It’s 3am… Do You Know Where Your Data Is?

A hand types on a keyboard with question marks popping up all around it.

For many companies, the answer to this question is no – no matter what time of day it is. But why is this? 

With the massive volume of data that continuously flows across organizational boundaries, it’s challenging to say at any moment where all the sensitive data resides. Uploaded to a wide range of entry points, users can easily share data across collaboration tools or store it locally or in the cloud with little tracking of where it came from or where it is going. Unfortunately, without this information, it is virtually impossible to prevent unintended access that can lead to a data breach, which costs $4.45 million – on average.

Preventing such a breach requires knowing where all your data resides, how it is accessed, and what protections are in place. This information is crucial to helping quickly respond to threats and validate compliance with the many data protection regulations at play. 

In this article, we explore the challenges of understanding the data ecosphere and provide actionable advice on tracking and securing it. 

Understanding the Data Ecosphere

The data ecosphere within an organization encompasses the entire landscape of how data is created, stored, accessed, and shared, forming a dynamic and interconnected system shaped by various internal and external factors. Data originates from diverse sources, including internal databases, cloud storage solutions, third-party data providers, and IoT devices, each contributing to the complex flow of information. 

Once generated, this data is stored in various locations such as on-premises servers, cloud environments, and mobile devices, ensuring availability across different platforms. Access to and usage of this data is then granted to a range of consumers — from employees and customers to partners and automated systems, each interacting with the data differently based on their unique needs and roles. 

Overarching this entire system is robust data governance, comprising policies and procedures designed to manage data handling securely and efficiently while ensuring compliance with relevant regulations. This governance is critical, as it safeguards the data and optimizes its flow and utility across the organization. It enables businesses to leverage their data assets effectively while mitigating security and compliance risks.

The Interconnectivity and Flow of Data

When attempting to identify potential vulnerabilities in order to secure data, it is crucial to understand the variety of ways data flows through an organization. 

Internally, data is not static; it moves fluidly between departments and systems, often crossing various security zones designed to protect sensitive information. For example, the marketing team might utilize data generated by the sales department for campaign planning, necessitating secure and efficient data-sharing protocols. Additionally, cross-platform integration poses challenges as various IT systems and platforms—such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, and specialized analytical tools—must interact seamlessly. These integrations are vital for enhancing organizational functionality and business intelligence but can expose data without proper controls. 

Externally, the exchange of data is always in motion; vendors, customers, and cloud services introduce further complexities and risks. Collaborations with business partners often require sharing sensitive data, which must be handled with stringent security protocols to comply with regulatory requirements and safeguard business interests. Similarly, utilizing cloud platforms for data storage or processing involves constant data transmission to and from cloud providers, which must be encrypted and managed to prevent unauthorized access and data breaches. 

Even when data does not go anywhere, it is still necessary to manage how it is updated, deleted, and archived, which is the temporal dynamics of data. Implementing effective data validation checks and upholding a “single source of truth” are essential practices which ensure data remains reliable and secure as it navigates through these internal and external pathways. This comprehensive approach to understanding and managing data flow is pivotal in fortifying the organization’s data security posture against the evolving landscape of cyber threats.

Data Security Implications

The complexity of the organization’s data ecosphere facilitates diverse data interactions and introduces multiple vectors for potential security breaches, making it a prime target for cyberattacks. Direct attacks on data stores, such as databases or cloud storage, are a common threat vector. Attackers often exploit vulnerabilities such as outdated software, weak passwords, or inadequate network protections to gain unauthorized access. 

Low-hanging Security Gaps

A database configured with default passwords or an obsolete version of a software application like an old content management system can provide easy entry points for cybercriminals. These security weaknesses allow attackers to steal, alter, or corrupt valuable data, posing significant organizational integrity and confidentiality risks. 

Similarly, indirect data exposures through misconfigurations or inadequate access controls present a significant security risk, often going unnoticed until exploited by malicious actors. Common instances include misconfigured Amazon S3 buckets that leave data publicly accessible or file shares incorrectly set to global read, which can expose sensitive information to anyone with internet access. These oversights in setting permissions on cloud storage or errors in software configuration settings can lead to unintended data leaks, providing cybercriminals with easy opportunities to access and misuse data. 

In-motion Data Vulnerabilities

Data can also be exposed through intercepted data transfers. Data in transit is particularly vulnerable to interception and manipulation, especially when transmitted over unsecured or public networks. This susceptibility is acutely pronounced when individuals connect to work resources from locations with potentially insecure network access, such as a coffee shop hotspot, without the protections of secure protocols like HTTPS. In such scenarios, attackers can exploit these security gaps through man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks, where they insert themselves between the user and the resource to capture or alter the transmitted data. These attacks compromise the confidentiality and integrity of the data and expose the organization to potential data breaches and data loss. 

User-specific Data Compromises 

Specific users and data types within an organization are inherently at higher risk of being targeted due to their critical roles in data flow and access dynamics. Users who handle sensitive information, such as financial records, personal employee data, or proprietary business insights, are often prime targets for cyberattacks because of the value and impact associated with this data. Similarly, individuals with elevated privileges, including administrators, IT staff, and executives, are frequently targeted due to their ability to effect significant changes within IT systems, potentially allowing broad access to sensitive areas when compromised. 

Moreover, the frequency of data access plays a crucial role; users who regularly interact with sensitive systems are more susceptible to attacks since each access point represents a potential vulnerability. Additionally, exposure to external parties further amplifies risk; for instance, salespeople, customer service representatives, and business executives engaging in regular data exchanges with external entities are at increased risk due to the numerous opportunities for interception or exploitation in these interactions. 

Improving Data Security with Analytics

Staying ahead in securing the data ecosphere requires finding potential threats before they strike. Analytics helps predict patterns and anomalies that could indicate a threat. Behavioral analytics scrutinizes user behavior to identify irregularities that may signal a security breach. This form of analysis considers various factors such as the devices used for access, the times when access occurs, changes in the types of data accessed, and even the speed and patterns of access. Changes in these factors or a combination from an established baseline signal increased risk of unauthorized access or internal misuse.

Similarly, predictive analytics use machine learning algorithms to forecast potential future threats based on trends and patterns identified in historical data. This goes beyond just behavioral data and encompasses external threat intelligence to make more accurate predictions, allowing organizations to move from a reactive defense to one that tailors control proactively. 

The effectiveness of these analytics can be quantified with metrics such as the number of detected threats, types of threats, response times, and incident rates. This information helps validate return on investment (ROI) and create historical data to validate the improvement gained from analytics. 

Enhancing Visibility with Data Detection & Response

Data visibility can be enhanced with Data Detection and Response (DDR) systems to provide sophisticated, real-time tracking and analysis across all systems, including the ability to continuously monitor data flows. DDR tools are equipped with automated alert systems that promptly notify security teams of potential threats, ensuring swift action can be taken to mitigate. 

One of the key features of DDR is its comprehensive dashboards, which consolidate and display all data activities in a user-friendly interface. These dashboards offer a unified view that enables IT and security teams to monitor the health and security of data ecosystems efficiently.

Benefits of Monitoring Data with DDR

DDR systems offer a proactive defense mechanism that significantly enhances an organization’s ability to detect and address privacy issues as they emerge rather than reacting after a breach. This detection capability is crucial, as it allows organizations to respond swiftly to potential threats, minimizing the window for data exposure or loss. 

A primary benefit of DDR is its ability to automate remediation, which can come in the form of obfuscating/masking private data in motion as well as preventing malware and ransomware in real-time. DDR systems also have mechanisms to automate responses to detected threats, such as isolating affected data, blocking user access, or immediately alerting IT security teams. 

DDR also aids organizations in maintaining compliance with stringent data protection laws like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). By ensuring that data handling practices align with regulatory requirements, DDR fortifies an organization’s security posture and adherence to legal standards, protecting it from potential legal and financial penalties.

Get Data Defense Across the Ecosphere

Votiro ensures data protection across your ecosphere using a layered defense of Data Detection and Response, Content Disarm and Reconstruction (CDR), Antivirus (AV), and comprehensive threat analytics – all within a single, cohesive platform. Using a zero-trust approach to defense, Votiro’s DDR actively masks sensitive information such as Personally Identifiable Information (PII), Protected Health Information (PHI), and Payment Card Information (PCI) in real-time as it flows across organizational boundaries. This sanitization is gathered as auditable evidence, helping organizations show evidence of continuous compliance and threat neutralization.

Contact us today to learn how Votiro sets the bar for protecting data across your ecosphere. And if you’re ready to try Votiro for yourself, you can take a free 30-day trial here!

background image

News you can use

Stay up-to-date on the latest industry news and get all the insights you need to navigate the cybersecurity world like a pro. It's as easy as using that form to the right. No catch. Just click, fill, subscribe, and sit back as the information comes to you.

Subscribe to our newsletter for real-time insights about the cybersecurity industry.