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Expert opinion: Three simple ways to prevent data loss

FYI, this story is more than a year old

There's always something you don't want the opposition to know about. Your next move, the new strategy, or where you think you can create a competitive advantage.

This is especially true when the ‘opposition' could include everybody from corporate competitors to professional cybercriminals. That's why the emphasis is increasingly on the ‘how' rather than the ‘what'; how can you share sensitive information quickly, easily, and securely, without fearing you're giving the game away?

It's a high stakes game, especially when you factor in impending GDPR legislation, and the penalties that go with non-compliance. Indeed, losing any form of customer data and the resulting fines, operational disruption, and reputational damage, could well prove to be game over.

It's safe to say that at some point your data has the potential to become exposed. A laptop left on a train or a lost USB stick full of sensitive information; data being compromised can be a result of human error as much as it can be malicious behaviour.

Even so, the end result is that your data is out there, and no longer under your control. Bad, right? Well, not necessarily, if you have the right encryption in place.

This means that the data is illegible without the key – the key to which only you have access. Encryption can seem unnecessarily complicated, but it is actually a relatively straightforward process. Here are three suggestions that start ‘simple' and end with a more ‘comprehensive' approach:

#1: The power of a password

This one is really simple, but surprisingly underused. It's about using file types that can be protected with a password.

For example, when sharing data via an Excel file, the user has the ability to add a password to it. By clicking on this function, the information is immediately and automatically encrypted with strong AES256 encryption.

This file is then sent over normal email channels, with the password sent separately by SMS to the recipient. It's that easy, and from a security perspective it's a process that works perfectly well for most instances of information sharing.

What's more, it's an action/process that can be implemented quickly without the need for additional IT budget to make it happen. The downside is the user must do all the work, and maintain responsibility for sharing and protecting passwords.

#2: Delivering always-on encryption

This is becoming an increasingly attractive proposition in light of the imminent arrival of GDPR because it delivers round-the-clock protection.

That means each file in the network is automatically encrypted, and remains so, unless someone makes the conscious effort to remove it. Again, it's easy to introduce and implement (the recipient here also needs a password sent via SMS or email), and offers businesses the reassurance that only encrypted files are leaving the building.

This suggestion is therefore ideal for organisations wanting a safer way to store and access data on their internal networks, and for ensuring effective encryption is embedded into established policies and procedures.

#3: Control from a distance

One common theme running through the previous two suggestions is that they're dependent upon the ‘goodwill' of the recipient to keep the files safe.

That's because as soon as the data's decrypted it's done, laid bare, and now outside your control. The recipient is therefore free to do what he or she wants to with it, and share this decoded content with anybody they want (and remember, you're always liable for any information being shared by your company!) – meaning you go from having full control over the data to keeping your fingers crossed.

The good news, however, is that this doesn't have to be the end-game. Instead, solutions already exist that allow you to revoke any file at any moment – irrespective of location and ‘platform' (if it's been copied to a USB drive, or shared via tools like Dropbox and OneDrive).

In combination with data loss prevention technology and classification, individual files can be encrypted automatically, thereby giving IT all the control they need to keep files safe across an extended and distributed working environment.

Bringing encryption to life

So, if you're considering encryption as part of a wider GDPR response strategy, it doesn't have to be complicated, but it does have to be comprehensive.

Encryption will be imperative to avoid severe regulatory fines when the GDPR leniency period ends in May, but companies who implement the practice will be protected against data breaches from here in regardless. Considering IBM estimates the cost of a data breach is $3.62m, its one practice businesses can't afford to be without.

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