What is Data Loss Prevention? Why is it essential for your business?

Whilst data threats and leakages can occur in any organisation, it is small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) that are most susceptible to data loss incidents. Indeed, cybercriminals often target smaller businesses as ‘low-hanging fruit’ as a mixture of inadequate security infrastructure and insufficient staff training leads them to be particularly vulnerable to data incidents.

Data leaks are costly. According to IBM, the average number of days to identify and contain a data breach is 287 days at an average cost of a data leak stands at $4.24 million – or $161 per lost record. 

That’s where data loss prevention (DLP) solutions come in. Data Loss Prevention is vital for information security and helps protect your critical information from data leakages. 

What is Data Loss Prevention? Why is it essential for your business? What are the common causes of data leaks? How do DLP solutions work? 

In this article, we’ll explore the world of data loss protection and cover why your small-to-medium business needs to invest in a DLP solution. 

What is Data Loss Prevention? 

Businesses often handle sensitive information & data such as financial information, customer data, health records, trade secrets etc. that should never be lost or be placed in the wrong hands.

Data Loss Prevention – or DLP – is vital for ensuring that this sensitive data is not leaked, accessed by unauthorised users or lost. Essentially, DLP aims to protect sensitive data and prevent employees from sharing it with unauthorised users.

DLP solutions are software packages that scan your network and detect detecting and potential data breaches or exfiltration, and help information security personnel look for unauthorised destruction of sensitive data. 

The primary responsibilities of such a solution are as follows: 

  • Monitoring: A DLP solution will need to continually scan your network and provide information security teams with visibility into where sensitive data is being accessed and shared – and with who?
  • Analysis & Automation: DLP solutions must be able to recognise patterns of suspicious behaviour to prevent & predict data breaches. 
  • Reporting & Alerting: Not only must DLP solutions alert information security teams of incidents, but they must also provide detailed reports on the pattern of threats & the organisation’s overall data security. 
  • Filter: DLP solutions must be able to recognise what information is being shared and filter traffic based on DLP policies

What are the causes of data leaks? 

The primary goal of implementing a data loss prevention solution is to reduce the incidence of data leaks within your organisation. However, to properly optimise your data incident response, it’s important to understand why do data leaks occur? 

  • Human error & negligence: IBM found that 24% of data breaches occur due to employees’ human error or negligent contractors. This is likely down to poor training & bad data security habits.
    • Employees often fall for social engineering attacks. Here, hackers gain access to sensitive data by tricking your staff. The damage of such attacks can be mitigated by monitoring the use of such data and looking out for patterns & signs a user may be inadvertently (or otherwise) sharing data with attackers. 
  • System glitches & bad security settings: Humans aren’t always to blame. IBM found that 25% of data breaches are caused by glitches in systems and databases. Errors in firewalls & security tools can often lead to unauthorised access to sensitive data. 
  • Insider attacks: Surprisingly common – especially in sectors such as healthcare – a malicious insider may abuse their access permissions to leak sensitive information. Security Metrics believes that 40% of data incidents in healthcare had some insider involvement. 
  • Extrusion by cybercriminals: Many argue that this is the largest source of data breaches. Networks and databases are often penetrated by phishing attacks, malware and “back-doors”. The danger of such routes is that it can often take years for companies to find and plug these gaps – especially without a DLP solution. 

How does a DLP Solution Work?

Generally, DLP solutions can be described as using two different approaches: content awareness and context analysis

A content-aware DLP will read, parse and analyse a document or message’s content to look for sensitive data – whereas a context analysis DLP will only look at metadata – such as headers, format, size, and timestamps etc. to detect suspicious activity. 

A modern DLP solution will blend these two approaches together. Context analysis screening is a lean way to detect threats whereas content analysis uses more resources to take a deeper dive into documents. 

How does a DLP analyse content? Firstly, a rule-based filter is used to detect sensitive data – for example filtering out 16-digit credit card numbers or national insurance (social security) numbers. 

Exact data matching is a technique used to detect database dumping – where DLP solutions look for exact matches to records to intercept any authorised leaking of database records. 

The same result can be achieved for files through exact file matching. Here, file hashes of communications are matched against known hashes. This technique can be circumvented easily, however, by duplicating files and thus generating new file hashes. Content matching can instead be used to compare partial content to analyse documents. 

Why is Data Loss Prevention important? 

As previously mentioned, data breaches are extremely costly. The average cost to businesses of a data breach rose to $4.24 million (£3.39m) in 2021 – with each record lost costing an organisation $161 (£128.80) on average.

IBM describe four major cost centres driving up this loss:

  • Lost business: Data breaches lead to system downtime and loss of customer goodwill. Organisations that have mishandled or lost customer data will likely have to find new clients – leading to customer acquisition costs.
  • Detection and escalation: This includes recognising an attack, and escalating threats to executives and crisis management. 
  • Notification: Data subjects and regulators will need to be notified of a data breach. Communication with affected parties requires time and money. 
  • Post-breach response: The rebuild from a data breach is a costly and time-consuming endeavour.

An effective data loss prevention solution eliminates these costs. DLP solutions afford information security teams the necessary visibility to detect and neutralise any data threats. 

Given that so much damage is caused by employee negligence and inexperience, enforcement of DLP policies is key to ensuring a watertight information security strategy

The key to doing this with scale is to use an adaptive DLP policy enforcement option – with the ability to automatically adjust and create new policies based on new threats and behaviour patterns. 

A DLP solution is also crucial for maintaining regulatory compliance – most notably with the strict European GDPR legislation. 

Take control of your information security with Data Loss Prevention

In our modern digital landscape, data is key. Now, more than ever, organisations need to properly consider their information security. Data Loss Prevention solutions give information security teams & IT staff the power to monitor and detect data breaches. 

Want to learn more about how a DLP solution can help your business? Get in touch with us today to explore how we can help you take control of your information security once and for all.