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What Is Data Protection? Principles, Strategies & Trends

by Chris Brook on Tuesday January 2, 2024

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What is data protection and what makes it different from data security and data privacy? We answer those questions and give pointers on how to develop a data protection strategy in this blog.

Cybersecurity is a fast-moving field and organizations looking to protect their data need to keep abreast of trends and strategies nefarious actors use to compromise information.

Cybercriminals and malicious attackers aren’t resting on their laurels, so why should you?

What Is Data Protection?

Data protection is the process of safeguarding important information from corruption, compromise, or loss. The importance of data protection increases as the amount of data created and stored continues to grow at unprecedented rates. There is also little tolerance for downtime, which can make it impossible to access important information. 

Critical (and non-critical) information must be secured against corruption and unauthorized access yet available immediately. Consequently, data protection is a key tenet of IT security. It includes data loss prevention, data governance, backup and recovery, and lifecycle management.

How Is Data Protection Different from Data Security and Data Privacy?

Data Protection, data security, and data privacy, while often used interchangeably, are distinct concepts that differ in focus and implementation.

  • Data Protection is an overarching term that refers to the strategies and procedures implemented to safeguard valuable data from compromise, corruption, or loss.
    This concept deals with the procedures to ensure data remains intact and safe—such as backups, archiving, or data recovery measures.
  • Data Security refers to the measures taken to protect data from unauthorized access or cyber threats. Security measures are designed to prevent unauthorized individuals from accessing, altering, or stealing data.   
    This might involve technical measures like encryption and multi-factor authentication or organizational measures like access control policies and employee training. 
  • Data Privacy is primarily concerned with the legal and ethical standards surrounding data collection, storage, and sharing. It deals with how and why data is collected, who it can be shared with, and how long it can be kept.
    Privacy measures often focus primarily on personal data, particularly PII (Personally Identifiable Information).

While these terms are distinct, they are closely related and overlapping. Good data practices will often involve implementing measures for all three elements. For example, part of protecting data will involve security against cyber threats (data security) and measures to ensure the appropriate use of customer information (data privacy).

Similarly, maintaining data privacy will require robust data security measures while also taking steps to ensure information is not lost or damaged (data protection).

How Do You Develop a Data Protection Strategy?

Developing a data protection strategy involves a multi-step process that includes understanding the data your organization manages, implementing the right technology, and cultivating a data protection culture.

Here are some most important steps: 

  1. Data Inventory and Classification: One of the first steps is determining what data you must protect. It is helpful to create a database inventory that includes all data repositories. Then, classify the data based on sensitivity and importance.
  2. Identify Risks: Understanding potential risks to your data is a key part of formulating a strategy. This involves assessing software, hardware, and human vulnerabilities and identifying potential threats.
  3. Legal and Regulatory Requirements: Understanding the regulatory landscape related to data protection in your industry will guide your policy’s development. Key regulations to consider include the GDPR, CCPA, and HIPAA.
  4. Define Your Data Protection Goals: These could be centered around ensuring data privacy, preventing data loss, guaranteeing data recovery, or protecting intellectual property. Clear goals will help guide your strategy.
  5. Select Appropriate Data Protection Measures: Implement the right mix of data protection solutions based on your needs. This could be a Data Loss Prevention (DLP) tool, backup solutions, or encryption. Employing layered security solutions can provide stronger protection.
  6. Implement Policies and Procedures: Develop and document clear policies around data access, data handling, data storage, and data destruction. Make sure procedures for incident response are also in place.
  7. Training and Awareness: Ongoing training and awareness programs for employees about the importance of data protection and the role they play is vital for the strategy's success.
  8. Regular Audit and Updates: Regularly review and update your strategy to keep up with technological changes and new threats. Conducting regular audits will ensure that policies and procedures are being followed.

Some best practices for data protection include:

  1. Minimizing Data Collection: Only collect the data you need to reduce the potential for data breaches.
  2. Use of Encryption: Encryption should be used for all personal and sensitive data, both at rest and in transit.
  3. Regular Backups: Regular, automatic backups help ensure data can be restored in the event of a loss.
  4. Incident Response Plan: Have a well-documented plan on how to respond to a data breach.
  5. Regular Updates and Patches: Keep all systems updated, and apply patches to vulnerabilities immediately.
  6. Multi-factor Authentication: Implement multi-factor authentication for all systems with sensitive data.

How Does Data Protection Relate to Compliance with Various Laws?

Data protection is directly linked to compliance with various laws and regulations that govern the collection, storage, processing, transmission, and use of data. These laws are often designed to protect individuals' privacy rights and ensure that businesses handle data responsibly.

Different jurisdictions have different regulations, and these apply to various types of data, such as personal data, financial data, and health-related data, among others. Non-compliance with these laws can result in severe penalties, including hefty fines.

Here are a few examples of data protection laws around the world: 

  • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): Enforced by the European Union, GDPR regulates the processing of personal data of EU citizens and residents. It requires businesses to implement appropriate data protection measures, provide clear consent mechanisms, and notify involved parties of data breaches within 72 hours.
  • California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA): This law gives residents of California, USA, the right to know what personal data is being collected about them, who it is being shared with, and to refuse its sale. Businesses are required to implement procedures to respond to requests from consumers exercising their rights.
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA): In the United States, HIPAA regulates the use and disclosure of protected health information. It applies to healthcare providers, health plans, and other entities that process health information.
  • Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA): This law in Singapore governs the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data by all private organizations. It provides individuals with rights regarding their personal data, including access and correction rights.
  • The Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA): Enforced in South Africa, it aims to promote the protection of personal information processed by public or private bodies.

What are the Principles of Data Protection?

The principles of data protection are guidelines organizations should follow to ensure they collect, store, use, and manage personal data responsibly. They may vary according to specific legislation, but the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has set the standard that influences many others globally.

According to GDPR, the basic principles of data protection are: 

  • Lawfulness, Fairness, and Transparency: Personal data must be processed lawfully, fairly, and transparently. Individuals have a right to be informed about the collection and use of their personal data.
  • Purpose Limitation: Personal data should only be collected for specified, explicit, and legitimate purposes and not further processed in a manner incompatible with those purposes.
  • Data Minimization: Personal data collected should be adequate, relevant, and limited to what is necessary for the intended purposes.
  • Accuracy: Personal data must be accurate and, where necessary, kept up to date; every reasonable step must be taken to ensure that personal data that are inaccurate are erased or rectified without delay.
  • Storage Limitation: Personal data should be kept in a form that permits identification of data subjects for no longer than is necessary for the purposes for which the personal data are processed.
  • Integrity and Confidentiality: Personal data must be processed in a manner that ensures appropriate security, including protection against unauthorized or unlawful processing and against accidental loss, destruction, or damage, using appropriate technical or organizational measures.
  • Accountability: The data controller is responsible for, and must be able to demonstrate, compliance with the other principles mentioned here.

What are the Trends in Data Protection?

  • Demand for Cloud-Based Solutions: An increasing number of organizations are adopting cloud services for data protection. Cloud-based solutions offer scalability, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness.
  • Increased Use of AI and Machine Learning: AI and Machine Learning techniques are being utilized to enhance cybersecurity, detect anomalies, automate data recovery processes, and improve data protection tools' overall performance.
  • Data Sovereignty: With the increasing regulations on data protection and privacy worldwide, businesses are now more concerned about data sovereignty. Companies should know where their data is stored and processed at all times to meet various data protection and privacy laws.
  • Data Privacy Regulations: The introduction of GDPR and other data protection laws has led to a trend towards achieving compliance and constantly updating data protection strategies.
  • Rise in Ransomware Attacks: The spike in ransomware attacks has made data protection a top priority. Businesses are implementing ransomware protection tools and strategies to ensure data safety.
  • Demand for Data Protection in Remote Work Settings: The recent shift to remote work due to COVID-19 has made data protection essential. Businesses are implementing strategies to protect sensitive data accessible from various locations and devices.
  • Growth in Zero Trust Security Model: The zero trust security model is rising in popularity due to its "never trust, always verify" approach. It offers additional protection layers, minimizing the risk of data breaches.
  • More Use of Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): As passcodes and biometric data become more vulnerable to breaches, the use of MFA for data protection is increasing.
  • Data Protection Automation: Organizations are automating their data protection processes, including backup, recovery, reporting, and monitoring, to reduce human error and efficiently safeguard their data.

Learn How Digital Guardian Can Help With Your Data Protection Journey

Digital Guardian has built an excellent reputation and core competency in helping businesses implement data protection measures. Our cutting-edge technology delivers data loss prevention, critical intellectual property protection, secure collaboration, and data discovery. 

Schedule a demo with us today to learn how we can help your organization whether it's through fostering secure collaboration, or building a more comprehensive data protection strategy.

Tags:  Data Protection

Chris Brook

Chris Brook

Chris Brook is the editor of Digital Guardian’s Data Insider blog. He is a cybersecurity writer with nearly 15 years of experience reporting and writing about information security, attending infosec conferences like Black Hat and RSA, and interviewing hackers and security researchers. Prior to joining Digital Guardian–acquired by Fortra in 2021–he helped launch Threatpost, an independent news site that was a leading source of information about IT and business security for hundreds of thousands of professionals worldwide.

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