Data is the lifeblood, the thumbprint, the essential organs of your organization. It’s what differentiates you from competitors, what informs decision-making, and what results from all of the hard work your company executes over the years. Data is the most valuable thing your company owns, and should be protected at all costs. 

Data loss prevention (DLP) is the first line of defense between your organization’s sensitive information and the lurking threats who seek to steal and abuse it. In this article, we’ll explore the world of DLP and unveil the six best practices that can help you protect your digital assets.

What is data loss prevention?

DLP is a comprehensive strategy and suite of tools designed to shield your organization from the potentially devastating consequences of data breaches. It behooves companies to implement DLP measures, not only to ensure that your confidential data remains safe and secure–from financial records to customer information–but to help employees in their own security efforts and day-to-day tasks. 

Why is data loss prevention important? 

Consider the Ballad of Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), Bob Anderson. 

Once hailed as a CISO of the most competent variety, Anderson found himself facing a formidable crisis. Anderson had failed to properly implement data loss protection measures for the tech conglomerate he’d worked for since the good old days (the same days in which those frequently referenced “legacy systems” were born). He had not kept up with cutting edge strategies and tools for protecting his company’s sensitive data. To Anderson, data silos were a norm. He’d fallen behind as an authority on the latest encryption technologies and strategies. Perhaps his worst crime, Anderson thought the concept of “zero trust” was invented by George Orwell. 

When Anderson’s company was successfully hacked due to an oversight in their authentication processes, the data that once symbolized the company’s strength had suddenly become its Achilles’ heel. Valuable data, siloed in an unprotected drive just begging to be exploited, was successfully breached by a cyber criminal of embarrassingly novice status. Had Anderson implemented even the most rudimentary 2FA system in tandem with an initiative to integrate siloed systems, his fall from grace could have been avoided. 

What resulted from Bob Anderson’s folly is the following list: Seven best practices for ensuring your data is effectively protected. So please, don’t be like Bob.

How to prevent data loss and protect your company from harm 

1. Eliminating data silos: Bridging islands of information

Data silos can quickly turn your organization into the Bermuda Triangle. They create islands of data that are difficult to access, manage, and secure. Stuff gets lost, misplaced, never to be seen again. That’s why Keystrike’s first designated best practice in DLP is to eliminate data silos for data insurance that will keep on giving as the years go by. 

Here’s how to break down these digital barriers:

  • Data integration: Invest in systems and technologies that facilitate seamless data integration. When data flows freely across departments and systems, it becomes easier to monitor and protect.
  • Centralized control: Establish centralized control over data access and sharing. This ensures that sensitive data doesn’t get lost in the abyss of isolated systems.
  • Regular data audits: Conduct routine data audits to identify and dismantle any lingering data silos. This may involve consolidating data repositories and streamlining access.

By demolishing data silos, you gain a clearer view of your data landscape, making it less susceptible to breaches.

2. Monitor user activity

We all know to look out for interloping hackers–thwarting lateral movement and all that jazz–but data breaches aren’t always the result of well-executed break-ins. Users, employees, and third party contractors can also be a source of data vulnerabilities. While it’s not fair to openly accuse anybody of nefarious activity, the principle of zero trust asks us to consider that no idea, tool, or individual should be trusted with 100% certainty. This is exactly why monitoring user activity is a crucial part of DLP best practices.

Here’s what you should focus on:

  • User behavior analytics: Employ user behavior analytics tools that can identify unusual or suspicious activities. These can include large data transfers, repeated failed login attempts, or irregular access patterns.
  • Access controls: Implement strong access controls to ensure that users can only access the data they need to perform their job roles. This principle of least privilege reduces the risk of unauthorized data exposure.
  • User education: Regularly educate your users about data security best practices. Make them aware of the consequences of mishandling data and how their actions can impact the organization’s security.

3. Educate your employees

In the realm of data security, employees are the front-line defenders tasked with safeguarding an organization’s valuable assets. To fortify the effectiveness of your Data Loss Prevention (DLP) strategy, investing in employee education is not merely a best practice; it’s an imperative pillar of a robust security posture.

  • Cultivate Awareness: Help employees understand that, while they won’t be punished for making an honest mistake, they play a pivotal role in preserving the integrity and confidentiality of sensitive information. 
  • Comprehensive training: Provide your employees with thorough training in essential data security protocols, safe data handling practices, and the ability to recognize and respond to potential threats effectively.
  • Simulated drills: Provide employees with hands-on experience in responding to real-world cyber threats. 
  • Vigilance against phishing: Equip your employees with the skills to recognize phishing attempts and suspicious emails. 

4. Data classification and labeling

Not all data is created equal, and understanding what’s sensitive and what’s not is paramount in DLP. Data classification and labeling are essential practices in managing data effectively.

Here’s how to go about it:

  • Define data categories: Categorize your data into different levels of sensitivity. For instance, financial data, personal information, and trade secrets should be treated differently.
  • Label data: Assign clear labels to data so that it’s instantly recognizable. Labels can indicate whether data is public, internal, confidential, or highly sensitive.
  • Automate classification: Use automated tools to classify data based on content and context. This reduces the reliance on manual processes and minimizes human error.
Distressed man look at computer screen

Having problems with your authentication technology? If traditional authentication is bringing a single nail to a gunfight, cryptographically attested continuous authentication is a nail gun. 

5. Encryption, encryption, encryption

When it comes to data protection, encryption is your best friend. It’s like putting your data in an impenetrable vault and giving the keys only to those who need them.

Here are a few ways of thinking about encryption:

  • Data encryption at rest: Ensure that data stored on servers and in databases is encrypted. This prevents unauthorized access to data even if physical devices are compromised.
  • Data encryption in transit: Encrypt data as it moves between systems and across networks. This safeguards data from interception during transmission.
  • Key management: Implement a robust key management system to ensure that encryption keys are secure and accessible only to authorized personnel.

    6. Regularly update and patch systems

    Cyberthreats, also referred to as bad actors or hackers, are like midnight cat burglars trying to find an unlocked window. Keeping your systems and software up-to-date is a crucial DLP practice to ensure there are no vulnerabilities that can be exploited. 

    Here’s what you need to do:

    • Patch management: Establish a rigorous patch management process to keep your operating systems and software applications updated with the latest security patches.
    • Vulnerability scanning: Regularly scan your network and systems for vulnerabilities. This proactive approach helps you identify and address potential weaknesses before they are exploited.
    • Third-party software: Don’t forget about third-party software. Ensure that all applications, even those not developed in-house, are kept up-to-date.

      7. Incident response planning

      No matter how fortified your defenses are, there’s always a chance that a breach may occur. Uber probably never imagined that they’d need to prepare for a data breach successfully executed by a hacker of white-belt-level skill. Yet, in 2022, this became a reality. Just read the news reports—the scramble to rescue their system was hellish. The point is: Never think if, always when. Being prepared with a well-defined incident response plan is crucial to minimize the damage.

      Consider these approaches:

      • Response team: Establish an incident response team with clearly defined roles and responsibilities. This team should be ready to spring into action when a breach is detected.
      • Communication strategy: Develop a communication plan for both internal and external stakeholders. This ensures transparency and helps manage the fallout from a breach effectively.
      • Learn from incidents: After an incident, conduct a thorough post-mortem analysis. Learn from the breach to strengthen your defenses and prevent similar incidents in the future.

      Stay vigilant in an increasingly debaucherous digital landscape 

      Data loss prevention is the armor your organization needs in the digital battlefield. By eliminating data silos, monitoring user activity, classifying data, implementing encryption, keeping systems updated, and having a solid incident response plan, you can ensure that your digital assets remain safe and sound.

      In the world of data protection, a proactive approach is your best defense. Stay vigilant, stay informed, and keep your data protected. Your organization’s future depends on it.