What is Data Security?

April 27, 2023

Digital transformation has allowed companies to rethink the way they operate and engage with customers. In turn, the resulting exponential growth in data has driven the imperative for data security where companies adopt tools and practices that better ensure the safety and integrity of their data—and that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

With the wide adoption of hybrid work, expanding tech stacks and budget concerns that often leave security teams overtaxed and understaffed, data security has become even more important in recent years. Adding compliance into the mix, where the breadth of regional and global compliance mandates are consistently being updated and expanded, further heightens the importance of ensuring good data security practices.

Threats to an Organization’s Data

In today’s digital world, the threat of cyberattacks is becoming increasingly common. Companies continuously face high volumes of cyberattacks that can compromise their data and lead to financial losses. And it’s not just external threats that companies need to worry about. Internal threats such as employee negligence or malicious actors can also lead to data breaches and other security issues. Some of the many threats to a company’s data include:

  • Accidental exposure

In the course of using company data, it only takes one minor accident like an unintended email attachment, lost device or other human error to cause a major issue.

  • Social engineering

Social engineering is a prevalent threat, comprising 82% of breaches. Social engineering is a popular tactic because it’s often easier for cybercriminals to convince an unsuspecting employee to take a desired action than it is to hack into a company’s network.

  • Insider threats

Internal threat sources are typically current or former employees, contractors or partners with authorized access to the company’s network. Insiders can have non-malicious intent, exposing data accidentally through negligence. They can also pose malicious threats via abuse of their privileged access and act maliciously for gains, such as espionage, fraud, intellectual property theft and sabotage.

  • Malware

Malware is any program or code that is created with the intent to do harm to a computer, network or server. Malware is the most common type of cyberattack, mostly because the term encompasses many subsets such as ransomware, trojans, spyware, viruses and any other type of malware attack that leverages software in a malicious way.

  • Ransomware

Ransomware is a major and growing threat to company data, contributing to 25% of data breaches. Cyber criminals use ransomware attacks to infect corporate devices and encrypt data. Then, the attacker threatens to expose the data unless the company pays a ransom fee in order to receive the decryption key.

  • Cloud data storage

As organizations leverage the cloud’s benefits, a lot of a company’s data gets moved and stored in the cloud. Embracing the cloud widens the attack surface and, when the cloud data is left unprotected, it opens the door for adversaries to take advantage.

Data Security Defined

Data is the lifeblood of every organization, and, for something so essential to a company’s success, its protection is a critical issue for organizations of all sizes. Data security is key to maintaining the confidentiality, integrity and availability of an organization’s data. By implementing strong data security measures, organizations can help protect their valuable assets, meet relevant compliance requirements and maintain customer trust in the company’s brand.

On the topic of safeguarding an organization’s data, data security and data privacy are two concepts that sometimes get mixed up or used interchangeably. These are discrete concepts but work in tandem with one another. To better understand how they work together it can be helpful to define them:

Data security

Data security is the practice of protecting digital data from unauthorized access, use or disclosure in a manner consistent with an organization’s risk strategy. It also includes protecting data from disruption, modification or destruction.

Data privacy

Data privacy is the control over who gets to see an organization’s personal or confidential information like credit card numbers, a customer list or the company’s bank statements. It’s also about controlling what they are authorized to do with the information after they have accessed it.

Cloud Security Assessment Data Sheet

Our cloud security assessment will help provide you with actionable insights into your security misconfigurations and deviations compared to industry recommendation and standards.

Download Now

Benefits of Data Security

An organization’s data is its crown jewels. It helps drive the company’s performance to innovate and develop new products and services, meet new market opportunities and deliver quality customer service. Given its significant importance — and the reality that there are a lot of threats to the company data — it stands to reason, then, that organizations will experience many benefits when they adopt good data security practices:

  • Keeping information safe

This is probably self-evident, but to state the obvious, data security keeps the company’s data safe. It’s a good business practice and demonstrates that an organization is a good steward that acts responsibly in handling confidential and customer data.

  • Maintaining brand trust

Customers need to have confidence that the company is keeping their data safe. If a company has experienced a data breach and consumers don’t feel safe with their personal information being stored by a company, they will refuse to give it to them. In fact, 60% of U.S. consumers are less likely to work with a brand that has suffered a data breach.3

  • Giving a competitive edge

Protecting a company’s information is a crucial part of running the business and carving out a competitive edge. Indeed, 21% of consumers say they’d switch to a competing brand following a vendor data breach.4 So, building a reputation of keeping customer data safe not only helps a company preserve their customer base but also helps attract new customers who want to move away from a competing brand that experienced a breach.

  • Preventing financial loss

With a $4.35 million average global cost per breach, there’s a growing concern for companies about the costs associated with data breaches.5 By investing in data security, businesses can mitigate the risk of financial losses, such as cost of paying a ransom, lost revenue from interrupted business operations, incident response expenses, legal fees and regulatory fines.

Expert Tip

Data Security Strategy Defined

The goal of a data security strategy is to protect data and information through its entire lifecycle. This captures the moment data is generated to its destruction across different layers of hardware, software, platform, and technology as well as organizational policies and procedures.

Security Tools

  • Solutions that protect data residing in IT environments
  • Examples include anti-malware software, intrusion prevention systems (IPS), firewalls, network monitoring, managed detection and response (MDR), etc.

Data Protection

  • Tools and services that safeguard data from compromise, corruption, and loss
  • Examples include backup and recovery, continuous replication, cloud backup, storage snapshots, etc.

Data Privacy

  • Technology, services, and policies that control access to data
  • Examples include encryption, data loss prevention (DLP), multifactor authentication (MFA), authentications, identity access management (IAM), tokenization, etc.

Key Components of Data Security

Speed, volume and sophistication of threat actors combined with a fast-expanding threat surface means that companies need to have strong security measures in place to keep their customers’ data as secure as possible. Here are ten key data security components that companies can implement to improve their security posture and protect their high-value and sensitive data:

  • Access Control

Data access control helps regulate employee access to files in an organization, making it easy for IT teams to govern who is allowed access to which data. Applying the principle of least privilege (POLP) is the best-practice approach for access control where employees only have the minimum access privileges to data that’s necessary for them to perform a specific job or task and nothing more.

  • Cloud Data Security

Cloud security is a collection of technologies, policies, services, and security controls to protect an organization’s sensitive data, applications, and environments in cloud computing systems. Cloud security should be an integral part of an organization’s cybersecurity strategy to ensure the privacy and protection of data across cloud environments.

  • Data Loss Prevention (DLP)

DLP is an overall security strategy that focuses on detecting and preventing the loss, leakage or misuse of an organization’s data while the data is in use, in motion and at rest. DLP is also a way for companies to classify business critical information and ensure the company’s data policies comply with relevant regulations.

  • Email Security

Email security is an important tool for protecting an organization’s digital information. It is the process of protecting a company’s email accounts, content and communication against unauthorized access, loss or compromise. This helps protect data from malicious attacks such as phishing and hacking. Email security also helps to ensure that emails are delivered securely and that confidential information is not exposed to unauthorized individuals.

  • Key Management

Key management is an important part of data security. It provides the security of cryptographic keys by managing the generation, exchange, storage, deletion and updating of those keys. This is done in order to keep sensitive data secure and prevent unauthorized access.

Key management is also used to ensure that all users have access to the right keys at the right time. This helps organizations maintain control over their data and ensure that only authorized personnel can access it. With key management, companies can also track who has accessed which keys and when they were used.

  • Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC)

GRC is a set of policies and processes that a company uses to achieve its business goals while managing risks and meeting relevant regulatory requirements. GRC helps a company’s IT team to align with the business objectives and ensures that all stakeholders are aware of their responsibilities. With GRC in place, companies can ensure they are adhering to industry best practices and compliance mandates while minimizing risks associated with their operations.

  • Password Hygiene

Password hygiene is an important aspect of keeping a company’s accounts and data safe from cybercriminals. It involves selecting, managing and maintaining good password practices to protect an organization’s accounts and data. To ensure maximum security, it is important to use unique and strong passwords for all online accounts, which helps ensure that if one of the passwords gets compromised, the others remain secure.

  • Authentication and Authorization

Authentication and authorization is used to control access to computer resources (and the data on those computers). By using authentication and authorization tools, organizations can ensure that only authorized users have access to the resources they need while still protecting the data from being misused or stolen. It also helps in monitoring user activity and ensuring compliance with organizational policies and procedures.

  • Zero Trust

Zero Trust is a security framework requiring all users, whether in or outside the organization’s network, to be authenticated, authorized and continuously validated for security configuration and posture before being granted or keeping access to applications and data. Zero Trust assumes that there is no traditional network edge; networks can be local, in the cloud, or a combination or hybrid with resources anywhere as well as workers in any location.

Common Data Security Practices

Data security technologies all directly touch an organization’s data to help them understand three key aspects.

  • Understanding where their data is located and identifying what data is sensitive.
  • Controlling data movement and introducing data-centric controls that protect data no matter its location.
  • Enabling least privilege access and use to best protect an organization’s data.

Data security is a large market that includes a wide range of technologies for protecting digital data throughout its lifecycle. This lifecycle spans from the moment of creation to destruction and includes the different layers of hardware, software, technology and platform. It also includes an organizations’ operational policies and procedures. Some of the most common data security methods include:


Encryption is a way to conceal information by converting it so that it appears to be random data—like a secret code—that hides its true meaning. Encryption leverages advanced algorithms to encode the data, making it meaningless to any user who does not have the key. Authorized users leverage the key to decode the data, transforming the concealed information back into a readable format.

Data masking

Data masking is a method that enables organizations to protect sensitive information and keep it private by making it unrecognizable but still usable. Data masking hides data by obscuring and replacing specific letters or numbers, which makes the data useless to a hacker while still being usable by authorized personnel.

Data erasure

When organizations no longer require a particular data set, data erasure ensures that the data is permanently removed from the company’s systems. By overwriting the data on the storage device, the data is rendered irrecoverable and achieves data sanitization.

Data resiliency

Data resiliency is the process of creating backup copies of digital data and other business information so that organizations can recover the data in case it’s damaged, deleted or stolen during a data breach. Data backups are vital to an organization’s resiliency to quickly recover during a natural disaster or cyber-attack.

GDPR General Data Protection Regulation and Cybersecurity

Get an overview of the GDPR, how it may affect your organization and why cybersecurity is a key component of data protection. This report provides an overview of the regulation and its scope, revealing why cybersecurity is a key component of GDPR compliance.

Download Now

Key Data Security Regulations

For multiple decades, global and regional data protection regulations have been coming into force to address privacy issues brought about by the exponential growth in data organizations collect about individuals. And even today, the compliance landscape continues to expand and change rapidly.

The following are some of the main data privacy regulations that organizations should consider when thinking about the security of their data in the context of compliance requirements:

  • GDPR

Originally published in 2016 and enacted in 2018, the goal of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is to protect all European Union (EU) citizens from data and privacy breaches by harmonizing data privacy laws across all EU member states. If a business (located anywhere in the world) handles the personal data of EU residents, they are subject to comply with GDPR requirements.

  • CCPA

The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) was introduced in 2018 to allow any California consumer to demand to see all the information a company has saved on them, as well as a full list of all the third parties with whom that data is shared. Any company with at least $25 million in revenue that serves California residents must comply with CCPA. In addition, companies should be aware that CCPA allows consumers to sue a company if the privacy guidelines are violated, even if there is no breach.


The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a U.S. regulation enacted in 1996 that set national standards to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge. HIPAA covers the protection of individually identifiable health information covered by three types of entities: health plans, health care clearinghouses, and health care providers who conduct the standard health care transactions electronically.

  • SOX

Published in 2003, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) requires publicly traded companies doing business in the U.S. to establish financial reporting standards, including safeguarding data, tracking attempted breaches, logging electronic records for auditing and proving compliance on an annual basis.


The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is a set of security standards that were formed in 2004 to better control cardholder data and reduce credit card fraud. Any company that processes, accepts, transmits or stores payment card information must adhere to the PCI DSS requirements.

  • ISO/IEC 27001

Originally published in 2005, ISO/IEC 27001 is an international standard that provides companies with guidance for establishing, implementing, maintaining and continually improving an information security management system. Conformity with ISO/IEC 27001 means that an organization has put in place a system to manage risks related to the security of data owned or handled by the company, and that this system applies all the best practices and principles included in the international standard.