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Comprehensive Data Security: Protecting Data at Rest, In Motion, and In Use

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Data is the foundation of any organization’s operations. Security is paramount for all financial records and intellectual property, as well as customer information and internal communications. A data breach can be catastrophic, resulting in financial losses, reputational damage, and regulatory fines.

This piece will provide you with the knowledge and strategies necessary to create a strong data security plan. We’ll look at the three main states of data: at rest, in motion, and in use, and discuss best practices for protecting it at each stage. 

Understanding the Data Landscape: At Rest, In Motion, and In Use

Data’s security posture is directly related to its current state. Here’s a breakdown of the three basic states of data:

Data at Rest

Data at rest is defined as information held on physical devices such as hard drives, servers, backup tapes, or cloud storage platforms. This includes databases, file servers, and even personal laptops that carry sensitive data. 

While seeming static, data at rest is frequently a prime target for attackers due to its high value. Once attackers acquire access to a storage device or cloud platform, they can take massive volumes of data in one fell swoop.

Data in Motion (Data in Transit)

Data in motion refers to data that is actively traveling across networks. This includes file transfers, email exchanges, instant message exchanges, and remote desktop sessions. When data leaves its storage location, it is considered “in motion.” 

Attackers can intercept data as it travels across networks if it is not properly secured. Unsecured Wi-Fi networks, unencrypted email connections, and out-of-date protocols can all make data in transit vulnerable to theft.

Data in Use

Data in use refers to information accessed, processed, or altered by authorized users. This may include a customer service person accessing a customer record, a data analyst running queries on a database, or an employee amending a document. 

Human error, insider threats, and insufficient endpoint security can all expose data in use. Accidental data deletion, phishing attacks that fool users into disclosing important information, or malware on user devices can all jeopardize data security. 

Now that you are clear on the data landscape, let’s dig deep into how data can be secured at its different states.

How to Secure Your Data at Rest and Building a Strong Foundation?

To effectively safeguard your data at rest, a multi-layered approach is essential. Here’s a breakdown of the key strategies:

Encryption at Rest

Encryption is the cornerstone of data security at rest. It operates as an impenetrable fortress, encrypting your data using complex algorithms. Even if attackers get access to your storage systems, the encrypted data will be unreadable without the decryption key.  

Consider storing your data in a safe vault that is only accessible to people who have the correct key. Industry-standard encryption techniques, such as AES-256, provide strong protection. Implementing these algorithms ensures that even if attackers breach your defenses, your data remains safe. 

Access Controls

Not everyone should have access to your data vault. Access controls serve as attentive gatekeepers, carefully verifying the identity and authorization of any person attempting to enter. This includes two crucial components: 

  • User Authentication: This guarantees that only authorized users have access to your data. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) extends beyond simple passwords by requiring a second verification element, such as a code sent to a trusted device. This dramatically minimizes the likelihood of unauthorized access, even if attackers have a user’s password. 
  • Authorization (Role-Based Access Control): The concept of least privilege states that users should only have access to the data required to execute their jobs. Role-based access control (RBAC) precisely defines the data each person or group can access, preventing unauthorized users from accessing or altering critical information.  
    Consider assigning separate keys to different workers, some with access to certain areas of the vault and others to the full library. Regularly checking and upgrading access privileges ensures that only authorized people can access relevant data. 

Data Masking and Tokenization

For highly sensitive data at rest, such as credit card numbers or social security numbers, consider adding an extra layer of obfuscation. This is when data masking and tokenization come into play. 

  • Data Masking: This technique replaces sensitive data with fictitious values that seem like the original data format. Think of replacing credit card numbers with a sequence that retains the right amount of digits but has no actual value. While the masked data may appear convincing at first glance, it is basically useless to intruders attempting to steal real data. 
  • Tokenization: This method goes one step further, replacing sensitive data with unique identifiers (tokens) that have no inherent meaning. Think of substituting the credit card number with a random alphanumeric string. A separate system securely holds the mapping between tokens and original data. This guarantees that authorized users can continue to work with the data while protecting the actual sensitive information from unauthorized users. Implementing these strategies creates additional barriers for attackers, making it much more difficult to exploit stolen data.

What Measures to Take to Securing Your Data in Motion?

As data travels across networks, it becomes vulnerable to interception. To safeguard your data in motion, consider these robust security measures:

Encryption in Transit

Data in motion requires additional security. Encryption in transit serves as a secure tunnel, encrypting your data with protocols such as HTTPS and TLS/SSL. These protocols essentially form a virtual armored vehicle around your data, rendering it unreadable even if intercepted by malicious actors on the network. Imagine encrypting the shipment container itself, so that even if someone breaks into the vehicle, they will be unable to access the valuable items within.

Network Security Measures

Think of your network as the highway itself.  Just like traffic lights and security checks enable smooth and secure travel, network security measures protect your data in transit. Here are a few crucial components: 

  • Firewalls: These serve as your network’s gatekeepers, meticulously inspecting incoming and outgoing traffic based on predetermined security criteria. They can block malicious traffic and unauthorized access attempts, ensuring that only authorized data passes across your network. 
  • Intrusion Detection/Prevention Systems (IDS/IPS): These vigilant systems constantly monitor network activity for any unusual behavior that could suggest a potential attack. Imagine them as security cameras that are always scanning the highway for suspected activities. An IDS can detect such behavior, whereas an IPS can stop it, preventing attacks before they can compromise your data. 
  • Network Segmentation: Breaking down your network into smaller, isolated zones is like constructing dedicated lanes for different types of traffic. This strategy reduces the possible damage if a breach occurs. Consider distinct lanes for high-value data transfers and general user traffic. If a security event occurs in one lane, it remains within that zone and does not spread to other important areas of the network.

Data Loss Prevention (DLP)

DLP solutions, such as Fidelis Network® Data Loss Prevention, serve as a final checkpoint on the data highway, specifically designed to prevent unwanted data exfiltration. Consider DLP to be a squad of inspectors who thoroughly verify each shipment that leaves the network. DLP can be set up to detect and prevent the transmission of sensitive data types (such as customer records and financial information) via email, file transfer, or other methods.   DLP policies can be set up to monitor specific keywords or data patterns, ensuring that only permitted transfers of sensitive information occur. Implementing these security measures creates a strong defense system for your data in motion, protecting it as it moves across your network infrastructure.

Data in Use: The Biggest Security Threat? Strategies to Empower Users

While robust technical controls are essential, human error and insider threats remain significant vulnerabilities for data in use. Here’s how you can empower your users to become active participants in data security:

User Education and Awareness Training

Empower your users to take an active role in data security. Teach them about best practices such as good password hygiene, identifying phishing attempts, and data classification (identifying sensitive data). Regular training programs keep people up to date on evolving cyber risks.

Antivirus, anti-malware, and application control software protect user devices (laptops, desktops, and mobile devices) that access your data. Updating software with the most recent security updates is critical for addressing vulnerabilities exploited by attackers. Monitor endpoints for any suspicious activity that could signal malware or unwanted access attempts.

A Multi-Layered Defense for a Secure Future

Building a strong data security strategy necessitates a multi-layered approach. By combining the technical controls described above with a strong emphasis on user knowledge and best practices, you can significantly reduce the risk of data breaches. Remember that data security is a continual endeavor. Stay ahead of the curve by regularly monitoring your security posture, assessing emerging risks, and adapting your solutions. 

Considering adopting a Data Loss Prevention solution? Fidelis Network DLP is a comprehensive solution for detecting, classifying, and protecting sensitive data wherever it exists. Contact our experts to discover more about how Fidelis can help you strengthen your data security strategy.

Picture of Sarika Sharma
Sarika Sharma

Sarika, a cybersecurity enthusiast, contributes insightful articles to Fidelis Security, guiding readers through the complexities of digital security with clarity and passion. Beyond her writing, she actively engages in the cybersecurity community, staying informed about emerging trends and technologies to empower individuals and organizations in safeguarding their digital assets.

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