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What is DLP?

Lucas Roe
August 8, 2023
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In today's data-driven world organisations handle vast amounts of sensitive information making them prime targets for data breaches. Data Loss Prevention (DLP) strategies are critical to protect data from unauthorised access or accidental leaks. DLP is more than just a tool and is an iterative, and ongoing process. Once it’s realised how these strategies can be effectively applied it can help businesses improve their cyber resilience and retain the trust of customers.

WHAT IS DATA LOSS PREVENTION (DLP)?

Data Loss Prevention (DLP) refers to strategies, processes, and technologies to prevent sensitive data being lost, leaked, or accessed by unauthorised individuals. It involves identifying and safeguarding critical data such as customer information, intellectual property, financial records, confidential documents - both at rest and in transit. DLP solutions employ data classification, encryption, access controls, and monitoring mechanisms to detect and block potential data breaches or unauthorised data sharing. By implementing DLP measures effectively, organisations can maintain data security, comply with regulations, and protect their reputation from adverse impacts of data leaks or resulting financial or information losses.

HOW DOES DLP WORK?

Data Loss Prevention (DLP)  strategies and supporting technologies aim to prevent sensitive data from being lost, leaked, or accessed by unauthorised parties - removing the need for response and recovery procedures. DLP strategies typically start by identifying and classifying sensitive data, whether it's in use, at rest, or in transit. Automated data discovery and classification technology can be used to scan data repositories and tag sensitive data with digital signatures relevant to its business value. Encryption and access controls can then be configured and designed to protect that data from unauthorised access or data leakage. DLP also involves monitoring and analysing data flow, network traffic, and user actions to detect any suspicious activities or policy violations. When potential data breaches are identified DLP strategies are designed to assist in automatically blocking, or alert administrators to take appropriate actions ensuring data security and compliance.

THE MAIN CAUSES OF DATA LEAKAGE?

Data leakage in organisations can occur due to various reasons; some of the main causes include:

  • Exfiltration - the unauthorised and intentional extraction of sensitive or confidential data from an organisation's network or systems. It involves cybercriminals or malicious insiders stealing data and transferring it to external locations, often with the intent of using or selling the information for nefarious purposes.
  • Insider threats - insider threats refer to individuals within an organisation who pose a risk to data security and system integrity. These insiders, either intentionally or unintentionally, may misuse their access privileges to steal sensitive data, compromise systems, or facilitate cyberattacks, making them a significant concern for data protection and cybersecurity measures.
  • Negligence - negligence refers to the failure of individuals or organisations to follow best practices and security protocols, leading to vulnerabilities and potential breaches. It could involve disregarding software updates, using weak passwords, or not implementing necessary security measures, which increases the risk of cyber threats and compromises data security.

WHY IS DLP IMPORTANT?

Data Loss Prevention (DLP) is crucial for organisations as it safeguards sensitive information, maintains data integrity, and protects against potential breaches. By proactively identifying and classifying critical data, DLP solutions help prevent accidental or intentional data leakage, reducing the risk of reputational damage and legal liabilities. DLP ensures compliance with data protection regulations and industry standards, fostering customer trust and confidence. It also aids in mitigating insider threats and external cyberattacks, minimising the impact of data breaches. By monitoring data flow and user behaviour, DLP provides:

  • Real-time insights into potential risks,
  • Allowing organisations to respond swiftly and effectively,
  • Bolstering overall data security and enabling sustained business success.

DEVELOPING AND DEPLOYING A DLP STRATEGY

A structured approach to developing and deploying an effective DLP strategy is vital for businesses that want to safeguard their data assets, ensure compliance, and fortify their resilience against ever-evolving threats. As such, a DLP strategy framework should include the following key steps:

  1. Prioritise Data – the first step in any DLP program is to conduct a comprehensive data audit to identify data based on its sensitivity and business value. Understanding Identity & Access Management, Information Assets and Technologies used to transmit, process and store is critical.
  2. Classify Data - data should be classified according to application and data store and tags used to enable organisations to track its use.
  3. Evaluate Risk - risk will be different for different types of data and will also vary depending on whether that data is at rest or in transit.
  4. Monitor Movement - it’s vital to account for the mobility of data and identify behaviour that puts it at risk.
  5. Develop Controls - simple data usage controls can work to target the most common risky behaviours. Then, as the program matures, more granular, fine-tuned controls can be implemented.
  6. Provide Training - user training is vital to mitigate risk and communicate controls and policies. Moreover, that training and guidance should be continual.  

Data loss prevention strategies aren’t one-off tasks. It makes sense to start working through these steps for the most crucial data, the process will need to be repeated continually to include a larger amount of sensitive information. By slowly improving DLP strategies and capabilities, it becomes simpler to implement and manage, resulting in less disruption to business processes.

EMBRACING DLP AS AN ONGOING PROCESS

Data Loss Prevention (DLP) strategies require a comprehensive and ongoing process. While the various technologies (including network, operating system, application, storage and numerous others) must be used to prevent data loss these must be integrated into broader strategies including defining policies, educating employees, and implementing a security-first culture and security controls ‘by design’. Treating DLP as a strategy and a process ensures you can maintain compliance with changing regulations, adapts to emerging risks; maintain a proactive approach to data security and safeguard against data loss to preserve customer trust over time.

To find out more, watch our webinar, where we discussed DLP in-depth as a framework incorporating identity and access management strategies, network capabilities, operating system, application and data storage and handling processes - rather than being considered as simply a technology add-on or ‘module’.