryption). The token representing the real data is used across different systems as a replacement, while the actual data is stored on a separate, secure platform.

Deletions & Erasure

When electronic data is no longer needed and must be permanently cleared from the system, erasure can overwrite that data so that it is irretrievable. Erasure is different from deletion, which is a process that simply hides data in such a way that makes it easy to retrieve.

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