The constant evolution of digital requires a reliable security program to protect the sensitive information of individuals, businesses and organizations. It is still necessary to identify and classify them proactively to find the best way to secure them. 

Contents

  • What is sensitive information?
  • Several degrees of sensitivity
  • Protecting sensitive data: upstream interventions
  • Install firewall and antivirus
  • Encrypt sensitive information to protect it
  • Back up and restore sensitive information
  • Detect breaches
  • Create a security incident response plan 
  • Define controls to protect sensitive information
  • Conclusion

What is sensitive information?

To put it simply, sensitive information is broadly that identified as confidential . In other words, information inaccessible to third parties unless expressly authorized. This data must be protected against unauthorized access.

From a legal perspective, sensitive information is described as data that must be protected from unauthorized disclosure. This type of data includes, among other things, PII (personally identifiable information) or PHI (protected health information).

According to the GDPR , sensitive data contains information that directly identifies the individual . It can also be pseudonymous data which certainly does not allow personal identification, but can be used for the detection of individual behavior patterns.

Sensitive data falls into several categories including: 

  • information relating to racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs
  • data indicating trade union membership
  • genetic information and biometric data used to identify an individual
  • health and medical data
  • information relating to a person’s sex life or sexual orientation.

Other information classified as sensitive requires special protection. This is the case of: 

  • bank details such as account number and credit cards

social security numbers

government information. This is any document classified as secret, with restricted distribution.

  • certain business information such as accounting data, trade secrets, financial statements and any related information
  • personal data such as address, telephone number, driver’s license number, etc.

Several degrees of sensitivity

Sensitive information: complete file on the protection of this data

An ethical or legal reason may justify the need to impose stricter restrictions on access to personal or sensitive data, in particular when the information concerns privacy and property rights.

A data breach in a government organization, for example, could expose government secrets to foreign powers. The same applies to individual or company data. Exposed, these could present serious risks of espionage, insurance fraud, invasion of privacy, etc.

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There are different degrees of data sensitivity . Their classification can be determined by the regulations provided by the safety control commissions. 

This mission is also sometimes the responsibility of the information security manager of a company or organization. 

In the world of cybersecurity , the CIA model (triad confidentiality, integrity and availability) is one of the best tools to measure the degree of sensitivity of data. This well-known model makes it possible to reflect on the impact of a data breach on an individual, a company, an organization . 

Protecting sensitive data: upstream interventions

Unauthorized access or loss of sensitive data can present major financial or legal risks . It can also seriously damage a reputation . Reasons why protecting sensitive data remains vital.

Before implementing protection policies and strategies, companies and organizations must first: 

Identify and locate sensitive data

Companies need to figure out how to identify their data and how to locate it in the database.

Manual identification is almost impossible, not to mention the loss of time it can cause. Implementing an AI system for classification will automate the process and benefit from high accuracy. 

Understand data compliance and privacy laws

Once sensitive information has been identified, the security team must understand how the business or organization plans to use it and protect it in accordance with data privacy laws like GDPR .

Monitor real-time data

Data moves fast. The security team must be able to observe and assess risks just as quickly. It must be able to monitor the entire data landscape in real time .

Ensure general network security

It is equally important to identify the computers, the servers where the sensitive information is stored as well as all the connections used and affiliated with the network. Time should be taken to assess each connection’s vulnerability to known and reasonably foreseeable attacks .

Install firewall and antivirus

Sensitive information: complete file on the protection of this data

The firewall is one of the first lines of defense of a network by isolating it from another. These devices prevent unwanted traffic from entering. Firewalls also block the use of certain ports, which limits hackers’ leeway to access and download data. 

Depending on the firewall policy, the firewall may completely block some or all traffic. This solution also performs verification on all or part of the traffic. Individuals and companies have the choice between firewalls as stand-alone systems, or those integrated with other infrastructure devices (routers, servers, etc.). 

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Antivirus software is also one of the most widely used security tools for personal and professional use. There are many anti-virus software vendors, but all of them use roughly the same techniques to detect malicious code, namely signatures and heuristics. 

Antivirus solutions help detect and remove Trojans, rootkits, and viruses that can steal, modify, or damage sensitive data.

Encrypt sensitive information to protect it

Data encryption also helps secure sensitive information. It consists of storing information in a way that is not visible to the naked eye, unless the password or the algorithm that encrypts it is known. 

Encryption is done through software. Tools with a complex algorithm remain the most efficient. Data encryption maintains 100% data confidentiality , even in the event of theft. There are two types of encryption: 

Symmetric encryption 

This technique consists of a password that is used to both encrypt and decrypt. This can cause problems if the sender and recipient of the encrypted document communicate the password over an insecure medium.

Asymmetric encryption  

This encryption has a password to encrypt and another to decrypt. The first is public, the second private. It is a safer method.

Back up and restore sensitive information

Sensitive information: complete file on the protection of this data

A backup and recovery solution helps organizations protect themselves in the event of data deletion or destruction. All critical assets should be duplicated periodically . 

Backup is intended to provide redundancy to restore sensitive information quickly . And this, in case of server crash, accidental deletion or malicious damage caused by ransomware or other attacks. Managers should take care never to save sensitive information in the same location as the original files.

Detect breaches

Using an intrusion detection system also provides an additional layer of protection for sensitive information . To be effective, the device must be updated regularly.

At the same time, cybersecurity experts recommend keeping central log files of security information to monitor network activity. This helps spot and respond to attacks. In the event of an attack, the log will provide information to identify compromised computers.

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Incoming traffic should also be monitored for signs of hacking . The security team should also keep an eye on the following: 

  • new user activity
  • multiple login attempts from unknown users or computers
  • above-average traffic and at unusual time slots.

Create a security incident response plan 

An incident response plan provides personnel with the appropriate procedures to deal effectively with a threat should an incident occur. This device allows you to make the right decisions and bring the situation under control. 

The incident response plan will consist of key criteria that can be developed as a company’s security posture matures. Here are some best practices to guard against data breaches and other security incidents: 

  • Create Playbooks to guide the SOC (Security Operations Center) on how to triage various incidents and gather relevant evidence
  • Perform exercises and simulations of cyber threats.
  • Proactively search for suspicious activity without waiting for threat alerts.

Define controls to protect sensitive information

Sensitive information: complete file on the protection of this data

For the risks that a business or organization chooses to accept or mitigate, appropriate controls should be defined to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive information .

A company with more than one employee, for example, collects PII as part of its human resources operations. A company cannot refuse to collect, transmit or store this information. Therefore, it must implement mitigating controls that prevent malicious actors from accessing or acquiring them.

And since cybercriminals regularly update their attack tactics, companies need to act accordingly. Effective control today may become obsolete tomorrow. It is therefore necessary to regularly check the effectiveness of the controls put in place .

Conclusion

Many today still neglect to put in place the appropriate security measures, firmly believing that their company is not a potential target for cybercriminals.

However, it should be kept in mind that everyone, individuals and companies of all sizes, can suffer a security incident or an attack at any time. Accepting this reality is a first step towards protecting sensitive information .

Every piece of information is valuable, can be sold, and is of interest to cybercriminals . The protection of this data is important to protect the company or organization, reputation, employees, customers, partners and all other stakeholders.

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