July 19, 2023 By Edith Mendez 5 min read

Everyone knows that horrible feeling. You’re scrolling through social media when all of a sudden, a photo pops up of your friends hanging out at a cool party you hadn’t even heard about.

When it comes to FOMO, or the fear of missing out, it’s often easier not knowing what you’re missing. But when it comes to your data security, you can’t afford to be out of the loop. If your sensitive data is going to throw a metaphorical party, you need to know where it is, who it belongs to and how it impacts your organization.

With the increasing amount of data generated and stored, it is more important than ever to know if your data is being protected appropriately. In fact, the majority of organizational data is considered “dark data” or ROT (redundant, obsolete or trivial) data, making it that much harder to grasp the severity of how sensitive and critical it is to your business. For organizations looking to comply with data protection regulations, knowing your data’s whereabouts is a crucial first step.

Missing out on a social gathering is a bummer. But missing out on where and how your data is managed can lead to catastrophe.

Ignorance is not bliss

The more we collect and store data from our customers, employees and ecosystems, the more burdensome keeping track of all of that data becomes. Organizations rarely have the time and resources to audit and analyze all of the data that gets generated and stored. But you can’t afford to sweep the dark data and shadow data under the rug. If or when a data breach occurs, you want to make sure you are prepared with the right protections in place to keep that sensitive data safe.

Knowing where your sensitive data resides means understanding where data is stored, who has access to it and how it is being used, down to the data asset level. This includes data stored on personal devices, cloud servers, third-party services and applications.

With data growing across multiple environments, it is difficult to understand what types of data you collect and how it’s being accessed and monitored. This lack of visibility and control often means data is being managed in silos by different teams and resources operating under different criteria and levels of protection. By understanding the location of your data, you can take appropriate measures to protect it from unauthorized access or misuse.

Protecting the privacy of your customers, employees and organization is one of the primary reasons to know where your sensitive data resides. With the increasing use of social media, e-commerce and other digital services, personal information is being collected and stored in various locations across your network and can be traced back to individual users.

For example, if your server was insecurely collecting and storing credit card numbers, that data is at risk of falling into the wrong hands or being accidentally distributed to the public. Without knowing where your data resides, you may not be aware of who has access to your information or how it is being used.

Knowledge is power

Knowing where your data resides is essential for maintaining top-notch data security. Cyber criminals are constantly looking for vulnerabilities to exploit and gain access to sensitive information. According to IBM’s Threat Intelligence Index report, only 26% of new vulnerabilities had known exploits, highlighting the need for a well-defined data security strategy.

If you do not know that sensitive data exists on your network, you will not know that you need to protect it. By understanding the whereabouts of your sensitive data, you can take appropriate measures to protect it from cyberattacks and other security threats that are increasing in today’s digital age.

Compliance with data protection regulations is another important reason to know where your sensitive data resides. Data protection laws such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the United States require organizations to protect personal information and provide individuals with certain rights regarding their data. Regulators often check to see that organizations have adequate protections around sensitive data and an immediate response plan in the event of a breach.

Customers also assume that organizations will keep their personal information private and secure. Knowing where data resides and its sensitivity levels help you comply with these regulations and demonstrate that you are handling your data appropriately.

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Proactive data discovery is essential

Whether you want to admit it or not, there is a good chance your organization does not have a complete view of the sensitive data that exists on your network. Being proactive about discovering unprotected sensitive data allows you to allocate security resources more effectively.

Here are some reasons why proactive data discovery is worth the investment:

  1. Protecting sensitive data. By discovering the “unknown unknown” data, your organization can identify and protect sensitive data that may have been left unguarded. This data could include confidential customer information, trade secrets or intellectual property, all of which could be compromised if left unsecured.
  2. Better risk management. Understanding the scope of your sensitive data allows your organization to manage risks related to data breaches and regulatory compliance. Compliance regulations often look to see that organizations are taking the necessary precautions to secure sensitive data. Knowing the type of data that exists within your organization allows you to develop more effective risk management strategies and implement a robust incident response plan.
  3. Improved decision-making. With a better understanding of your data, you can make better-informed decisions around security, privacy and governance. This can help your organization identify suspicious patterns and trends that may have gone unnoticed. From those insights, you can then improve operations and processes.
  4. Enhanced productivity. By knowing which data is critical to protect, you can eliminate redundant or unnecessary data and streamline operations. This can lead to more efficient use of resources, increased productivity and reduced costs.

The right tool for the job

A sophisticated data discovery and classification tool will help you find and map previously unknown sensitive data. This will enable your security team to reduce the time and effort needed to uncover and classify sensitive data.

The solution should be able to continuously and automatically scan across your data sources, data lakes and repositories for any type of data, whether structured or unstructured, in motion or at rest. It should then apply and automate controls around sensitive data based on business context and risk so your security analysts experience higher accuracy and lower false positives and negatives when deciding what to monitor and protect.

Once you have discovered that the “unknown unknowns” exist and know where they reside within your network, you can make proactive decisions about how to protect that data by classifying it based on sensitivity level, business use, associated users and other factors. You can feed this information into existing data monitoring tools to create comprehensive and granular access and governance policies around sensitive data. Organizations that have implemented tools to discover and classify sensitive data throughout their network have seen significant reductions in costs and errors associated with manual efforts.

Sensitive data is out there

So, how would you feel if you woke up one day to news about your organization’s data breach — data you didn’t even know existed — plastered across every news outlet? Probably not so great. While this fear is not unrealistic, this outcome can be avoided.

By actively seeking out sensitive data and investing in comprehensive data protection strategies, you can stay ahead of potential threats, unauthorized access or data misuse. You must develop a comprehensive data security strategy and invest in the right tools to implement granular protective measures, enforce governance policies and analyze threats, as well as see the productivity increase that occurs when your security teams know what data to prioritize. With the right approach, you can make sure your organization is “in the know” whenever sensitive data is left unprotected.

Don’t miss out! Register for the on-demand webinar to learn how you can secure your organization’s data with sensitive data intelligence.

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