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Types of Data Security Controls and Best Practices

Types of Data Security Controls and Best Practices

With the increasing use of technology and the world becoming more digital, organizations have started to collect more and more personal data. For an organization, their consumers’ data is a valuable asset as it helps them to understand their customers better. While this data is important for an organization to generate revenue, they also have a responsibility to protect it against security incidents and data breaches.

This article sheds light on what data security is, why you need it, what are the different types of controls, and what can help you in choosing the suitable data security control relevant to the circumstances of data processing.

What is data security?

Data security refers to the controls, policies, and procedures that have been put in place to protect personal data stored within the organization and safeguard it against security incidents and data breaches. A security incident can result due to the failure of any technical or organizational measure taken by your company. For example, failure of the firewall, error in the role and access concept, lack of password protection, data leakage, malware access, or breach of internal security regulations. A security incident can be physical or technical or both.

A data breach, on the other hand, is a security incident that has led to any accidental or unlawful destruction, loss, alteration, disclosure of, or access to personal data. It can be deliberate or accidental data loss and may result in significant harm to the data subject, including emotional distress.

Security incidents and data breaches are almost always avoidable events and organizations have felt the full brunt of this in the past. A few examples of this are as follows:

  • In June 2020, Wattpad, the website where people can write their own stories, suffered a data breach that exposed almost 268 million records. The breach exposed personal information including usernames, IP addresses and even passwords stored as bcrypt hashes.
  • In May, 2019, the Australian graphic designing application called Canva suffered an attack that breached 137 million user accounts. The data breach included exposed usernames, passwords, email addresses and even city of residence.
  • Sina Weibo experienced a breach in early 2020 where 538 million user accounts were compromised. This breach exposed usernames, numbers, locations and even real names.

If the past is any indicator, then data breaches are a real thing and organizations will need to do whatever they can in their power to curb the blast zone of a data breach attack. Let’s see how you can protect your organization from security incidents and data breaches.

Why is data security needed?

Organizations must implement data security for a variety of reasons:

  • Safeguards information: The most important purpose of data security is to protect personal data. Sensitive personal data such as health information can have a tangible negative impact on the data subject once it is breached and therefore, it merits additional protection.
  • Improves reputation: Organizations that are known to protect their data and have effective security controls in place can build confidence among all their stakeholders including customers. Most businesses want to project themselves as socially responsible companies in the global market so that they are able to attract investors and other business partners. Therefore, a company’s reputation is very crucial to long-term success. Having effective data security helps organizations to build consumer trust and reputation in the global market.
  • Saves on costs: An organization can save a lot on the costs arising from a data breach if effective security controls are implemented at an early stage.
  • Helps meet compliance standards: Nowadays companies have to make sure they are protecting their data in order to maintain compliance with national and global regulations, such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR.

Types of data security controls

There are a number of ways through which an organization can enforce data security:

  1. Data encryption: Data encryption software effectively enhances data security by using an algorithm that will make the data unreadable and can only be decrypted with a key or the proper permissions. In case the data does get breached, it will be rendered useless to whoever gains access to it.
  2. Data Masking: Data masking software hides data by obscuring letters and numbers with proxy characters. This is another method of encryption that leaves data useless to anyone trying to breach the data.
  3. Data Erasure: There are times when data is no longer required and needs to be erased from all systems. This can be a great way of removing liability. Data that does not exist cannot be breached.
  4. Data Resilience: Creating backup and copies of data is a great way of mitigating the risk of accidental data loss or destruction. All organizations should have a backup in place for their data stores.

Organizations usually have a combination of the aforementioned data security controls to explore the best data security possible.

Best practices for implementing data security controls

To help you choose an appropriate security control relevant to your circumstances, we have prepared a set of best practices to make sure you follow.

Understand the nature of data that needs to be protected

Different data categories can have a different degree of sensitivity. The more sensitive the data is, the higher the risk of harm on a data subject will be. Even the breach of a small amount of highly sensitive personal data can have severe consequences on an individual. Therefore, an organization must take into consideration the sensitivity and the exact nature of personal data to be protected while implementing a security control.

Track any foreseeable threats

Higher probabilities or higher impact threats will mean organizations need to employ tighter and more sophisticated controls, especially when processing sensitive personal data. Conversely, less sensitive personal data may require fewer or less sophisticated controls. Security threats can be internal and external.

Internal Threats, i.e. threats that come from within the organization, include:

  • Social engineering: When someone from within the organization is tricked into leaking out company’s private information.
  • Shadow IT: The use of unauthorized websites and applications by employees.
  • Data sharing outside the company: Sharing confidential data outside the company can be detrimental to the data security.
  • Use of unauthorised devices: Devices such as USBs can cause a major security issue if the USB is not a trusted device.
  • Physical theft: Employees usually take their devices with them and the threat of theft increases. Theft of devices can cause problems for all organizations.

External Threats, i.e. when an external entity makes a conscious effort to bypass an organization’s security controls and gain unauthorised access to sensitive data with malicious intent, include:

  • Hacking
  • Malware
  • Phishing attacks

Follow industry best practices

Cyber and information security require professional expertise. Therefore, organizations must adhere to industry best practices in choosing appropriate security controls. For example, encryption is an industry-acceptable security measure.

Organizations should also consider certain local and international standards, such as the following:

  • NERC - Critical Infrastructure Protection
  • NIST -  National Institute of Standards and Technology
  • PCI Security Standards
  • SANS/CIS 20
  • ISO 27001

Check the features of your data security solution

Ideally, your security tool must have the ability to restore the availability and access to personal data in a timely manner in the event of a security incident, whether physical or technical one. It must also have an ability to render the data unintelligible for any person who is not authorised to access it.

A data intelligence solution like Securitii is powered by a PrivacyOps framework that enables organizations to do the following:

  • Catalog & collect on-premises, hybrid and multi cloud data assets into a single repository.
  • Discover sensitive data attributes out-of-the-box.
  • Utilize People-Data-Graph to link personal data to its owners and fulfill privacy use-cases.
  • Detect and classify unstructured data for effective governance, protection and privacy.
  • Highlight data risk with each data set using a risk score.
  • Run security and privacy functions in an automated way.

Consider the costs of implementation

A security control does not need to be exorbitantly expensive and organizations must consider the costs related to implementation.


Implementing appropriate security controls is a fundamental requirement of most privacy laws. Failure to do so may expose your organizations to an exorbitant amount of fines and penalties as well as a loss of consumer trust and confidence. Therefore, organizations are highly encouraged to take any measure necessary to thwart prevent potential security incidents or data losses.

Note: This blog article was written by a guest contributor for the purpose of offering a wider variety of content for our readers. The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect those of GlobalSign.

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