Data Classification Best Practices

Data classification tools not only help organizations to protect their data, they also help users understand how to treat different types of data with different levels of sensitivity. Automation plays a central role in data governance and helps to maintain the required balance between technology and people-focused training to achieve an inclusive security culture.

The necessity of an adequate data security backbone and a robust, enterprise-wide security culture have become central concerns for CISOs as a result of the pandemic, with new business demands, changing working environments and the current and future operational constraints of 2020 now taking hold.

As data volumes continue to grow, maintaining the confidentiality, integrity and availability (the CIA triad) of data has become a priority for all security leaders. Managing an ever-evolving data footprint demands a solid data protection posture that includes investment in appropriate data classification tools. To support this, employee education programs should onboard and inform staff around key data management and classification processes. But in all of this, automation is the third critical ingredient for success.

A Combined Technology and People-Centric Approach is Essential

Now more than ever, strong data use and protection facilities are required to give employees appropriate and safe access to information and to sufficiently inform and educate them about sensitive data and confidentiality. The provision of automated protection facilities as a central tenet of security posture that will help define, measure and mark the status of data, and to maintain this within secure and authorized repositories, will be paramount.

By combining people, process and technology, CISOs can deliver on all key data protection and control requirements; not only with regard to ensuring understanding and appropriate management of data, but delivering the breadth of security coverage required on a local and remote basis and ensuring its suitability for all stakeholders.

Combining good data protection technology with human expertise and processes provides considerable benefits that include:

  • The ability to integrate the rigor of technology-based automation alongside the contextual knowledge, use and control requirements of data creators.
  • The use of technology-based automation to assimilate knowledge about data and apply rule-based controls that fit the current and expected future needs of the organization without imposing additional operational overhead.
  • The delivery of a combined security approach that includes the user in the classification decision making process, improves awareness and enhances overall security posture.

Stakeholder Contribution towards Data Protection

No two organizations’ data usage requirements are the same. It is the creators and users of data that bring the in-depth knowledge and insights that facilitate classification for future access and use. They also provide the bedrock of knowledge that informs automated protection and access control rules.

Beyond providing initial insights into the data they generate, it is critical that stakeholders understand the data protection policies of their organization so that the correct levels of control can be applied at source.

For CISOs, it is important that data policies across the business are fully understood to ensure a consistent approach to classifying data and controlling data use.

Post-Pandemic Data Protection

At a foundational level, enterprise data protection must extend to ensuring an in-depth knowledge of what data is held and where, and, accordingly, what differing levels of security controls are needed to keep the various data categories safe.

From a data protection perspective, businesses must first of all acknowledge that not all data is equal. With that in mind, different controls are required to ensure that differing types of data are not lost or accessed by unauthorized parties. Beyond the high-level requirement to protect confidential, business-critical and sensitive data, businesses must then also apply differing data protection rules applicable to other data categories—personally identifiable information (PII), for example—which is gathered, used and stored by all businesses.

Maintaining a focus on business context and the ability to meet regulatory requirements will be critical in 2021, as well as ensuring enterprise-wide understanding around data and risk. Further, prioritization must be given to delivering smart data protection facilities to make the right decisions on data access and availability—to deliver technology-based efficiency and automation to adequately support the ever-increasing data volumes of remote workforces.

Automating Data Classification for Optimized Security

Businesses that adapt best to the post-pandemic era will use automation, data-driven digital access technologies and cloud to effect improved operations and efficiencies.

With the remote workforce here to stay, more data will be generated outside of the more traditional, secure, on-premises work environment than ever before, and enabling safe user and data access will be key. The sheer volumes of data involved will make it ever more difficult to protect sensitive information and will drive an urgent need for more inclusive and automated forms of data protection.

Automation will make a significant contribution to improved operational efficiencies post-pandemic, as well as delivering agile, automated operations with safe user and data access at the center of their strategies. Data classification tools will protect data by applying appropriate security labels, together with helping to educate users on how to treat different types of data with different levels of classification according to the relative level of sensitivity applied to that document.

The Importance of a Strong Security Culture and Employee Education Programs

We have seen how automation plays a key role in establishing a firm foundation for an organization’s security culture, but given that employees play such a vital role in ensuring that business maintains a strong data privacy posture, the ability to work with stakeholders and users to understand data protection requirements and policies is key. Security and data protection education must be conducted company-wide and must exist at a level that is workable and sustainable.

Regular security awareness training and a company-wide inclusive security culture within the business will ensure that data security becomes a part of everyday working practice, embedded into all actions and the very heart of the business.

A robust data protection protocol is critical for all organizations, and will particularly be the case as we move beyond COVID-19 into the ‘new normal.’ Delivering optimal operational efficiencies, data management and data classification provisions under post-pandemic budget constraints will be an ongoing business challenge. To do nothing, however, will set up an organization to fail, and we have already seen large fines incurred for those that have not made data security a top priority. Data leaders, therefore, must be selective and identify the combination of technologies, processes and people investments that will deliver the greatest security controls.

Developing and building a combined technology and user-centric, people-based approach to data protection will be critical. Through a solid security culture and training and the integrated use of technology and automation, data leaders can deliver the most fitting security culture for their organization. Beyond this, success will be contingent on the ability of CISOs to work with stakeholders and users to understand their data protection requirements and to deliver appropriate policies as a central component of overarching data protection strategies.

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