Controlling access to sensitive data is tough. Be too restrictive, and your employees run into too many roadblocks to do their jobs effectively. Too loose, and you are effectively guaranteeing that your organization will find itself on the front page as a victim of one of the many data breaches happening every day. That is why it is important to craft an effective data security strategy: one that relies on automation and oversight to ensure the privacy of your users’ data.
What Exactly Is Data Security?
In a nutshell, data security is the way in which information is stored and retrieved to best prevent unauthorized access. From email passwords to credit card numbers and medical records, the data that users generate can be incredibly sensitive. In a world that is almost entirely run by databases, having a process in place for accessing that data in a safe and private manner is critical.
Here’s the thing: data breaches aren’t going away. In an increasingly connected world, the attack surface is simply too large to defend perfectly; but just because we may not be able to prevent every zero-day, vulnerability, and phishing attempt doesn’t mean that we can’t reduce their impact. The way in which sensitive data is stored and retrieved is what ultimately determines how devastating an attack is.
How Automation Improves Data Handling
Let’s face it: in security, humans are often the problem. While zero-days get the headlines, it’s social engineering that does the most damage. No matter how secure your infrastructure is, all it takes is one person to click the wrong link or respond to the wrong text message for a skilled attacker to get in, because they know that your security is only as strong as your weakest link.
With automation, we can take humans out of the loop. No humans, no human error. Control is increased, as is transparency, and compliance is far easier to achieve. With automated data handling, everyone plays on a level playing field, meaning that access is codified. In other words, you can’t argue with a machine, nor can you manipulate, flatter, bribe, or otherwise convince it to do something it knows it isn’t supposed to do (bad code notwithstanding).
Tips for Automating Data Access
That’s all fine and good, but how do we actually use automation to improve the security of sensitive data? While there are a number of different approaches that you can take — some more effective than others — let’s take a look at four of the most common.
Take the Scenic Route
Users should only be given access to the data they need at the time they need it. This means eliminating direct data access in favor of data access workflows. No more database logins. Think of it like going to the library and checking out a specific book on the C programming language rather than walking out with the entire software development section.
Encryption, Encryption, Encryption
If the neverending stream of hacking news is of any indication, security is never perfect. New vulnerabilities are discovered every day, and only a fraction of those are reported and patched. If data can be accessed without permission, encrypting it at rest makes the impact of that breach much lower. It’s much harder to get worked up about a hacker getting access to your credit card number if it doesn’t actually look like a credit card number, isn’t it?
Mother, May I?
Whether it is automated or manual, permission to access data should always be granted rather than given. Erring on the side of restricted access ensures information security. While manual permission can be difficult to manage at scale, automated workflows can programmatically grant access based on need, such as a user’s title, their tenure, or even the time of year.
Always Be Tracking
It doesn’t much matter what automated workflows you put into place if you don’t know who is accessing your data or when that data is being accessed. Audit logs ensure that you can adjust automations over time to keep security tight, and in the event of a data breach, you can better identify exactly what happened and when <insert “the more you know” meme here>.
Taking Things Further
Automation can help keep your data more secure, but it can also help speed up audits for security certifications, which ask for many of these types of guardrails, and help increase trust with your users. You can never be too careful, even with the right processes in place, but you can definitely be too careless — and how you treat your data security reflects how trustworthy users will view your organization. So, in the immortal words of Gandalf the Grey, when it comes to sensitive data, “keep it secret, keep it safe.”