Protecting Sensitive Information: Reducing Data Breach Risk Through Data Minimization

Protecting Sensitive Information: Reducing Data Breach Risk Through Data Minimization

It seems that not a day goes by without news of another major data breach. The long-term consequences of a breach can be severe, ranging from financial loss to irreparable damage to the trust and reputation of your organization. Safeguarding organizational data requires a comprehensive strategy and the importance of a consistent, ongoing data hygiene program is paramount.

The Risks of Accumulated Data

Over time, businesses accumulate data, sometimes vast amounts of data. Data is the lifeblood of most organizations, so managing essential data in an organized and accessible way is vital. But as data accumulates, much of it becomes redundant, obsolete, or trivial (ROT). ROT data is a liability, posing a significant risk to the organization’s data security. Outdated data, irrelevant documents, redundant data stored in insecure locations, and unused accounts are just a few of the risks that need to be managed.

The Role of Data Minimization and Cleanup in Mitigating Risk

Knowing the risks associated with poor data storage practices makes it tempting to get aggressive with your data cleanup, but poor cleanup practices also pose a risk. So, it’s critical to have an intelligent strategy for identifying and removing ROT data while protecting critical data assets. A powerful data hygiene strategy includes:

  1. Inventory and Assessment: First and foremost, information on your data assets needs to be collected in a central place so that you can begin to make decisions on it. Utilizing a data management system that lets you scan and process metadata about your assets into a single, easy to use platform is the best way to start.
  2. Classification and Prioritization: Utilizing the collected metadata, begin to prioritize the importance and sensitivity of data. Determining what data is high-risk (i.e. Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and confidential documents) and where it is stored is essential. One of the keys to this step is communication. In most organizations, one person is not able to accurately identify and classify data and its level of importance to the business. Thus, the ability to interact with data stakeholders and custodians becomes crucial in the decision-making process.
  3. Archival, Removal, and Deletion: Taking action on the data is the next step. Protocols and procedures should be implemented for the safe handling of this data. Depending on the decisions made, data may be moved to a new location, archived to cold storage, or securely disposed of. An important aspect of this phase is having an audit trail that allows risk and governance managers to provide defensible documentation of data that has been removed or destroyed.
  4. Ongoing Monitoring and Maintenance: Data hygiene is not a one-time project. Since the production, duplication, and expiration of data are all ongoing, data minimization policies and procedures must be also. Regular reviews of data assets, updates to retention policies, and continuous planning and execution are necessary to keep up with regulatory requirements and business needs.

Benefits Beyond Security

As we mentioned in our introductory Data Minimization blog, data security is just one of the many benefits of a well-built data management program.  Other benefits include operational efficiency, reduced storage costs, simplified compliance efforts, and more. It also helps to develop a culture of active data stewardship and accountability – employees begin to proactively think about how they oversee their data.

Clearly, we are in an era where data breaches are prevalent and growing in frequency and severity. Threat actors are capitalizing on a world where the generation of data is happening at a pace that is evolving faster than many organizations can keep up with. In order to protect our organizations, a continuous data cleanup strategy is vital to minimize attack surfaces, maintain compliance with regulatory standards, and improve business efficiency. Implementing such a strategy can be challenging and having a centralized toolset to assist in data management is essential. At iCONECT, we aim to help organizations of all sizes by providing the tools necessary to identify, classify, clean, and maintain unstructured data across a variety of environments. Learn more about the iCONECT Data Minimization platform and we’d be happy to demonstrate how this tool can help your business.

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Jonathan Younie, Product Manager, Data Governance – LINKEDIN PROFILE  

As an information systems management professional with over 25 years’ experience, Jonathan oversees the iCONECT Data Governance program. Throughout his career, Jonathan has been responsible for oversight of organizations’ entire data, network, and software engineering landscape with a focus on information security.  In his most recent role as CTO and CISO for Ramsey Quantitative Systems, Inc. (RQSI), a quantitative investment firm, Jonathan has been responsible for planning and overseeing the development of the company’s internal software systems, network infrastructure, disaster recovery, and business continuity, as well as ensuring the safety of the organization’s intellectual property. Jonathan brings an extensive understanding of organizational data needs to the iCONECT team and plays a key role in helping our clients find opportunities to manage and control their data so they can focus on driving productivity and progress.  He has been in professional computer engineering and information systems management for over 25 years and possesses more than 15 technology certifications in the software, network, and security engineering fields, as well as technical training certifications.