4 Simple Steps to Mature Your Data Security Strategy

In today’s digital landscape, safeguarding your data is more important than ever. Whether you’re a data platform owner, a data engineer on a busy team, or just a concerned professional who values an improved data security posture, taking steps to secure your data is crucial.

But where do you start?

We’ve all seen how quickly things move in the world of data – governments around the world are developing and enacting data privacy laws, information is being collected and shared more than ever before, and generative AI is evolving so quickly that most organizations are using it without having an official policy in place. Knowing where to start is anything but straightforward.

The 2024 State of Data Security Report underscores this challenge. We surveyed more than 700 data leaders from the US, UK, Canada, and Australia to get their perspectives on the biggest data security obstacles – and opportunities – facing data teams. The results were eye opening and reinforce that in a fast-moving environment, it’s essential to get the basics right.

This blog breaks down some of the key results and lays out four easy-to-follow steps to build a data security strategy that will ensure your data stays safe and sound, now and in the future.

First, What Is a Data Security Strategy?

A data security strategy is a documented collection of the steps your organization takes to ensure your data is protected. This includes all relevant processes, controls, tools, and stakeholders involved in securing data, as well as the rules and regulations that you must satisfy.

According to our report, 91% of data teams have a data strategy in place. Perhaps this is unsurprising, given that 77% say their data security budgets have increased in the past year. An increased focus on data security warrants more attention on exactly how it is carried out. Still, there are some key considerations that are easy to overlook. Let’s explore those further.

4 Steps to Mature Your Data Security Strategy

Lock Up Your Data and Know Who’s Accessing

Your data is like your own personal vault. You wouldn’t let just anyone in, right? Just as you would be in control of who has access to your vault, it’s essential to control who has access to your sensitive data. Implementing robust data security is like having a security guard at the door of your vault, making sure only authorized personnel get in and monitoring for anything suspicious.

But in practice, this isn’t so straightforward. Both the 2024 State of Data Security Report and the 2023 edition found that a lack of visibility into how data is accessed and shared is a top data security challenge, cited by 33% of this year’s respondents. If you don’t know what’s happening in your vault, what use is the guard outside of it?

As your organization scales, this only becomes harder to manage. Having too much data and too many data users have also been cited as major obstacles year over year. The shift toward decentralized data architectures like data mesh and the desire to democratize data access mean that teams need a better way to ensure that only the right people are accessing only the right data – at all times.

Consider using modern authentication methods like fingerprint scans, multi-factor authentication, and secret codes. These are like adding extra locks to the door, ensuring that even if someone gets close, they still need the right key to enter. It’s a simple but highly effective way to fortify your data’s defenses.

To further secure your data, add row- and column-level access controls directly onto it. When applied using attribute-based access control (ABAC), these techniques provide granular protection in a scalable, flexible manner. Essentially, they help ensure that if someone sneaks past the security guard, they will face another layer of security.

Strike the Balance Between Speed and Security

When automatically applied, the controls we just mentioned can greatly improve the speed at which teams can access data, without giving them the keys to the entire vault. This is important because in our report, 44% of respondents said it takes a week or more to access new data sets, and 57% indicated that such delays cause data users to resort to workarounds and quick fixes just to access the data they need. Not only is this incredibly inefficient, but it opens the door for more risk caused by internal users.

How much more productive and secure would your data operations be if you had a solution that removed the need for manual processes, while ensuring data is protected? Automating data security allows your data engineers to get back to what they’re best at – optimizing data pipelines and enabling end users to get more insights and value from data.

Enlist the Experts – But Have Additional Safeguards

No data environment is completely free of potential dangers, and no human is immune to overlooking them. The key is having the right people regularly checking for hidden surprises and vulnerabilities. And, when it comes to data security, that might be a large group – our report found that a third of organizations have 20 or more people involved in data security management.

When identifying risks that may be lurking in your data ecosystem, bring in the experts for a thorough security sweep. This includes stakeholders from your data security, platform, governance, and legal teams. They’ll locate any potential weak spots in their respective areas of expertise and provide recommendations to shore up your defenses. It’s like having a team of medical specialists that can pinpoint specific issues, but for your data. Remember, the best offense is a good defense, and staying one step ahead of potential threats is key.

Augment these experts’ trained eyes with technology to monitor data access across your system. Data monitoring and detection tools will proactively flag suspicious activity without the need for manual human inspection, so you can quickly investigate and remediate issues.

It’s important to note that the ultimate sneak is someone who poses as an employee with access privileges by stealing account credentials, usernames, and passwords. Traditional security won’t catch these nefarious actors, but setting up a honey pot could trap them. A honey pot is a set of data tables with rich (but fake) sensitive data. Like a bear to honey, the bad actor will be drawn to what they seek. Set an alert for anyone accessing this seemingly valuable PII and shut down that account immediately.

Have a Plan for When Things Go South

Even with the best precautions in place, there’s always a chance something unexpected could happen. Interestingly, 94% of respondents in the 2024 State of Data Security Report feel some degree of confidence in their ability to detect and respond to data threats. But given that a lack of visibility into data use was their top concern, this errs on the side of overconfidence. To be truly prepared, you should anticipate that someone will break through your defenses.

Think of your data as the crown jewels being protected atop your tower. Your moat and castle walls will thwart most casual thieves, but these layers of defense can be bested. That’s why having another line of defense – in this case, a solid incident response plan – is crucial.

In your data security strategy, detail the steps to be taken in the event of a data breach or security incident. Practice these steps regularly to ensure everyone on your team knows what to do in a high-pressure situation. That way, you’re not scrambling to figure out a plan when time is of the essence.

Putting Your Data Security Strategy into Action

Remember, these are just the basics. Depending on your specific needs and circumstances, you might need to go further. But starting with these four steps will put you well on your way to a more secure data environment with the coverage of a sound data security strategy.

Data security doesn’t have to be overly complex or intimidating. Just like locking your doors at night or wearing a seatbelt in the car, these precautions are essential in today’s digital world. So take that first step and fortify your data security today.

Read the Full 2024 State of Data Security Report

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