The Dark Night of the Enterprise Data Security Soul

by | Nov 10, 2021 | Blog

Big organizations like Facebook, Yahoo, Magellan Health, JPMorgan Chase, Microsoft, Adobe, and many others have one thing in common – at some point, they have each experienced massive data breach. This commonality reaffirms the notion that no matter what the industry or how large the company involved; a breach of data is always a possibility.

In today’s digital world, data is the backbone of any business. First, how do you know who your customers are without data? How do you know if your company is making a profit or loss without data? No matter what the industry is, whether it’s a financial, healthcare, or energy, every enterprise needs data to understand their customers and market requirements.

Secondly, have you ever observed how frequently one shares their private, personal information online on your Website, or even sends emails with their payment details? This critical data or information that relates to an identifiable individual should be secured holistically. Whether it is business-centric or personal information, secured information of any kind is necessary for any type of business.

Sensitive data vs. Private data

Before going any further, however, what is “sensitive data” and what is “private data”? Private data is information about individuals that is either not public or is accessible only by the individual to whom it pertains. For example, an individual’s health- and finance-related information (debit card, credit card, bank account information) would be private data. Sensitive data, on the other hand, refers to classified information that must be protected and is inaccessible to outside parties without permission. This could be data which is business-sensitive, data that gives a competitive edge to the business, data related to business finance and business software. If we look at the oil industry, for example, the sensitive data could be the coordinates of where the company gets its best oil.

Enterprises face a variety of data security challenges

A growing unstructured data pool increases ransomware and data breach risks

The uncontrolled spread of information across all formats and locations is called “unstructured data,” and it is growing at an exponential rate. As of 2022, Gartner predicts that 80 percent of global data will be unstructured. Due to unchecked data growth and an inability to see that growing data, breaches, ransomware, and compliance violations are on the rise.

When was the last time you submitted a picture of your license or any other identity card as part of a financial transaction or over an email? Have you been on a customer service call that was recorded? We all choose to share unstructured data with an organization out of convenience, and businesses themselves share unstructured data for the same reason.

Email and documents saved to network shared drives are the most significant sources of unstructured data. Most unstructured data contained in documents, images, audio, and video contain information about consumers. Because this type of data is hard to manage, it quickly adds up and makes security a challenge.

Unstructured data, unfortunately, can be harder to control and secure than structured data.

Data are not created equal. Though some data are structured, the majority are unstructured. Structured and unstructured data are sourced, collected, and scaled differently, and each resides in a different type of database. Structured data – typically classified as quantitative data – is easily comprehensible by machine learning algorithms due to its in-depth organization. While unstructured data refers to information that does not follow conventional data models, making it near impossible to store and manage in a relational database.

As headlines focus on hacking of databases to steal credit card info or personally identifiable information (PII), the truth is that a lot of a company’s sensitive information is stored in its documents. The location or quantity of those documents, however, remain unclear to most organizations. Additionally, the data can be accessed, shared, copied, and stored without protection. Data that is unstructured is more complex and has fewer security controls. In addition, this type of data presents unique challenges in terms of security and privacy regulation, most of which cannot be addressed with the investments made today in traditional vulnerability management strategies, network security, device security, and cybersecurity frameworks. Therefore, securing unstructured data is different from securing structured data.

Risks associated with sensitive data access and potential misuse

While structured data is typically stored within the boundaries of well-protected IT perimeters, sensitive content is distributed and published in unstructured formats, like Microsoft Office documents, CAD/CAE files, and images, all of which can be shared via social media, email, and file sharing. In recent years, sharing and storing sensitive information in free-form documents that do not reside in carefully monitored or secured databases has become widespread. Through inadvertent disclosures by employees, malicious insiders, and cyber-attacks, this presents countless opportunities for unauthorized disclosure. Moreover, unprotected channels and APIs used for data transport can also lead to sensitive data exposure, and attackers often use malware like Trojan horses or computer worms to access data that is at rest, whether on a computer or a network.

Enterprises must pay special attention when it comes to granting access to sensitive data to avoid accidental sharing and any damaging use of such data.

 Personal data is at risk when data is unstructured

Unstructured data often contain personal data, which can be exploited if it is not handled properly. Around 9% of unstructured data contains personal data, and if you can’t see it, you won’t be able to secure it. Data breaches involving personal data account for 80% of all data breaches, which cost $150 per record, according to Capita. The task of discovering personal information from such a large repository of unstructured data is itself very time-consuming and expensive, which is why businesses often ignore it. That’s why unstructured data can be a business’s biggest weakness.

Identity thieves and cyber criminals use personal data in several malicious ways. Personal details are keys that hackers use to unlock data, steal identities, and ultimately steal money from you. Bad actors can sell everything from social media credentials and credit card numbers to medical records and Netflix passwords on the dark side of the Internet for criminal and financial gain.

A total of 1 billion Facebook and LinkedIn records were exposed to cyber criminals in April 2021. The breach included 533 million Facebook and 500 million LinkedIn records, which included names, Facebook IDs, locations, birth dates, biographical information, LinkedIn account IDs, email addresses, phone numbers, genders, connected social media profile links, and professional titles, among other personal data.

Delaying the discovery of personal data increases the likelihood of its exposure. The data held by an enterprise must be scanned, classified, analyzed, and managed so that any such data is identified. Further, locking down PII and other sensitive information, whether corporate or personal, with encryption and persistent security policies will ensure that only authorized users will be able to access them. The data scanning tool can also show what kind of policies or rules are being broken in relation to personal data that is discovered.

With cloud adoption comes data breaches of different kinds

Cloud-based technology is especially vulnerable to diverse types of data breaches, since it provides on-demand services for infrastructure, software, and platforms. In fact, according to Verizon’s Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), cloud security breaches have surpassed on-premises breaches for the first time. In the recent health crisis, the adoption of cloud technology across almost all industries has increased. Using the cloud simplifies access and enables innovative approaches such as remote working, but at the same time, this accessibility may expose the cloud to data security breaches.

 The reason cloud security should be taken into consideration is because cyber criminals target online data containing sensitive information, such as credit card data and addresses, as well as medical records, trade secrets, intelligent property, and payment details.

The movement of data puts cloud security at risk

Cloud security is at greater risk if data moves between networks – for instance, when it moves between cellular networks, WiFi networks, or other networks. The cloud is often regarded as less secure because data traveling between networks can escape firewalls. Additionally, because the cloud is designed for multiple users, it is more vulnerable to attacks since multi-user means multiple access points. Increasing the number of people and devices that have access to the cloud increases the danger of cyber criminals infiltrating the infrastructure.

Risk of data loss

Apart from data breach, data loss is another concern when it comes to cloud computing. This can be caused by a virus, a hacker attack, or a system failure – data loss is an issue when the service provider does not back up its data, emphasizing the need to secure cloud services.

Cloud Misconfiguration

Misconfigured cloud services can be another cloud computing security threat. When users or system administrators fail to properly configure the security settings on cloud platforms, they create cloud misconfigurations. Even though cloud misconfigurations can be prevented, DivvyCloud found that between 2018 and 2019, the number of records exposed by misconfigurations increased by 80%.

API vulnerabilities

In today’s digital world, the use of APIs is increasing, as they help two different applications communicate with one another. But along with increased API usage, API vulnerabilities are also on the rise, according to Gartner, which predicts API-related attacks will become the most prevalent by 2022. An attacker can compromise company data by launching a denial-of-service (DoS) attack or injecting code into an API. Both techniques allow them to access data.

The potential consequences of data breaches in cloud computing are huge. These types of threats can cause loss of customer trust and retention, huge penalties of around 2% or more of your organization’s annual turnover, and loss of reputation and revenue for any business. Apart from this, the malicious use of sensitive information can have additional detrimental effects related to identity theft.

Adapting cloud technology is a game-changer for businesses, but it comes with whole new sets of security risks. While data breaches are on the rise, despite increased data protection regulations, their consequences for organizations have gone beyond legal repercussions. Companies can save an average of $1.1 million in containment and clean-up costs by detecting breaches within 200 days. Moreover, rebranding and reputation repair must also be addressed to recover from a breach.

Are you looking for ways to reduce these data security challenges? Tune in for Part 2 of our blog series in which we’ll discuss the best way to protect your data!