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Data Scanning: How to Protect Sensitive & Confidential Data

by Chris Brook on Wednesday December 27, 2023

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Being able to scan your data can give you the full scope of where files exist and what needs to be properly secured. In this blog, we break down why it's a key part of data loss prevention, who uses data scanning, and why it's important.

Organizations need to have a panoramic, birds-eye view of where their sensitive data is located in order to adequately protect confidential information. Data scanning is often the necessary and initial step in fulfilling the fiduciary responsibility of handling and protecting sensitive data. 

What Is Data Scanning?

Data scanning is a process that involves using software tools to search through stored files and databases to identify and locate specific types of data. This can include sensitive data such as personally identifiable information (PII), financial data, health records, etc. 


The primary goal of data scanning is to protect sensitive data by ensuring it is properly secured and fortified to the extent it isn’t easily vulnerable to breaches. Data scanning also helps organizations comply with data protection regulations and standards.

Why Is Data Scanning Important?

Data scanning is important in your overall security framework for several reasons:

Data Security

Data scanning helps to identify any sensitive or personal data that might be present in your systems. This can include social security numbers, credit card information, or other personally identifiable information (PII). Identifying this data allows organizations to protect it better and prevent data breaches.

Compliance with Regulations

Many industries have regulations regarding the handling and storing of certain types of data. Regular data scanning can help ensure you comply with these regulations and avoid penalties or sanctions.

Data Management

Through data scanning, organizations can better understand what kind of data they have and where it is stored. This can lead to better data management practices, such as comprehensive data categorization, and make data easier to access and use.

Risk Mitigation

Data scanning can identify vulnerabilities in your data security, allowing you to address them before they become problematic, drastically reducing the risk of a data breach.

Ensuring High Data Quality

Data scanning can help identify errors or inconsistencies in your data, improving the accuracy, reliability, and overall quality of your data.

In summary, data scanning is a critical process that can improve data security, ensure regulatory compliance, enhance data management, and facilitate better business decision-making.

What Is the Difference Between Data Scanning and Data Loss Prevention?

Data scanning and data loss prevention (DLP) are two distinct aspects of information security, but they operate in synergy to protect sensitive information.

Data Scanning

  • This is a proactive process of identifying, classifying, and tagging sensitive data elements within an organization's storage systems, databases, files, and other data repositories.
  • The purpose of data scanning is to discover where sensitive data is stored, who has access to it, and how it is used. It helps identify data susceptible to breaches, enabling organizations to take necessary measures to mitigate potential threats.
  • It uses automated tools and techniques to scan and categorize data based on pre-defined criteria (for example, PII, PHI (Protected Health Information), financial data, etc.)
  • Data scanning is a data audit process that helps meet compliance regulations by identifying data that falls under various privacy laws.

Data Loss Prevention (DLP)

  • On the other hand, DLP is a set of tools and processes designed to prevent sensitive data from being lost, misused, or accessed by unauthorized users.
  • DLP solutions monitor, detect, and block data in transit, in use, and at rest through deep content inspection and a detailed contextual analysis of transactions.
  • DLP enforces data classification and loss prevention policies to ensure data does not leave the business network or is not stored in unauthorized or insecure locations.
  • DLP is a reactive approach to secure sensitive data and doesn't assist with finding where data is located.

So, while data scanning helps identify and locate sensitive data, DLP is designed to protect this data from unauthorized access, transfer, or handling.

The Benefits of Data Scanning

Incorporating data scanning into your security arsenal offers immense benefits to safeguard sensitive data.

  • Risk Reduction: Data scanning helps in reducing risks related to data breaches. It allows companies to find and secure sensitive data, decreasing the risk of data leaks or losses.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Many industries are subject to regulations like GDPR, HIPAA, or CCPA, so it is essential to demonstrate that all data is fully protected. Data scanning helps maintain compliance with these regulations.
  • Enhanced Visibility: With data scanning, companies have greater visibility into their data discovery capabilities. This can help make informed decisions, identify trends, and gain insights into customer behavior.
  • Cost Savings: Data scanning can save organizations significant amounts in potential fines, recovery costs, and reputational damages resulting from a data breach.
  • Efficiency: It helps automate locating and classifying data, which can be very time-consuming if done manually.
  • Data Management: Data scanning aids in efficient data management as it enables companies to know their data, its location, and who has access to it.
  • Increased Security: A direct outcome of data scanning is heightened security. With all data located and classified, it becomes easier to apply necessary security measures. 
  • Improved Decision-Making: By providing a clearer picture of the data landscape within an organization, data scanning helps improve strategic decision-making.
  • Risk Assessment: Regular data scanning allows organizations to assess and respond to risks proactively to get ahead of any potential issues rather than doing so reactively.
  • Better Resource Allocation: Knowledge about the current state of data allows for better resource allocation – security measures can be applied where they are most needed.

Who Uses Data Scanning?

Data scanning is used by various professionals across different industries, including the following:

  • IT Professionals: They use data scanning to protect sensitive data and meet internal and regulatory security requirements. 
  • Cybersecurity Experts: Cybersecurity experts use data scanning to identify vulnerabilities and protect against breaches. 
  • Database Administrators: Apply data scanning to understand the data they control and manage to keep it secure. 
  • Compliance Officers: Compliance officers utilize data scanning to ensure their company meets industry or governmental data protection standards such as GDPR and HIPAA. 
  • Risk Managers: Risk managers use data scanning to assess data-related risks and plan strategies to mitigate them.
  • Auditors: Auditors use data scanning to effectively implement data control measures and evaluate whether industry compliance standards are being met.
  • Business Analysts: Business analysts use data scanning to gain insights into data sets and make data-driven decisions.
  • Legal Professionals: They use data scanning for eDiscovery, to locate possible evidence in electronically stored information for legal proceedings.
  • Privacy Officers: Privacy officers use data scanning to ensure the company is protecting personally identifiable information and meeting privacy laws and regulations. 
  • Forensic Investigators: Forensic investigators use data scanning in digital forensics to discover and analyze relevant data for legal cases.
  • Marketing Professionals: Data scanning can help segment and target consumers, improving marketing efforts. 

In essence, any professional or organization handling sensitive data may utilize data scanning techniques to safeguard data and conform to regulatory requirements.

Learn How Digital Guardian Facilitates Data Scanning Capabilities

Our expertise in data discovery and classification is integral to data scanning. In addition, our platform incorporates tools for data loss prevention and endpoint protection that fortify your organization’s ability to protect confidential data.


Schedule a demo with us today to learn more.

Tags:  Data Loss Prevention

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