Privacy Engineering’s Emerging Role in the Future of Data Security

Organizations want to be data-driven, but the question of how to do so is still being worked out by a collection of data engineers, legal and compliance experts, and data users. Between the evolving utility of data, the growing popularity of migrating data to the cloud, and the development and enhancement of the modern data stack, today’s data environment is constantly in flux as teams iterate the next best tools, processes, and practices.

In the midst of this evolution, regulatory requirements and customer awareness have turned up the spotlight on data privacy. High-profile data breaches and leaks are consistently in the news, and effective security and privacy strategies are a top priority for engineering teams across industries. To keep data safe while pursuing the cutting edge, organizations need to develop teams that are focused solely on guaranteeing these privacy standards. This is where a concept like privacy engineering becomes extremely important.

What is Privacy Engineering?

At its core, privacy engineering is a development function focused on integrating privacy-enhancing measures into data platforms and ecosystems. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines privacy engineering as:

“A specialty discipline of systems engineering focused on achieving freedom from conditions that can create problems for individuals with unacceptable consequences that arise from the system as it processes PII.”

This function aligns directly with the concept of “privacy-by-design,” which drives data privacy compliance by baking privacy considerations into data workflows from square one. By incorporating privacy engineering, teams strive to create a data stack that maintains a base level of proactive data protection, and avoid reactionary responses to events like data breaches, leaks, or other catastrophes.

With dedicated engineering resources focused entirely on data privacy, organizations inject their development process with an added layer of inherent security and protection.

How is Privacy Engineering Being Deployed in Modern Organizations?

Privacy engineering as a whole is a somewhat nascent aspect of the modern data landscape. Therefore, it is not entirely surprising that only a slight majority of respondents (58%) surveyed by Immuta and S&P Global’s 451 Research reported that their organization has established a dedicated privacy engineering function. This demonstrates that privacy-specific functions are beginning to grow in modern data-driven teams, but there is still a long way to go before they are fully developed and widely deployed.

The relative newness of privacy engineering is evident in the lack of consistent reporting structures at the surveyed organizations. When asked which business unit their privacy engineering staff reported to, respondents’ answers covered a range of positions and teams, including the C-Suite (24%), IT (21%), Information Security (15%), and DevOps (9%), among others. This shows that while organizations are gradually implementing privacy engineering measures, they have not yet solidified their approaches to formalizing this important function.

Privacy Engineering’s Emerging Role in Data Security

It’s clear that privacy engineering has an important purpose in contemporary data use. But how is this function directly improving data security?

For one, privacy engineers act as the first line of defense in maintaining compliance with data regulations. There are a wide range of legal rules, regulations, and industry standards that organizations are required to meet regarding their data use. These measures are integral to the safety and privacy of individuals’ sensitive data, and must be enforced in order to avoid fines, legal action, and breaches in customer trust. Including privacy engineering teams in the development and maintenance of your data stack ensures that security and compliance are considered from the earliest stages of your organization’s data workflows.

Beyond compliance, privacy engineering also enhances knowledge across an organization’s various teams. Given their subject matter expertise, privacy engineers bridge the gap between regulatory requirements and product development. It’s not necessarily common for legal teams to have extensive technical knowledge, nor for engineering teams to have a wide-ranging understanding of privacy law. By acting as a conduit between legal/compliance teams and engineers/developers, privacy engineers can ensure that these teams are united in their goals and objectives.

Ultimately, data security is the responsibility of many teams. When privacy engineers focus specifically on building privacy-by-design into data ecosystems, these dispersed teams can more easily be united in providing secure products or services to their customers.

Integrating Privacy Engineering into Your Data Stack

There are a range of practices to consider when integrating privacy engineering into your developing data stack. First, data teams need to be structured and skilled in a way that empowers privacy engineering. Of those who reported having dedicated privacy engineering teams, 64.2% said they were built and supported by upskilling personnel. It’s important to invest in effective training to enable your privacy personnel with the most up-to-date knowledge and skills.

A high-level review of your current data strategy can also help inform how privacy engineering fits into your existing organization structure. Whether as an offshoot of an existing team or an entirely new internal group, this function needs to be structured in a way that allows it to fulfill its privacy goals. Only 49.3% of existing privacy engineering teams reported having access to a dedicated budget and dedicated tools, making their privacy objectives harder to attain. These teams cannot, and should not, be created in a vacuum.

Lastly, the adoption of a robust data security platform can provide immense support for privacy engineering objectives. The Immuta Data Security Platform allows users to discover, secure, and monitor the sensitive data that exists in their data ecosystem. To secure and protect the privacy of this data, Immuta allows users to build and enforce easy-to-comprehend plain language policies, so that privacy engineers, legal teams, and software developers can all understand them. Once written, policies are enforced automatically across an organization’s entire data stack, ensuring that any privacy requirements built into policy are applied regardless of where a query is taking place. These queries are automatically logged to create a holistic audit trail, giving teams total oversight and reinforcing compliance efforts.

To learn more about the growing importance of privacy engineering and other data security functions, download Immuta & 451 Research’s Data Policy Management Report. To see how simple it is to create security and privacy policies in Immuta, try our self-guided walkthrough demo!

The Data Policy Management Report

Immuta and S&P Global’s 451 Research surveyed 600 data professionals to get an inside look at the state of data policy management.

Download the Report

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