What is Data Loss Prevention (DLP)? Definition and Best Practices

By Phoebe Fasulo

Posted on May 24, 2021

Data can end up in the wrong hands whether it is sent through instant messaging, website forms, file transfers, emails, or other ways. When an organization fails to protect the sensitive data it owns or is entrusted with, it exposes that data to people that are not authorized to possess it.

The adoption of data loss prevention (DLP) strategies is on the rise as industry regulatory standards become more strict and the number of attacks caused by insider threats grows. In addition to reputational and financial protection, having the proper data loss prevention controls in place can help organizations easily maintain compliance, protect sensitive information, and gain visibility across all data and critical assets.

What is data loss prevention (DLP) and why is it important?

Data loss prevention is a set of technologies, products, and techniques used to ensure that sensitive data is not lost, exploited, or accessed by unauthorized users. Network administrators use DLP products to control the data that users can transfer. DLP products use business guidelines to classify and protect confidential and sensitive information so unauthorized users cannot access and accidentally share data.

As business communications rapidly increase, more people are accessing confidential corporate data and information than ever before. Some of these users can be irresponsible or malicious with how they are handling the data. These insider threats can exploit sensitive data and confidential information in a matter of seconds, if not controlled correctly. Data loss prevention stops data from being sent, either accidentally or intentionally, outside the corporate network. For example, an employee will be denied permission if they accidentally forward a business email outside of the corporate domain or if they attempt to send classified information to a non-authorized user.

Types of data leakage

It is crucial to understand the different types of data leakage, that way you can ensure that protective measures are put in place in all areas. Here are the three common types of data leakage:

Unintentional breach

The majority of data leakage incidents are accidental. For example, an employee can unintentionally send an email containing confidential data to the wrong person. Even though this form of leakage is not malicious, unintentional data leakage can still result in the same level of reputational damage.

Malicious insider threats

An insider threat is a security risk within the organization, such as current or former employees, business partners, or the Board of Directors. The majority of data loss does not occur over an electronic medium but via printers, photocopiers, cameras, removable USB drives, and other means. An ill-intentioned employee can leak confidential data and information outside of the corporate domain for a number of reasons, including a disagreement with the business or if they are promised a large payout by cybercriminals.

Social engineering attacks

Social engineering attacks use psychological manipulation to fool users or employees into handing over confidential information. Social engineering typically involves an email or other means of communication that invokes urgency or fear in the victim, leading them to quickly reveal information, open a compromised file, or click on a harmful link.

Best practices for data loss prevention

Data loss prevention solutions prevent data leakage by helping organizations monitor and control sensitive data as it travels outside of their networks. Here are some best practices for a successful DLP program:

Conduct a cyber risk assessment

A cyber risk assessment can help you identify potential threats and vulnerabilities in your security system so you can prevent or reduce security incidents in the future. Ultimately, a cyber risk assessment will save your organization money and reputational damage in the long run.

Monitor on an ongoing basis

To gain visibility and understanding of what’s happening with your sensitive data, it is important to continuously monitor it. This will help you proactively identify threats and determine which issues your DLP strategy should promptly address and remediate.

Train employees

You can leverage user training to reduce the risks of accidental data loss by insiders. Sometimes employees fail to notice their actions can result in data loss, but user training can help them better handle sensitive corporate data. User training can also help inform employees of data use that may violate company policy. Ultimately, education and training efforts can increase their likelihood to follow security policies and procedures.

Develop security controls and processes

At the beginning of your data loss prevention program, you can employ data usage controls, such as a Zero Trust system, to reduce data risks by targeting common behaviors. As your DLP program matures, you can start to develop more granular and fine-tuned controls to minimize specific data risks.

Identify and classify sensitive data

To effectively protect your data, you must classify it and know precisely what types of data you have. Every organization needs a data classification framework for both unstructured and structured data. Common data security categories include internal, public, confidential, financial data, regulated data, and personally identifiable information (PII).

How SecurityScorecard can help prevent data loss

SecurityScorecard’s Security Ratings can help prevent data loss incidents by providing a comprehensive view of your organization’s security posture on an ongoing basis. With SecurityScorecard’s data collection and granular analytics capabilities, your organization will gain complete visibility of your network and system vulnerabilities all from a hacker’s perspective.

Additionally, our user-friendly dashboard displays the most critical and common risks for your organization so you can prioritize remediation efforts in the case of a data loss incident. By incorporating SecurityScorecard’s Security Ratings into your data loss prevention strategy, you will be better prepared for any future data-related incidents.

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