What Is Data Protection and Why Does it Matter?

October 8, 2021
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5 min read

Data is at the center of business. For many organizations, digital adoption drives strategy. Data is essential to meeting customer needs, responding to sudden market shifts and unforeseen events. That’s why data protection should be on your mind.

Enterprises generate large amounts of data from multiple sources. The sheer volume and detail of enterprise data created in the course of doing business requires ongoing attention to how you protect and maintain it. After all, your data is more than static records storage. 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 directly impacts 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 trading customer or end-user privacy. Data protection is becoming more intricate as the number of devices to monitor and protect expands. Today, it includes IoT devices and sensors, industrial machines, robotics, wearables and more. Data protection helps reduce risk and enables a business or agency to respond quickly to threats.

Why Is Data Protection Important?

Data protection is important because the total number of computing devices increases each year, and computing is now more complex. This multitude of computing devices, which extends beyond the common borders of IT infrastructure, creates enterprise data.

The rate of data creation is outpacing installed storage, too. In 2020, International Data Corporation (IDC) reported 64.2 ZB of data was created or copied. Researchers attribute this dramatic increase to the worldwide demand for digital services throughout the year. Not all data created in 2020 was stored, but IDC suggests there is ample evidence storing more data could benefit enterprises.

Digital growth efforts result in even more data to protect, especially sensitive or highly secret data from a wide range of sources.

Protecting Manufacturing Data and OT Systems

The manufacturing sector tends to invest fewer resources in securing industrial operations technology (OT) than in their enterprise networks. That leaves OT systems open to compromise. These OT systems include self-driving vehicles, robots, Industrial IoT devices and sensors. Critical infrastructure relies on industrial control systems as well as a lot of different OT systems to function.

Any equipment monitored and controlled through a network generates large amounts of data related to operations, output and more. The manufacturing sector is a popular attack target, too. In 2020, manufacturing, energy and health care sectors faced the highest rate of attack according to IBMs Annual X-Force Threat Index. Securing corporate networks without giving the same attention to OT and equipment opens them for an attack.

Digital Supply Chain Software

Digital assets are lucrative targets, even more so as more businesses work through digital growth efforts connecting more services. Recent supply chain attacks managed to shut down major businesses and government work. Reliance on cloud computing and remote systems will only increase. Data security for supply chains and third-party access to systems is essential to protect them from cyberattacks.

Data Privacy & Regulatory Compliance

Balancing compliance with meeting business objectives can be a challenge if you do not have a data protection strategy in place. New legislation around consumer data privacy further complicates the task of compliance as state-by-state rules differ in terms of how businesses 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 through bringing critical infrastructure and federal government networks up to modern standards.

This will only get more complex as the government enacts new laws and more closely enforces older rules. A look at consumer data privacy laws by state reveals uneven digital privacy expectations. More locales are looking into 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 protections.

What Is Data Security?

Data protection and data security are similar but distinct. The former is a method of protecting information from unwanted access, theft and corruption from the moment a device creates it until the moment of deletion. 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 against attack while accounting for and protecting against insider threats. (These continue to be a leading cause of data breaches each year.) Deploying data security tools and technologies give businesses a way to assess critical data at its storage locations. They also help gain insight into how people and devices are using it. These tools also enable protection for sensitive information through encryption, streamline compliance efforts and simplify reporting with automated reporting functions.

The State of Data Protection in 2021 (and Beyond)

Cybersecurity has become more important than ever as massive shifts in how work is done transform the threat landscape. Threat actors seized the chance to seek out openings, resulting in the costliest year for data breaches yet. At the same time, a massive uptick in ad hoc remote work arrangements added to the overall increase. Meanwhile, artificial intelligence and security automation tools played a major role in responding to these attacks.

Organizations are also moving toward zero trust to better address weaknesses in current systems access methods. Those who employed a zero trust approach throughout 2020 reported a 42% lower cost of a data breach compared to those who did not.

IT complexity is a hindrance to data protection strategies, too. The number of systems and vendors required to support an organization has grown beyond what many IT departments can manage easily. Maintaining multiple vendors and platforms in addition to typical computing has put great strain on IT departments. Going forward, 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, preserve 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 methods of protection include:

1) Encryption & Cryptography

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

2) Data Erasure

Erasure is more secure than typical data removal methods because it uses specific software to remove and overwrite data. Data erasure techniques also verify the data cannot be recovered.

3) Access Management

Access management controls ensure data integrity by limiting access to digital assets. This allows granular control over which groups of people are granted access to systems, and when.

4) Endpoint Security

Monitoring and securing endpoint access extends the reach of a data protection program by covering network-connected devices no matter where they are located. Endpoint protection is more important than ever now. After all, so much of the world’s communications and business happens 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 during the digital information life cycle. Securing networks and devices can only go so far to protect data. Data security is everyone’s business, so, it’s also important to ensure regular, ongoing security awareness training is part of your data protection strategy.

Michelle Greenlee
Freelance Technology Writer

Michelle is a freelance technology writer. She has created technical content for a range of brands and publications, including Business Insider, DICE, GE Dig...
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