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6 data security best practices to keep your data protected

Virtual connections are overlaid a photo of a meeting table occupied by laptops, coffee mugs and hands

By Michael Feder

At a glance

  • Data protection is the safeguarding of information from data breaches, corruption or compromise.
  • Controlling access, ensuring portability and guaranteeing recovery are major aspects of cybersecurity.
  • technology degree is one of the best ways to prepare for a career in cybersecurity.

Data protection is crucial in today’s digital world to keep information secure. Businesses in nearly every major industry rely on data for decision-making, forecasting and analysis. Furthermore, individuals are willing to provide personal data in exchange for the convenience of seamless access to services, such as instant online payments. 

Data can be considered a virtual representation of the physical world. And just like in the real world, there are crucial things people would like to keep secure from data breaches and prying eyes. With the number of types of cybersecurity threats increasing every day, the future of data depends on the security steps society takes to safeguard it today. 

There have been plenty of high-profile data breaches in recent times. For example, in 2021, hackers stole the personal data of 533 million Facebook users, including profile photos, addresses and phone numbers. As more companies ask for private data to offer streamlined service to users, the future of security is going to be even more complicated than it is today. 

Here's a closer look at the importance of secure data management and the strategies you can adopt to keep private information away from prying eyes. 

What is data protection and why is it important?

Data protection is the regulation and encryption of information from data breaches, corruption or compromise. For most people, data security focuses on securing and safeguarding information against hackers. However, other issues — such as having your data lost or corrupted due to a storage device or database failure — are much more common. 

Three principles guide security best practices, and understanding how the principles work together helps individuals and organizations better manage and protect their sensitive information:

  • Data availability: Users should be able to access the data they need to perform their duties even when it’s damaged or lost.
  • Data life-cycle management: Systems should continuously and automatically transmit newly generated data to offline and online storage facilities.
  • Information life-cycle management: Raw data should be valued, categorized and then protected as an information asset. By assigning a value to data, data managers can decide how much protection is necessary. They can then protect valuable data from malware, media failure, user and application errors, outages, disruptions and natural disasters.

Data security involves both security and access to information. The challenge, therefore, is to protect information while still making it easily accessible to those who need to use it. 

What is the purpose of data protection?

Data forms the backbone of many personal and business processes. Social media and e-commerce platforms use data to tailor online experiences, and businesses depend on data to perform analyses that inform critical decisions that affect their bottom lines. 

Data protection is a broad security field, but here are three major aspects: 

  • Controlling access: Only those authorized to access a specific piece of data should be able to view it.
  • Ensuring portability: Data should be easy to transfer securely across a network, from one location or system to another without risking loss or compromise. 
  • Guaranteeing recovery and restoration: In the event of data loss, it should be possible to recover all the data from a backup and restore it as quickly as possible so that there are no operational or service interruptions. 

Defining your security needs is the first step in adopting an effective strategy.

What data needs to be protected?

Data comes in different types. Some types need a significant amount of protection, and others do not. 

For example, you don’t need to hide information about the weather forecast or the location of the local library. On the other hand, you don’t want the wrong people knowing your home address, ID number or debit card PIN. 

Different types of data are considered private at an individual and institutional level. It’s impossible to list every data type you might want use encryption to protect, but here are the most common examples:

  • Names
  • Addresses
  • Email
  • Telephone numbers
  • Bank and credit card details
  • Health information
  • Intellectual property, such as design for a proprietary device
  • Financial Information

Governments also have sensitive data, such as military intelligence, that they need to protect with the highest levels of security. 

How to protect personal and business data

Companies have cybersecurity teams that create IT risk management policies that include security strategies. However, data security is not only for corporations. As an individual, you can also take steps to protect your personal information and ensure it’s accessible when you need it.

Here are the steps you can take to protect personal and business data: 

1. Understand data technologies and databases

It’s essential to understand the systems involved in data protection. Here are the primary components of data management: 

  • Database: Generally speaking, a database is nothing more than a mass of information sitting on a server or storage device. This data may be structured in various ways and serve different purposes. Individuals can use applications or software to access or organize the data. 
  • SQLStructured Query Language, known as SQL, is a specification for the language used to program, modify or help secure databases. Hackers sometimes find vulnerabilities in SQL code that they exploit to gain access to sensitive data. 
  • File systems: File systems allow you to access and share information within a secured system. Different operating systems have different file systems. Many people in nontechnical positions within a company use file systems to access and share information. 

If you want to be on the front lines of data security, you likely will need to pursue a technology degree. For example, a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science will equip you with fundamental skills to assist your work in a data management career. Meanwhile, an IT degree offers more hands-on education in systems and tools for data management and protection. 

2. Be able to identify sensitive data

You don’t want to spend time and resources protecting data that isn’t sensitive. It’s essential to know what qualifies as sensitive in this context. Intellectual property, business intelligence or analysis, and personal identifiers, such as Social Security numbers or addresses, typically qualify as sensitive data. 

While it’s possible to manually classify data that needs protection, this isn’t always necessary. Data discovery and classification technologies use automated queries to find specific data, such as phone numbers or Social Security numbers. The system can then place the proper protection protocols on that information. 

3. Create efficient data usage policies

Data protection includes having a clear policy on who can access what data and under what conditions. You also have to define how employees or third parties can use the data. Cybersecurity best practices should also be clear to everyone who has access to networks with sensitive data because one unsecured or malware-infected device can compromise the data on the entire network. 

4. Control access to sensitive data

In most cases, the best policy is to give employees access to the data they need to perform their duties and nothing else. There are several ways to control access. You can use keycards and other systems to limit access to the physical server room where data is stored. 

Also, you can restrict the use of hard drives or online storage to limit the ability to copy sensitive data. A well-partitioned database system can also limit digital access. Finally, you can implement termination protocols, which define the steps that the company takes to ensure employees cannot access protected data after they quit. 

5. Use data encryption

Data encryption is the conversion of information into a form that prevents unauthorized access. Encrypted data appears as a nonsensical collection of words and numbers unless you have a decryption key, which converts it into a readable format. Sensitive data should always be encrypted before transmission or storage. 

6. Perform regular data backups

Protecting against data loss is an important aspect of data management. Backups ensure the existence of several copies of your data. If one copy is destroyed or compromised, you can access another one. Efficient database and file management systems use continuous backups. This feature, also known as mirroring, ensures it’s always possible to restore your data when you lose it, even if you don’t physically save it.

Understanding the fundamentals of data security can help protect you from data theft and fraud. With this guide, we hope to have given you a general introduction to the subject.

Frequently asked questions about data protection

What is data security?

Data security refers to the practice of safeguarding information from loss, corruption or compromise from malicious cyber hackers. Professionals are hired to help companies keep their data safe.

What are the types of data security?

According to the CIA, there are three main types of data security known as the “CIA triad.” These three types are confidentiality, integrity and availability. Respectively, these deal with encryption, tampering and availability, and all three pose major challenges to data security.

What is the purpose of data security?

Data protection involves both security and access to information. The challenge, therefore, is to protect information while still making it easily accessible to those who need to use it. 

What are the 8 principles of data protection?

In 2018, the European Union (EU) enacted the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). While the GDPR applies primarily to EU citizens, it is considered general data privacy best practices, compliance and regulations for companies across the world and comprises eight principles of data security:

  1. Lawfulness, fairness and transparency
  2. Specific intended purpose
  3. Minimum data requirements
  4. Accuracy
  5. Storage and date retention time limitation
  6. Right to be forgotten
  7. Integrity and confidentiality
  8. Accountability

What is continuous data protection?

Also known as “continuous backup,” continuous data protection (CDP) refers to the encryption or backup of computer data in real time through a system that automatically saves a copy of data every time a change is made. CDP makes it possible to restore a system to any previous point in time after a change was made.

What is the Virginia Consumer Data Protection Act?

In 2021, Virginia passed the Consumer Data Protection Act (VCDPA), which grants some businesses the ability to provide consumers with access to and control of the personal data businesses collect on them. Virginia is the second state to pass a consumer privacy law following California’s Consumer Privacy Act. The VCDPA will go into effect Jan. 1, 2023.

Interested in a career in data protection? University of Phoenix offers degree programs that prepare graduates for work in the field.

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