4 Data Privacy Best Practices

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Read more about author Ashok Sharma.

Data privacy is at the heart of every prominent security threat – what are the top best practices for keeping data private?

Some of the major cyber security challenges in 2023 are ransomware, hacking of cloud service vendors, and wiper malware. During ransomware attacks, bad actors obtain or encrypt sensitive information. The victims are urged to pay a ransom to regain access to locked files and prevent criminals from leaking or selling private user data.

In the case of third-party cloud hacking, hackers get the personally identifiable information of businesses that use cloud services. Attacking the cloud vendor can compromise the sensitive documents of any company that relies on its cloud-powered solutions.

Wiper malware has the capability of deleting data completely. New versions of this malware have been appearing since 2022, making this a growing threat to data privacy.

Below are just a few of the data privacy best practices in use to combat these challenges.

1. Manage Data Using Automation

Businesses are responsible for more data than ever before. To keep track of the files while also retaining their privacy, organizations have introduced automated governance.

A typical data management process starts with data discovery. AI determines the location of all the files within the network, making a note of who can access them.

After locating all the documents, data is analyzed. AI-based tools detect documents that need cleaning as well as uncover malware-compromised files.

The third step involves the classification of data. Personally identifiable information that has to adhere to privacy laws is cataloged and separated from the rest. Compliance is also automated and applied to large volumes of private documents.

Finally, the information generated by the cybersecurity tools is compared with the position and access of sensitive data within the network. The automated tool establishes whether private data is exposed.

Automated data management is a complex process repeated 24/7. AI-based solutions designed for data governance ensure that documents are usable and safe from cyber-attacks in real time. 

As a result, private (sensitive) data is identified and cataloged, allowing the IT team to detect vulnerable files at all times.

One look at the dashboard lets them know where the data resides within the system, what kind of documents are collected from users, and who has access to them. This gives them all the information they need to react promptly or mitigate threats such as data breaches.

2. Have Strong Email Security

Although social media scams and phone call phishing are having their moment, email is still the number one channel for phishing. Hackers use it to send links and attachments infected with malware.

Alternatively, they impersonate a person or entity an employee trusts. Employees are more likely to send their credentials if the request comes from a boss. Or log into the phishing site if the email seems to be from their bank.

Hackers can gain access to sensitive files by misusing the credentials that workers reveal to them in the email. They can log into the company’s network to steal private data.

Phishing is common and notoriously difficult to weed out. Regardless of seniority and their role within the company, your employees are likely to fall for scams.

Email filters will usually recognize some suspicious wording, phrases, and attachments, but many scam emails will bypass them.

Introduce phishing awareness training for all of your employees. Teach them not to send any sensitive information via email. Encourage them to learn the common signs of social engineering. Warn them to be cautious of unknown senders.

3. Be Strict with Password Policies

Besides phishing schemes, the majority of breaches are the result of poor password security practices. Therefore, the passwords that all employees use within the company have to be strong.

Password mistakes that endanger data privacy include:

  • Easily guessable passwords such as “12345” and “password”
  • Reused credentials across multiple accounts (both private and business logins)
  • Credentials that haven’t been changed for longer than three months
  • Using any words that are in the dictionary (they can lead to dictionary attacks)
  • Including personal information in passwords (e.g., birthdays, names, etc.)

A malicious intruder can obtain illicit access within an otherwise secure system and get vulnerable information if it’s protected with a weak password.

Encourage your employees to make a habit of having strong credentials to prevent compromised sensitive data.

4. Introduce Role-Based Access

Credentials that hackers have stolen are the cause of 81% of data breaches. If a threat actor buys employee credentials on the black market or a member of your team reveals it via a phishing email, they shouldn’t be granted access to your entire network. 

When a hacker does get into the system, what can a security team do to prevent the bad actor from gaining further access to the system – and reaching private data using the privileged account?

Limit the access to personal data for your employees based on their role within the company. Answer this: “Do they need the specific data to do their jobs?”

Restricted access cuts the number of people who can get to sensitive files. Also, this makes it much easier for you to regain control over private data within the system.

Determine which employees need access to which documents within the network. Consider their seniority, the type of jobs they do, and how long they’ve been working for the company.

This will help you track who is accessing which part of the system and whether there is a sign of suspicious activity.

In informational security, this is also known as the principle of least privilege.

The Best Data Privacy Practices Are the Simplest Ones

These four data privacy practices seem like common sense – because they are. They should already be the default cybersecurity hygiene for most companies today. 

Regardless, organizations still struggle with them.

Many companies still lack visibility to all the sensitive data that is stored within the architecture.

Also, their employees use and reuse passwords that are easy to guess. Or send private information via email.

This is not an indefinite list of the best data privacy practices businesses can apply to protect their assets, but it is a strong start to avoid the most common ways that data gets compromised within company networks.