Data loss prevention (DLP) refers to the process of safeguarding data to protect it against thefts and leaks. This is typically done through software identifying and monitoring sensitive data to ensure only authorized users are accessing it. DLP software also helps ensure those authorized users aren’t putting the data at risk, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
Essentially, data loss prevention tools control access to your company’s data and keep it from leaving the set perimeter of your network. DLP tools do this either through identifying violations of the predefined policy packs included in the software, or by identifying violations of access policies set by the organization.
DLP tools build a context around your sensitive data to help you determine how best to approach prioritizing, protecting, locking down, and monitoring your data to prevent breaches. They’re especially beneficial given the increases in the intensity of state privacy laws focused on increased data protection and access control in response to the ever-present threat of hackers, who can use the data they steal for financial fraud and identity theft. DLP software usually includes reporting functions to help you meet auditing and compliance requirements and make sure you don’t incur fines for failing to protect your customers’ data sufficiently.
Why Is Data Loss Prevention Important?
Your customers’ sensitive data is your business’s most valuable possession. When they give you their private information, customers are trusting you to take every measure possible to protect it. Without data loss prevention tools, you run a serious risk of losing customer data, leading to potential identity theft, financial fraud, and, most importantly, loss of trust.
In the past several years, high-profile data breach incidents led to people across the country having their personal information stolen. These events should have been preventable had the organizations in question used DLP software. The frequency of data breach events is such that the internet is full of pages listing data loss events organized by year and month. No matter the size of a business, the impact of a data breach can be devastating, causing both financial losses and losses to reputation, and could cause the business to fail.
It’s easy to think data loss won’t affect you, but any business is a potential target for hackers. While we typically hear about major data breaches, like the 2019 Facebook breach where the personal information, including unique user IDs and phone numbers, of 419 million users were exposed, data loss on some scale happens constantly. Often, the hackers don’t even have to work hard to achieve their goals. In the Facebook example, the hackers simply discovered an unprotected server and were then able to access all the data it contained.
While Facebook is a large enough institution to recover from a breach of this magnitude, most businesses aren’t as integral a part of society as Facebook is today—which means it’s much easier for customers to take their business elsewhere if they become concerned about the security of their information.
Most IT-specific compliance regulations for data protection require auditable DLP to prove you’re taking all the necessary steps to protect your customers. As noted above, endpoint data loss prevention tools typically provide auditable reporting capabilities to demonstrate the software is compliant with regulations including SolarWinds Security Event Manager designed to comply with PCI DSS, HIPAA, SOX, and more.
Managing Access Control to Prevent Data Loss
Data loss is often the result of some action taken by an insider, whether intentional (like a disgruntled former employee putting sensitive data onto an external hard drive to sell to a competitor) or unintentional (as when an employee finds a flash drive and plugs it into their computer to find out what’s on it). For this reason, one of the core components of data loss protection is managing access control, which means monitoring and controlling who can access sensitive data and what they can do with it.
Rather than try to manually monitor user activity on your own—an endeavor likely to become overwhelming—I advise implementing a data loss prevention tool engaged in access control. Good DLP software not only monitors access on your network but also alerts the administrator to any violations of your access policies, whether those policies are set by your business or come preconfigured with the tool. What’s more, the insights gleaned by a DLP tool with access control capabilities can be leveraged to adjust your access policies.
Knowing who’s accessing the data on your network is important not only for preventing attacks that might result in data loss, but also for decreasing the impact of fraudulent action in case a cyberattack does occur. Managing access control involves monitoring the behaviors of users on the network, including what data they are accessing. As a result, when there’s a data breach, administrators have a record of information they can consult to quickly pinpoint where the attack occurred and what users or devices were involved.
Verizon’s 2018 Data Breach Investigations Report showed the 24 hours after a cyberattack is a critical period in which the impact of the attack can at least be mitigated. For example, in the case of a financial attack, if the action of the attack is delayed during these “golden 24 hours,” it becomes unlikely for the hackers to be able to attain the funds they’re after. In short, the ability to respond to an attack quickly is critical to preventing data loss.
Leveraging User Activity Logs to Prevent Data Loss
Logs are one of the most important assets for an IT administrator when trying to discover the cause of a problem in the network or on a device. When it comes to data loss prevention, user activity logs continue to be a crucial asset.
Given the importance of speed in responding to threats, user activity logs are most useful when you have a DLP tool actively monitoring, centralizing, and reporting on those logs in real time. Specifically, when you implement data loss prevention software with combined activity log monitoring and automated responses for disabling accounts, changing privileges, and blocking USB devices, you significantly simplify the process of threat remediation. Through comprehensive monitoring tracking every event on the devices across your network, you’re taking one of the strongest steps possible to protect your data.
If you’re considering using a DLP tool, read my article about the best DLP software where I compared the 10 best DLP tools on the market today.