What is Sensitive Data?

Your organization likely has plenty of sensitive data that’s known only to you. This could include:

  • Financial records
  • Personal health information (PHI)
  • Personally identifiable information (PII)
  • Intellectual property

These are known as sensitive data. If any of these are exposed to the public, it could harm your organization.

Simply put, sensitive data is any form of data that can cause harm if exposed to the public.

But, it’s important to note that data become “sensitive” based on the legal, contractual, privacy, or business considerations that emphasize the need for safeguarding measures.

The Impact of Sensitive Data Exposure

Data breaches often cause companies to lose billions of dollars. For example, Uber lost $148 Million from its data breach in 2023. But, the loss isn’t only financial; sensitive data exposure can lead to:

  • A drop in share values
  • A loss of customer trust
  • Damage to reputation

Losing customer trust is dangerous; it leads to a poor reputation and ultimately results in customers taking their business elsewhere, thus driving you out of business.

Therefore, it’s important to protect the sensitive data that your organization processes.

Risks of Sensitive Data Exposure

You are at risk of your sensitive data being exposed in several ways:

  • Cyberattacks: Phishing, malware, and hacking are common tactics used to steal sensitive data.
  • Human error: Misdelivery, accidental deletion, or improper access controls can inadvertently expose data.
  • Inadequate security: Weak encryption, poor password policies, and inadequate security awareness training can leave data vulnerable.
  • System vulnerabilities: Outdated systems or unpatched software can be exploited by attackers to gain unauthorized access.

Modes of Sensitive Data Exposure

Though many risks can be mitigated,  certain modes are extremely difficult to mitigate. These include:

  • Data breaches: Unauthorized access to data systems can lead to mass data exfiltration.
  • Misconfigurations: Incorrectly configured databases or storage buckets can inadvertently expose data to the internet.
  • Physical theft or loss: Devices containing sensitive data, if stolen or lost, can provide direct access to unauthorized individuals.
  • Insider threats: Employees or contractors with access to sensitive data can misuse or handle it improperly.

Data Peace Of Mind

PVML provides a secure foundation that allows you to push the boundaries.


Protecting Sensitive Data

If you know your sensitive data is at risk of being exposed, it’s important to protect it. But don’t wait until your data is exposed before taking protective measures.

Simply put, don’t treat data security as an afterthought.

These techniques will help protect your sensitive data:

Data Encryption

Data encryption transforms readable data (plaintext) into unreadable data (ciphertext) using algorithms and encryption keys.

This ensures that even if data is intercepted or accessed by unauthorized individuals, it cannot be read without the corresponding decryption key.

Additionally, consider encryption at two levels:

  • At rest: Encrypt data stored on servers, databases, or any digital storage devices to protect it from unauthorized access or theft. This includes encrypting hard drives, database entries, and archived data.
  • In transit: Encrypt data that’s moving across networks to protect it from man-in-the-middle attacks. Additionally, secure protocols like TLS (transport layer security) should be used.

Access Control

Access control mechanisms ensure that only authorized users can access sensitive data based on their roles and the need to access the information.

Access control can be done at three levels:

  • Authentication: Verify the identity of users attempting to access the system through passwords, biometric verification, or multi-factor authentication (MFA).
  • Authorization: Assign and enforce permissions based on the principle of least privilege, ensuring individuals have access only to the data necessary for their role.
  • Audit trails: Keep logs of who accessed what data and when they accessed it, which helps monitor unauthorized access or suspicious activities.

Regular Audits

Conduct regular security audits and assessments to identify vulnerabilities within your organization’s data protection strategies. This can be done in three ways:

  • Vulnerability assessments: Scan systems and applications for known vulnerabilities that could be exploited by attackers.
  • Penetration testing: Simulate cyberattacks to test the effectiveness of security measures and identify weaknesses.
  • Compliance audits: Ensure that data protection practices meet legal and regulatory requirements, such as GDPR, HIPAA, or PCI-DSS.

Education and Training

Offer continuous education and training programs for employees to instill a security-first mindset and to better understand data security.

This can be achieved through:

  • Security best practices: Teach employees about the importance of strong passwords, recognizing phishing attempts, and securely handling sensitive information.
  • Data handling procedures: Conduct specific training on how to handle sensitive data securely, such as understanding the correct encryption algorithm to use.
  • Incident reporting: Train staff to recognize and report security incidents or vulnerabilities as soon as possible.

Incident Response Planning

Prepare an incident response plan to outline how your organization will handle a data breach with minimal damage.

This can be achieved by outlining 4 important things:

  • Preparation: Develop a comprehensive response plan, establish an incident response team, and conduct regular drills to keep them trained.
  • Detection and analysis: Implement advanced monitoring tools to detect breaches early and to analyze the scope and impact of the incident.
  • Containment, eradication, and recovery: Outline steps to contain the breach, remove the threat, and restore affected systems or data to normal operations.
  • Post-incident analysis review: Create a plan to outline and analyze the incident to improve future response efforts and mitigate the risk of similar breaches.

Concluding Thoughts

There’s a lot of risk to having your sensitive data exposed. But, with mature security practices and the right education for data security, organizations can ensure that their data remains secure and that their reputation remains intact.