Data Leakage Prevention: Why It Is Critical & 7 Tips for Success
What is Data Leakage?
A data leak occurs when sensitive or confidential data gets accidentally exposed on the Internet or physically through lost laptops or hard drives. It enables cybercriminals to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data without exerting any effort and use this data to launch a successful attack. Detecting and remediating data leaks before cybercriminals discover them is critical to reducing the risk of subsequent data breaches.
Why Is Data Leakage Prevention Important for Organizations?
A data loss event can have devastating impacts on businesses of all sizes. It can affect the financial health of a business and, unfortunately, no company is immune to data loss. According to the Cost of a Data Breach Report, the global average increased from $3.86 million to $4.24 million in 2021.
In addition to financial losses, a data loss event can result in productivity, revenue, and client losses while damaging a company’s reputation in the short- and long-term. A data leakage prevention strategy can help secure corporate data and intellectual property and maintain compliance with data and security regulations.
7 Best Practices for Data Leakage Detection and Prevention
1. Protect Endpoints
Endpoints are remote access points communicating autonomously with a corporate network or through end users. Common endpoints include mobile devices, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and computers. Most organizations adopt a remote working model that allows geographically-dispersed endpoints to connect. However, it is difficult to secure these endpoints.
Traditional endpoint protection consists of virtual private networks (VPNs) and firewalls, but these measures are insufficient to provide adequate coverage against the ever-evolving threat landscape. Phishing attacks often trick employees into allowing cybercriminals to breach the corporate ecosystem, bypassing VPNs and firewalls.
Organizations must teach employees to recognize threats and respond appropriately to avoid social engineering attacks. In addition to security training, organizations can utilize modern endpoint protection technology to implement multi-layered protection for enterprise endpoints.
2. Evaluate Third-Party Risk
Third parties like external products and service providers with access to privileged systems extend the attack surface. These parties do not always have the same protection and security standards as their client organization, and their security practices are outside the organization’s control. As a result, third parties expose organizations to significant risk.
Here is how to monitor third-party risks:
Evaluate their security posture — Assess the security of all vendors to determine whether they are likely or not to experience a data breach.
Check their compliance — Conduct vendor risk assessments to check third-party compliance against regulatory entities like the PCI-DSS, HIPAA, and GDPR, and standards like SOC-2.
Assess their attack surface — Compile vendor risk questionnaires using security frameworks or a third-party attack surface monitoring solution.
3. Evaluate Permissions
Organizations should give permissions only to individuals that require this specific access. The IT team, for example, does not require access to financial reporting functionality. Organizations should create a proper permissions-based hierarchy derived from a deep understanding of the existing data, sensitivity classifications, and the needs of individual staff members and departments. It is especially critical to ensure highly sensitive data remains protected.
4. Manage and Protect Secrets
The term secret refers to privileged credentials that programs use to access other software. Secrets typically include private data like keys that unlock sensitive data or secure resources in applications, containers, tools, DevOps environments, and clouds. Human and software users can access secrets using the technology stack.
Here are two primary ways attackers can gain can access to corporate secrets:
Human error — Can occur when administrators accidentally provide misconfigured access to programs or grant the wrong access level.
Cyber attacks — Threat actors often look for entryways into the software stack by identifying its weakest link. These security gaps can occur due to accidentally exposed or misconfigured secrets.
A secret protection program helps secure and manage corporate secrets. It also involves monitoring code for improper secret usage or accidental exposure and remediating the identified issues.
5. Protect Cloud Data
Organizations using cloud services are exposed to cloud leakage risks. It can occur when sensitive information stored in the cloud gets exposed to the public Internet, usually due to inefficient processes. Here are common techniques to mitigate this risk:
Implement specialized business processes to handle cloud operations.
Validate cloud storage configuration during deployment and when hosting business operation data.
Assess automation and third-party risks as part of an overall cloud data management program.
6. Enable Real-time Auditing and Reporting
Keeping track of changes to sensitive data is a highly effective way to prevent data leakage. This process can provide an immutable record of specific users with access to certain data, the actions performed on the data, and the time in which the activity occurred.
Auditing tools inform administrators in real-time when sensitive data is moved, accessed, shared, removed, or modified suspiciously or by unauthorized parties. It is especially useful when monitoring access to sensitive data stored in cloud environments. Once an alert is raised, an administrator can begin investigating the issue.
7. Train Employees on Data Leakage Risks
Regular cybersecurity awareness and hygiene training can help employees spot and respond to attacks. There are various types of training, including internal knowledge bases and external training by specialized firms.
Cybersecurity awareness and hygiene training can help employees:
Understand digital risks
How to avoid phishing links
Learn safe browsing practices
Avoid downloading and executing attachments
Prioritize data security and privacy
As employees can make mistakes regardless of the training, organizations should add another layer of protection. A digital risk protection platform can help support this effort by identifying the vulnerabilities missed by employees and human operators.