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The Essential Guide to DLP – What You Need to Know



Modern DLP solutions also support cloud environments, ensuring that sensitive data stays protected as it moves across platforms. They can redact, encrypt, delete, or monitor to secure files and images from being viewed and copied off the network. Effective DLP relies on educating employees to recognize threats and adhere to policy. This Self-Assessment helps you assess how well your organization is doing.


DLP stands for data loss prevention. But what is DLP exactly? DLP is a cybersecurity tool that identifies sensitive information in the wild and prevents it from leaving controlled environments. Unlike standard security tools like firewalls and antivirus software, DLP is focused solely on protecting data and reducing the risk of a breach. DLP solutions typically use content analysis to identify sensitive information. Rule-based analysis scans documents for patterns like 16-digit credit card numbers or 9-digit U.S. social security numbers, while more advanced solutions, such as database fingerprinting, look for exact matches to structured data in a live database. Many DLP tools use a combination of these techniques and encryption to secure and decrypt data as it moves around the network. They also rely on threat intelligence and continuous machine learning to adapt to the latest tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) attackers use. To maximize the effectiveness of a DLP solution, IT teams should regularly discuss configuration changes and new features with vendors and participate in adversary emulation exercises. This helps ensure the DLP tool is configured correctly to protect sensitive information in challenging situations.

Sensitive Data

The term sensitive data identifies information that should be protected to prevent unauthorized access, theft, or loss. This can include personal information like names, phone numbers, addresses, and regulated data from customers, employees, or vendors. Often, this information is precious to malicious actors for financial gain, identity theft, or reputational damage. Depending on your industry, specific data types, such as proprietary source code, legal case data, or employee location information, may need to be classified as sensitive and managed carefully. However, all organizations must focus on protecting customer and organizational sensitive data to meet regulatory requirements and mitigate risks from cyber threats. A crucial first step to implementing a DLP solution is establishing data handling and protection policies for each data type. Ideally, these are determined in advance and are based on the impact that would be caused if the information were accessed or stolen by an unauthorized party. This could be categorized as having limited (low), moderate, or severe (high) effects and is used to identify and prioritize methods for protecting that data.

Data Classification

Data classification organizes data based on its value and sensitivity, allowing you to create security policies that address specific types of information. It helps ensure your organization complies with industry regulations and mandates like GDPR, HIPAA, PCI DSS, SOX, etc. The four main categories of data are public, internal-only, confidential, and restricted. Public data can be shared outside the company, including first names, job descriptions, press releases, and other non-sensitive data. Internal-only data can only be accessed by company members and may include employee reviews and supply chain management data. Confidential data is more sensitive and includes information that could cause harm if exposed, including PHI, financial records, intellectual property, and authentication data. Multiple data classification methods exist, but the most effective approach is to automatically classify files as they enter your system. This allows you to leverage the data protection features of your DLP or IRM solution, reduce storage and backup costs, improve search performance, and eliminate duplicate data.

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Data Protection

DLP aims to prevent the unauthorized disclosure, leakage, or loss of sensitive data. This is done through policies, processes, and technologies that identify, classify, monitor, and protect sensitive information. DLP is a critical component of any cybersecurity framework. It can help to reduce the risk of costly data breaches, maintain compliance with regulations, and safeguard critical information assets. Data breaches can have severe financial, reputational, and legal consequences for organizations of all sizes. DLP helps to mitigate these risks by raising employee awareness of their roles and responsibilities in protecting sensitive data and setting clear expectations around accountability. DLP tools are crucial to reducing the risk of human error, which is the most common cause of data breaches. Modern DLP solutions provide user education and alerts around enterprise data handling policy violations, minimizing the impact on system performance and employee productivity. They also separate personal and business data by analyzing behavior rather than individual identity to protect employee privacy and trust. This ensures that sensitive information can be identified and protected while allowing the organization to leverage cloud-based applications.

Data Monitoring

With more people having access to business data through email, cloud storage applications, and collaboration tools, it’s easy for confidential information to fall into the wrong hands. These employees can be unwitting or malicious, causing breaches that could lead to fines and loss of customer trust. To prevent this, businesses must monitor their sensitive data. The first step in this process is identifying sensitive data and where it resides within your infrastructure. This discovery step often involves setting policies based on regulations, industry requirements, and the needs of your team. This will help you determine what types of protections should be implemented for specific categories of sensitive information. Another component of this process is to audit your infrastructure. By discovering endpoints and data storage points, you can set up your DLP solution to protect your data at rest and in transit. This may include file checksum analysis, which compares data hashes with known values (like a 16-digit credit card number or nine-digit Social Security number) to detect patterns that indicate your data might be compromised.

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