Data Security in a Digital Age: Protecting Your Business and Customers

The current digital age has given everyone access to information at a level far beyond where we were even 10 years ago which has created complexities in the accuracy of information and security. We are so accustomed or overwhelmed with entering our personal information or hitting accept on any prompt that pops up that unfortunately what we consider private data is now widely available. With the advent of ChapGPT, it is more important than ever we take time to understand and take steps to protect our privacy and security.

Having awareness and understanding of the digital privacy of all the applications we use online will help protect us from Cyber Threats, safeguard our financial information, and minimize the risks of data breaches.

What is Data Privacy and Security?

Data privacy is the right of an individual to control how their personal information is collected, shared, and disclosed. Data security is the steps taken to protect data from hackers, exposure, disasters, and the mishandling or integrity of sensitive information.

The evolution of data privacy and security has been shaped by advances in technology and changes in the way data is collected, used, and shared. In the early days of computers, data privacy and security were primarily concerned with protecting data from physical theft or damage. Even just a few years ago finance departments focused on locking up checks and organizations having a “clean desk policy”. As technology advanced and the use of computers and the internet became more widespread, the need shifted to protecting data from cyber threats such as hacking, phishing, and malware. Now we must be focused on protecting our online banking and files stored in the cloud. The rise of AI, cloud computing, and the vast software as a service model has further increased the importance of data privacy and security, as more and more personal and sensitive information is being shared and stored online.

Types of Data Security

Data Erasure

Data erasure is the process of permanently removing data, historically from hard drives in your possession, and now expanded to data stored on 3rd party cloud systems. Data erasure measures are taken to ensure sensitive information can no longer be accessed. An example would be recycling an old laptop that had company data on it. The hard drive should be properly removed and destroyed using documented processes to ensure the data cannot be recovered. When using 3rd party cloud tools, take time to find out what their data destruction policies are and if they meet your internal requirements.


Data encryption is the process of scrambling the data so that only an authorized person or system can unscramble it for use. There are many types of encryption and it is used across all technologies. The purpose is the same, to prevent unauthorized access to data, via malicious or accidental. Going back to the laptop example; if a laptop containing sensitive data is lost or stolen, encryption on the hard drive ensures the data will remain secure.

Data Masking

Data masking is the process of redacting sensitive information or replacing sensitive information with fictitious data. This is typically used when needing to share a full data set for testing, training, research, or analysis and the sensitive information is irrelevant or the receiving party is not authorized to view it.

Data Resiliency

Data resiliency is a term that describes the availability to access data in the event of a disaster, in the form of power outages to cyber attacks. The availability of important data, needed for real-time access, should be configured for redundancy, recovery, and foremost prevention. Think of medicine, banking, or the stock market, those systems need to be running and any outage would create real chaos and disaster. Resiliency in systems has measures in place to prevent outages so critical systems are always available.

Why is Digital Privacy Important?

Digital privacy is important to both individuals and businesses. The risk of having personal information exposed, such as medical and financial, could lead to loss of money, work, reputation, and general security. The risk of exposure of sensitive business information could lead to loss of customers, lawsuits, fraud, and ultimately closure. (Data protection laws by state and industry)

Personal Data Privacy & Protection

Exposure or lack of protection of personal data could lead to medical, financial, and reputational loss. The most common form of personal data breach is financial, typically using your social security number to obtain new credit loans driving up your debt and ruining your credit. During tax season it is common to have your tax returns filed by someone else, trying to claim a default amount in monetary returns.

Corporate Data Privacy & Protection

Data breaches for a company at worst could lead to complete ruin at best cost thousands of dollars and create a negative reputational hit. The level of impact is based on the business’s industry, regulations, and customer base. In most locations when a security event is detected it is the organizations burden to prove data was not exfiltrated. That means it is assumed data has been leaked, ensuring all the necessary ramifications, unless it can be proven it wasn’t. In the event of ransomware, if the data can’t be restored, the business may no longer be able to function. In the case of healthcare, the lack of patient data puts patients at risk and creates work stoppage, loss of revenue, possible layoffs, and lawsuits.

Why is Digital Security Important?

To keep sensitive data safe, organizations should implement security measures to safeguard against outside hackers, staff maleficence, or error-causing data to be publicly accessible. Proper security prevents personal and financial information from being leaked.

Data Security Capabilities and Solutions

Organizations should implement security solutions to prevent, monitor, and protect sensitive data. The main areas to focus on are Data and File Activity Monitoring, Data Discovery and Classification, Automated Compliance Reporting, and Vulnerability and Risk Analysis tools.

Data and File Activity Monitoring

Data and file activity monitoring is the process of tracking and analyzing the access and usage of data and files within an organization. This includes monitoring who accesses data, when and how it is accessed, and what changes are made. The purpose of data and file activity monitoring is to detect and prevent unauthorized access, data breaches, and data loss. By monitoring data and file activity, organizations can identify and respond to suspicious behavior, ensure compliance with data protection regulations, and maintain the integrity and security of their data.

Data Discovery and Classification Tools

Data discovery and classification tools are used to identify and categorize data within an organization. These tools scan data repositories and automatically classify data based on predefined categories or rules. The purpose of data discovery and classification is to help organizations understand the types of data they have, where it is located, and how it is being used. This information is critical for ensuring compliance with data protection regulations, identifying and mitigating risks, and implementing effective data security measures. By using data discovery and classification tools, organizations can gain greater visibility and control over their data, reducing the risk of data breaches and improving their overall security posture.

Automated Compliance Reporting

Automated compliance reporting is the use of software tools to automatically generate reports that demonstrate an organization’s compliance with regulatory requirements and industry standards. These tools can help organizations streamline the compliance reporting process, reduce the risk of errors, and ensure all necessary information is included in the reports. Automated compliance reporting is used to save time and resources, improve accuracy, and provide a clear and auditable record of compliance activities. By automating the compliance reporting process, organizations can more easily meet their regulatory obligations and demonstrate their commitment to data protection and security.

Vulnerability Assessment and Risk Analysis Tools

Vulnerability assessment and risk analysis tools are used to identify, evaluate, and prioritize vulnerabilities and risks to an organization’s data and systems. These tools help organizations understand their security posture, identify areas of weakness, and implement measures to mitigate risks and improve their overall security. By using vulnerability assessment and risk analysis tools, organizations can proactively address vulnerabilities and risks, reducing the likelihood of data breaches and other security incidents.

Data Security Posture Management (DSPM)

Data Security Posture Management (DSPM) refers to the process of continuously monitoring, assessing, and improving an organization’s data security posture. This involves identifying and addressing vulnerabilities, implementing security controls, and ensuring compliance with data protection regulations and industry standards. DSPM is used to help organizations proactively manage their data security risks, reduce the likelihood of data breaches, and protect sensitive information from unauthorized access or disclosure.

Challenges in the Digital Age

The challenge and need to secure your data is ever increasing. The reliance and use of 3rd party tools, the desire to access data from any device, anywhere, and the continuing rise and complexity of hackers are all hurdles to overcome. It is important to properly and continually ensure 3rd parties, with access to sensitive data, are maintaining the proper standards of security. If they get breached, your organization’s data gets exposed. Staff are accessing, manipulating, and sharing data 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, from locations nationwide and worldwide. Even at smaller organizations, IT is now responsible for supporting a disparate global workforce, who multitask and operate quickly. IT needs to enable organizations to operate effectively, within the boundaries of proper security, it becomes a “Yes and” culture. As we have seen in the news, foreign governments are funding companies whose purpose is to create digital chaos and harm. The hackers today are sophisticated, organized, and well-funded. Every small fissure in the dam needs to be sealed.

Digital Security and Privacy in Practice

Data Loss Protection measures have proven to work when a healthcare organization attempts to send patient information unencrypted. The system triggered when an employee did not choose to encrypt the email containing PHI, so it immediately stopped it from going out and notified both the employee, their manager, and IT. Sending PHI unencrypted could cost a healthcare institution thousands if not millions in fines.

Risky Sign-in detection, built into the Microsoft security toolset, prevented a foreign hacker from accessing organizational data after an employee mistakenly fell for a phishing attack. The employee thought they received an email to check their voicemail and entered their real credentials. The hackers immediately attempted to log in using the provided username and password but the security system knew it was a malicious anomaly, blocked the login, notified IT, and froze the user’s account.

Unfortunately, hackers have a new more complex means of breaking into user’s accounts called session hijacking. Session hijacking allows hackers to take over a user’s “cookies” simply by fooling a user into clicking on a link. The cookies are unique pieces of data only found on your computer once you log in to a site, so you stay logged in. The new malicious technology allows hackers to steal that cookie so they can log in as you, without needing your username/password or two-factor code. They steal this cookie when you click on a bad link, just clicking on it is enough. The only protection is to restrict access to company data from company computers only. This happened to a financial institution resulting in funds being transferred to a country with no extradition.

Digital Security and Privacy Best Practices

To protect your digital privacy and security as an individual, there are several best practices you can follow. Firstly, lock your credit and use credit and identity theft monitoring to keep your financial information safe. Always use two-factor authentication when available and use a password management system, such as DashLane, to generate and store unique passwords for each site. Encrypt your computer and phone to protect your data, and backup your data using cloud storage services like Google, OneDrive, or Dropbox. Additionally, having Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) software on your computer can provide an extra layer of protection against cyber threats.

For organizations, your IT should already be managing basic security and should be aware of more advanced systems available to organizations. To protect your organization’s digital privacy and security, there are several best practices you can follow. Risky Login Detection is a security measure that detects and prevents unauthorized access to your organization’s data by identifying and blocking suspicious login attempts. Conditional Access is a security measure that allows you to control access to your organization’s data based on specific conditions, such as the user’s location, device, or risk level. Data Loss Protection Tools are security measures that help prevent data breaches by monitoring and protecting sensitive data from unauthorized access, use, or disclosure. Cyber Awareness Training is a security measure that educates employees about cyber threats and best practices for protecting your organization’s data. By implementing these measures, you can improve your organization’s digital security and protect against cyber threats.

Digital Footprints and Privacy Security

A digital footprint refers to the trail of data that is left behind by users on digital services. This includes information that is actively shared, such as social media posts, as well as passive information that is collected by websites and apps, such as browsing history, location data, and device information. Digital footprints can be used to build a profile of an individual’s interests, behaviors, and activities, and can have implications for privacy and security. It is important to be aware of your digital footprint and take steps to minimize your digital exposure, such as using privacy settings, being mindful of what you share online, and using tools to protect your data.

How to Minimize Digital Exposure

  • Be mindful of what you share online: Avoid sharing personal information, such as your full name, address, and date of birth, on social media or other public platforms.
  • Do not enter personal information into public AI prompts
  • Use privacy settings: Most social media platforms and websites have privacy settings that allow you to control who can see your information. Make sure to review and adjust these settings to limit your digital exposure.
  • Use strong and unique passwords: Use a different password for each of your online accounts and make sure they are strong and difficult to guess.
  • Keep your software up to date: Regularly update your operating system, web browser, and other software to ensure you have the latest security patches and fixes.
  • Be cautious when clicking on links or downloading attachments: Be wary of clicking on links or downloading attachments from unknown or suspicious sources, as they may contain malware or lead to phishing websites

What Are the Laws That Govern Data Privacy?

There are several laws around data privacy, which vary by region and jurisdiction. Some of the most well-known laws include:

  • The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union, which sets strict standards for the collection, use, and storage of personal data.
  • The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in California, gives consumers the right to know what personal information is being collected about them and the right to request that it be deleted.
  • Massachusetts CMR 17 is a data security regulation that requires businesses to implement a comprehensive information security program to protect the personal information of Massachusetts residents.
  • Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA): Also known as the Financial Modernization Act of 1999, the GLBA requires financial corporations to explain how they protect and share customers’ sensitive
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA): This federal law regulates the disclosure and use of protected health information (PHI).
  • Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA): This law restricts the collection of personal information about children under 13 years old.
  • Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA): This federal law protects the privacy of student records and applies to all schools that receive funds from the US Department of Education.
  • Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA): Governs the collection and use of consumer information

Other States that have privacy acts:

  • Colorado
  • Virginia
  • Nevada
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey

States with proposed privacy laws Ohio, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, and New York

The Future of Digital Privacy and Security

With the introduction of AI and the increase in hackers, there will be an ever-increasing need to secure your data. Many states are proposing and passing laws that require organizations to be more vigilant and take data governance seriously. These new laws will cover privacy policy requirements, data classification, and data retention.

Data security and privacy are crucial in today’s digital age. It is important for individuals and businesses to understand the risks and take proactive measures to protect their sensitive information. This includes implementing security solutions, following best practices, and staying informed about emerging threats and trends. By taking these steps, we can safeguard our digital privacy and security, and protect ourselves and our businesses from cyber threats.

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