What is data protection and why is it important?

Data is central to business. For many organizations, digital adoption is the driving force behind the strategy. Data is essential to meet customer needs and respond to sudden market shifts and unforeseen events. That is why you should think about data protection.

Enterprises generate large amounts of data from multiple sources. The sheer volume and detail of corporate data created in the course of doing business requires constant attention to how you protect and maintain it. After all, your data is more than the storage of static records. Big data analytics techniques enable very large data sets from vastly different sources. From there, you can analyze them for better business decision making through predictive modeling. This big data has a direct impact on future business outcomes, so protecting it becomes critical.

What is data protection?

Data protection is the process of securing digital information while keeping data usable for business purposes without compromising the privacy of customers or end users. Data protection is becoming increasingly complex as the number of devices to monitor and protect increases. Today, it includes IoT devices and sensors, industrial machines, robotics, wearables, and more. Data protection helps reduce risk and enables a company or agency to respond quickly to threats.

Why is data protection important?

Data protection is important because the total number of computing devices is increasing every year and computing is now more complex. This multiplicity of computing devices, extending beyond the common boundaries of the IT infrastructure, creates business data.

The speed at which data is created also exceeds the installed storage. In 2020, International Data Corporation (IDC) reported that 64.2 ZB of data was created or copied. Researchers attribute this dramatic increase to year-round global demand for digital services. Not all data created in 2020 has been saved, but IDC suggests there is ample evidence that storing more data could benefit businesses.

Digital growth efforts are resulting in even more data to be protected, especially sensitive or highly classified data from a wide variety of sources.

Protection of production data and OT systems

The manufacturing sector tends to invest less resources in securing Industrial Operations Technology (OT) than in their corporate networks. That leaves OT systems open to compromise. These OT systems include self-driving vehicles, robots, industrial IoT devices, and sensors. Critical infrastructure depends on both industrial control systems and many different OT systems to function.

Any equipment monitored and controlled over a network generates large amounts of data related to operations, output and more. The manufacturing sector is also a popular attack target. In 2020, the manufacturing, energy and healthcare sectors faced the highest number of attacks according to IBM’s Annual X-Force Threat Index. Securing corporate networks without paying the same attention to OT and equipment opens them up to attack.

Digital Supply Chain Software

Digital assets are lucrative goals, especially as more companies engage in digital growth efforts that connect more services. Recent attacks on the supply chain have succeeded in shutting down large companies and government work. The dependence on cloud computing and external systems will only increase. Data security for supply chains and third-party access to systems is essential to protect them from cyber-attacks.

Data Privacy and Regulatory Compliance

Balancing compliance with meeting business objectives can be challenging if you don’t have a data protection strategy in place. New consumer data privacy laws further complicate the compliance task, as rules vary by state in how companies can collect, store or use customer data.

In May 2021, President Joe Biden issued the Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity. The order focuses on actions to strengthen cybersecurity by upgrading critical federal government infrastructure and networks to modern standards.

This will only get more complex as the government enacts new laws and enforces older rules more rigorously. A look at consumer data privacy laws by the state reveals unequal expectations for digital privacy. More countries are exploring European Union-style changes to consumer data privacy laws in an effort to address the growing list of smart devices and the data they create and store. There remain no sweeping federal laws on consumer data privacy protection.

What is data security?

Data protection and data security are similar, but different. The first is a method of protecting information from unwanted access, theft, and corruption from the time a device creates it to the time it is deleted. Data security exists in every facet of information security. All aspects of enterprise hardware, software, access and administration are part of information security.

A thorough data security strategy protects digital assets from attacks and considers and protects against threats from within. (This continues to be a leading cause of data breaches every year.) By deploying data security tools and technologies, companies can assess critical data in their storage locations. They also help to understand how people and devices use it. These tools also protect sensitive information through encryption, streamline compliance efforts, and simplify reporting with automated reporting features.

The state of data protection in 2021 (and further)

Cybersecurity has become more important than ever as massive shifts in the way work is done transform the threat landscape. Threat actors seized the opportunity to look for openings, resulting in the costliest year for data breaches to date. At the same time, a huge increase in ad hoc remote working arrangements contributed to the overall increase. Meanwhile, artificial intelligence and security automation tools played an important role in responding to these attacks.

Organizations are also moving towards zero trust to better address weaknesses in current systems access methods. Those who used a zero trust approach in 2020 reported a 42% lower cost of a data breach compared to those who didn’t.

IT complexity is also a barrier to data protection strategies. The number of systems and vendors needed to support an organization has grown beyond what many IT departments can easily manage. Maintaining multiple vendors and platforms beyond typical computing has put a lot of strain on IT departments. In the future, data protection must be able to adapt to these already complex situations.

Data Protection Tools and Methods

Data protection methods are designed to secure data, maintain privacy, and prevent data loss and corruption without trading them for analysis and review. Successful methods connect people and processes to integrate cyber defense into the workflow. Some protection methods are:

1) Encryption and cryptography

Encryption uses an algorithm to obscure plain text by scrambling the characters. It produces them in a format that requires encryption keys to decrypt in order to view them. This restricts access to authorized viewers with the correct encryption keys. Encryption is commonly used for file storage and database security.

2) Clear data

Erasing is safer than the usual data erasure methods as it uses specific software to erase and overwrite data. Data erasure techniques also verify that the data cannot be recovered.

3) Access Control

Access control controls ensure data integrity by restricting access to digital assets. This gives detailed control over which groups of people can access systems and when.

4) Endpoint Security

Monitoring and securing access to endpoints extends the reach of a data protection program by covering network-connected devices wherever they are. Endpoint security is now more important than ever. After all, so much of the world’s communications and business takes place in the cloud or through personal devices in remote work environments.

What are the best data protection solutions?

The best data protection solutions combine robust security measures with human processes and workflows. The overall goal: to ensure data protection is considered early in the digital information lifecycle. Securing networks and devices can only go so far as to protect data. Data security is everyone’s business, so it’s also important to make sure that regular, ongoing training in security awareness is part of your data protection strategy.

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