Data loss prevention | How to protect your information

Losing data can be a scary, stressful and damaging process – which is why so many companies and individuals now invest in data loss prevention.

This guide will detail everything you need to know about the practice, including tips on how you can prevent data loss. 

 

Data, data, data 

In 2021, almost all companies have a massive bank of data – be that customer or employee details, financial information, or even things like design blueprints – that demand a data loss contingency and prevention plan. 

According to Mcafee, around 90% of companies will have some sort of integrated data loss prevention. Data loss prevention, as an umbrella term, covers a wide variety of technology solutions that focus on identifying sensitive data and pre-emptively taking steps to prevent it from being lost. Features common to DLP solutions include:

  • Reporting DLPs log activity on networks, an integral part of responding to incidents. 
  • Analyzing – DLPs can check for weak points in a network's security perimeter and identify abnormal behavior to pre-empt threats. 
  • Monitoring – DLPs can aid network managers/data security officers with data visibility and how it moves around the network. 
  • Filtering – DLPs can restrict access to data in real-time if they notice any untoward activity on a network. 

A given DLP solution can typically preside over:

  • Data at rest – data that isn't currently being used or processed, the sort that might be stored in a cloud server. 
  • Data in motion data that's moving across a network. A DLP solution may, for instance, may encrypt data and make sure it doesn't leave the network. 
  • Data in use data that is currently in the state of being processed. A DLP solution might, for example, authenticate users before data can be processed.  

Why do companies need DLP solutions?

This might seem like a bit of a stupid question – obviously, DLP solutions are used to, well, prevent the loss of data. But there are different types of data and different motivations for investing in DLP. 

One of the main reasons companies institute DLP solutions is that they deal with personal, confidential information that is governed by data compliance legislation. This might be personally identifiable information; it could be details about a person's medical record, or financial data like credit card details. 

Another reason is protecting a company's own interests, both financially and intellectually. If you have the blueprints for a new product, for example, a leak exposing it to the world could have extremely negative economic ramifications for your company. 

Other than these two reasons, you simply might want to keep track of the data being transferred across your network. DLP solutions can classify, track and report on data – which is all part of the loss prevention process – so it will likely give you some insight into how employees in your company, for instance, are using and sharing data on a day-to-day basis. 

The main causes of data leaks and losses 

Data can be lost or leaked through a variety of means and for a variety of different reasons. Broadly, the causes can be condensed into three strands:

  • Malicious insiders – either a company employee with an ax to grind or an entity that has subsumed control of an authenticated user, use their access to transfer sensitive information out of an organization. 
  • External threats – this covers any hackers, cyber attackers, and malware attempting to exploit a vulnerability somewhere on the security perimeter of the network you're trying to keep secure and steal data from within. 
  • Accidental data leakage – this is usually due to employee negligence or error, unintentional but still potentially very damaging.  

Data loss prevention is increasingly important

The state of the contemporary information landscape – as well as the threats that lurk within it – means data loss prevention is only going to become more and more integral to the core of companies and businesses. 

It's just a fact that data breaches are becoming more frequent. Cyberattacks in recent years have led to the sensitive data of millions being exposed, with hackers looking to exploit companies for economic or political gain.

In 2016, for example, Indian Banks were subject to a breach that compromised the credit card information of 3.2 million debit cards. An example from this year involves Game development company CD Projekt Red, creators of Cyberpunk 2077, who were hit with a ransomware attack that stole the source code for their most popular games. With the ever-expanding nature of the internet, more data to steal, and there's more of a demand for stolen data now too, making it a more lucrative endeavor for sellers. The stakes are now higher than ever, across all industries, with very few not at least wary of the threat posed.  

The pushback against this has seen an increase in places and services you can use to protect your data, the tightening of compliance regulations, and more positions of employment that concern protecting data and preventing its loss. 

How to choose the right DLP solution 

You've probably realized by now that not all DLP solutions are the same. But there are a few questions you can ask yourself to make sure you're choosing the right data loss prevention strategy. Questions that need answering include:

The right way to prevent data loss

There's a number of core processes you have to complete to ensure your data is protected properly. Top of the to-do list should be ensuring employees taking an active role in your DLP program (of which the technology itself will be just one aspect) have clearly defined roles. 

However, it's also vital that from the word go, you're keeping track of, and recording, all of the processes governing set up, implementation, and maintenance. It's also pretty important to set a clear goal that you want to achieve by implementing your chosen DLP solution, and clearly outline exactly what kind of data you want to be protected.  

Limitations to DLP solutions

Remember, DLP shouldn't be the beginning and end of your data loss prevention strategy. All software and technology have their limitations, and DLP solutions are no different.

A DLP solution will only be able to decrypt data if it knows the encryption key – if employees are using other methods (or keys not known to the DLP technology) to encrypt their data, then there's potentially sensitive information a DLP solution can't help you with. Another issue is rich media (photos, videos, etc) as it's difficult for contemporary DLPs to classify that type of data.

Written by: Aaron Drapkin

After graduating with a philosophy degree from the University of Bristol in 2018, Aaron became a researcher at news digest magazine The Week following a year as editor of satirical website The Whip. Freelancing alongside these roles, his work has appeared in publications such as Vice, Metro, Tablet and New Internationalist, as well as The Week's online edition.

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