What Is Data Loss Prevention (DLP) And What Do You Need to Know About It?
According to Statista, the average data breach cost in 2022 was $4.35 million. Many companies struggle to protect critical information, such as intellectual property or personal information. Almost 70% of small businesses close within a year because of a large data loss. That is why data loss prevention is an important component of any defense strategy for a company of any size.
But what is DLP and how does one implement it properly? Let’s have a closer look at the topic.
What is data loss prevention?
Data loss prevention (or DLP for short) is a set of tools, technologies, policies, and processes that detect and prevent the loss of sensitive or critical information in a corporate network and ensure that the information was not leaked or compromised. DLP strategies focus on both protecting the data from outside interference and from internal threats. Implementing data loss prevention solutions makes it possible to better identify, manage, and protect valuable business information and assets. Additionally, organizations use DLP to ensure compliance with different law regulations like GDPR, HIPAA, or PCI-DSS.
You can also check the following articles to learn more about security issues:
- What Is DevSecOps and Why Are You Doing Your Security Wrong?
- The Main Security Issues in the Mobile App Development
Now, back to the topic.
There are three main types of DLP solutions that you can choose as part of your information security system:
- Network DLP: secures all network communications like email and web applications. It tracks and monitors all the moving information within the given network and prevents it from leaking. For example, if someone tries to send an email with sensitive information using the company's network, the DLP system will act in accordance with its configured settings. It can encrypt, block, and audit an email or it can report a certain action to the administrator. But that works only when a computer is connected to a network so keep that in mind.
- Endpoint DLP: needs to be installed directly onto the endpoint devices like laptops, PCs, or mobiles. It's not dependent on the organization's network, and thus it can protect and monitor the data even in an offline mode. Endpoint DLP can encrypt all information that is transferred to portable devices. It also detects when sensitive data is saved unencrypted in the files on the devices.
- Storage DLP: is similar to endpoint DLP, but it implements your company's rules and policies of data loss prevention on cloud-based storage like Google Workspace and others. It integrates with cloud tools and allows employees to use cloud apps in a more secure manner.
Why is data loss prevention important?
According to the Fortinet survey, the finance department (41%), the customer access department (35%), and the research and development department (33%) are most vulnerable to internal threats and cyber-attacks. Modern security practices require a high standard of data protection and data loss prevention. Every business needs to ensure that a company's intellectual property and sensitive information are protected from negligent or malicious actions by both internal and external users. Here are three main reasons why organizations need to use DLP.
Protection of personal information
Businesses are subject to mandatory compliance standards imposed by governments. All organizations collect and store Personally Identifiable Information (PII), Protected Health Information (PHI), or payment card information of their employees and clients. Mandatory compliance standards require companies to protect this sensitive information. Data loss prevention is the first step in this process as it can identify, classify, and tag sensitive data and monitor activities around that data. Moreover, most DLP tools are built to address the requirements of common compliance standards.
Protection of intellectual property
Every organization owns intellectual property and strategically valuable information that must not be leaked. Losing this information can damage both the company’s finances and reputation. Therefore, you should be able to regulate the policies that safeguard your information against undesired infiltration. A DLP tool can help identify and protect this information from leaking or being abused.
In order to protect valuable information, a company should know where the data is stored, which users have access to it, and for what purpose. Hence, an efficient data loss prevention tool can help identify weak points and eliminate unnecessary risks. To increase the visibility of data movements, organizations can implement a DLP system which will help to track the information throughout the network, endpoints, and cloud.
How does data loss prevention work?
Modern DLP solutions combine context analysis and content awareness to identify and recognize sensitive information and further process it. In the first stage, DLP examines the context of a document (i.e. header, size, format, etc.) to see if it can be classified. If the context is insufficient, it then explores the document using content awareness. In this way, a DLP tool identifies the needed information and takes the corresponding action.
It sounds relatively simple - yet, the process of inspection is a bit more complex than you might think. For instance, here are several techniques used for content inspection:
- Rule-based: this technique is used to analyze a document’s content by using certain rules or regular expressions. For example, searching for credit card numbers or social security numbers. It can be very effective as a first-step filter but it is usually combined with other approaches.
- Exact data matching: it is also called database fingerprinting, as it creates a “fingerprint” of the information, and searches for exact matches from a database. However, the big flaw of this technique is that creating a data dump or accessing live databases can negatively affect performance.
- Partial document matching: can identify completely or partially matching files. For example, the same survey form filled out by different people will be considered a matching file.
- Statistical analysis: it uses machine learning algorithms and Bayesian analysis to identify content that violates certain policies or contains sensitive information. The more training information the algorithm receives, the better the results are.
Remember though that the abovementioned techniques are only a part of the whole data loss prevention strategy. Adequate security also requires an experienced IT team, the right hardware, and proper protocols in place.
Best DLP practices to implement
Even though proper and robust security requires a holistic approach, it’s important to know the best DLP practices you can implement. These practices can serve as a base for further enhancement of your cyber security. Just don’t forget to adjust them in accordance with the processes within your organization.
Identify and classify sensitive data
There is a lot of different information running throughout your organization. To protect it, you need to know what kind of information you have and where it resides. You can use discovery and classification tools to scan your databases. It can help not only with locating data but also with classifying it in accordance with the level of confidentiality. In this way, you will be able to prioritize what’s most sensitive and needs protection in the first place.
For instance, if the organization stores personal customer information, its loss will lead to severe consequences and hefty violation fines. Therefore, even if the implementation and fine-tuning of data discovery engines can be complicated, they can add more visibility to your data management. The more aware you are of the available information, the better you can protect it.
Implement DLP policies
To create a DLP policy, you need to understand what threats your business can face. DLP policies also outline how a company can protect and share its information. Policies include rules and procedures that a business implements throughout its entire network.
While working on your policies, remember to consider all types of data:
- Data at rest: refers to the information stored in databases, cloud storage, computers, and other devices that is not moved around and is in the “resting” state.
- Data in motion: the information that the parties exchange with each other, such as work emails, payment details, etc.
- Data in use: the information that users are working with on a daily basis.
As for the policies implementation, follow these steps:
- Establish incident management processes and ensure they are practical for each data category;
- Create rules that specify the conditions for the processing, modification, copying, printing, and other use of this information;
- Include business processes performed within applications and programs that access confidential information.
Remember that since every business tends to evolve, these policies must be constantly monitored, refined, and updated according to the occurring changes.
Encryption is one of the most basic and vital steps in defending your data. So even if your encrypted data has accidentally leaked, it will be highly challenging for hackers to view and decipher it. Meanwhile, you can securely share your encrypted files with coworkers without worrying about the data being intercepted while in motion or ending up in the wrong mail. But make sure to balance safety with usability, or it can lower the productivity of your employees.
Educate employees on DLP
There is always a chance for human error. For example, malware can infiltrate corporate networks because an employee has clicked on an attachment to check an email from an unknown source. Thus, you should explain the DLP importance to your employees and educate them on the use of DLP software, main DLP rules, and procedures. Ensure that everyone is aware of how the company is legally required to handle the data it stores. It is also better to talk even about the most obvious security practices like not opening an email from unknown sources.
The limitations of DLP
Data loss prevention systems use a combination of security measures such as signature matching, data fingerprinting, and even intrusion detection to protect sensitive information. DLP software implemented in networks has access to all incoming and outgoing data. Thus, the DLP system must analyze all content and try to match it to block lists determined by the security team.
But there is always a possibility that the matching can be wrong as the organizations' content is constantly changing. Besides, some DLP systems may become ineffective when the information travels outside the managed network, for example, via personal devices. And obviously, DLPs can’t predict such human factors as sabotage - which might be the case sometimes.
The main idea here is that a DLP solution is not almighty - and below, we list a few other limitations to know about.
Complex configuration and management
Traditional DLPs are not very flexible and that might be an issue. In addition, you’ll need to customize a DLP solution to fit your organization and your needs. This may be challenging as well since DLP software relies on manual data definition, classifications, and configuration of complex rules and policies. For example, you want to hire a freelancer for a specific project, so you need to share the information with this person. Your DLP software can block outside emails or websites, so it can be difficult to find a comfortable way to communicate.
Besides, IT administrators often create different access rules for different users, which ultimately cannot scale across medium or larger organizations. Thus, DLP management becomes time-consuming and requires ongoing adjustments and optimization following the changes in your organization. As a result, this leads to DLP rules being relaxed over time which in turn results in weak security.
High costs of certain DLP solutions
Data loss prevention covers a range of tools and software solutions to protect the information via your network, devices, and storage. While larger enterprises can afford to invest in it, this can be a problem for smaller companies. Configuring the DLP solution is time-consuming and requires expensive resources for ongoing adjustments and optimization. Even though the company can afford to buy DLP software, it may also need professional service support from the vendor, which can be expensive.
Top DLP tools to pay attention to
There is a whole array of DLP solutions out there in the market and it might be hard to navigate through all possible choices. Luckily, many trusted organizations like Gartner regularly publish lists of the best data loss prevention tools. The ratings are normally based on clients’ reviews and list the biggest pros and cons of every tools. Let’s have a look at several of the most popular DLP solutions below.
Forcepoint is a solution that works on-premise and in the cloud and is aimed at preventing sensitive data from exfiltrating and at delivering unified policy management. The product claims a data-first approach to cybersecurity and is overall considered a very strong tool with rich functionality. Some of its most notable features include:
- 1500+ predefined templates, policies, and classifiers;
- Performs several types of analysis (even the optical character recognition one);
- Ensures consistency with the help of a single analysis engine;
- User-friendly interface and easy installation of policies.
Mind though that the process of policies customization may be challenging and it might take some time to wrap your head around the product.
Digital Guardian DLP
Digital Guardian is a SaaS DLP that is powered by AWS and belongs to Fortra’s cybersecurity portfolio. It delivers its services in the cloud and is known for a number of interesting features, such as:
- Automated data discovery;
- Granular policies for better protection of sensitive data;
- Integrations with a number of major tech giants;
- High scalability and great customer support.
However, some clients believe that there are better alternatives in the market. Digital Guardian does not offer anything unique or outstanding - it’s just good at performing its core task.
GTB Technologies DLP
One more tool that we’d like to talk about is GTB Technologies DLP. It is suitable for both SMB and enterprises and is available on Azure, AWS, and Google. GTB Technologies DLP works on and off-network, offers quick installation (in less than 5 minutes, according to the official website), and can run either on the provider’s or client’s cloud.
The most interesting features are:
- DLP-as-a-service which means hosting by the biggest cloud service providers and the availability of the tool for on-premise use and for private clouds as well;
- Additional security features (i.e. application allowlisting/denylisting);
- A very high accuracy of detection capabilities;
- Lowest TCO.
Overall, GTB Technologies DLP seems like a very robust and reliable solution that received a 4.9 rating on Gartner and collected multiple positive reviews from users.
In the modern world, all businesses are data-driven, and the number of cyber criminals has increased significantly in recent years. Organizations are responsible for the safety of their intelligence and for protecting the information provided by their partners and customers.
So what is DLP? The answer is: a part of a cybersecurity strategy that is necessary to protect your critical data against attacks and accidents. But remember that a single DLP solution cannot solve all your security problems and you will also need a complex and well-rounded cybersecurity strategy in place.
Q: What is data loss prevention policy?
A: A data loss prevention policy is a set of measures that organizations implement to protect their sensitive information against exfiltration, data breaches, and data corruption. This policy should be based on your security needs and should fall into compliance with government regulations. It defines the types of data activity you allow within the network and ways employees can access and operate company data.
Q: What is cloud data loss prevention?
A: Cloud data loss prevention (DLP) solutions help to protect an organization's information from cyberattacks and accidental exposure via cloud-based data storage. Cloud DLP automatically finds, inspects, and categorizes business informatio in the cloud and enables easy data monitoring. It can also remove or alter classified data before files are uploaded to the cloud.
Q: What is McAfee data loss prevention?
A: McAfee is a data loss prevention software that can guard any system and eliminates information loss. The software can protect the data in different environments, so you can install it in the cloud, on the network, or at other endpoints. McAfee DLP comes with automated reporting facilities that ensure enhanced compliance and protection of users’ data. The software further simplifies policy management and incident workflow monitoring with its flexible deployment options. Its classification technology categorizes large amounts of data so only relevant files are examined and remediated.
Q: What is RSA data loss prevention?
A: RSA DLP Suite is a product by EMC that consists of RSA DLP Datacenter, RSA DLP Network and RSA DLP Endpoint with RSA Enterprise Manager. The Suite is intended at providing comprehensive and efficient data loss prevention services. What’s hgihly helpful is the RSA Enterprise Manager that serves as a central management console that not only provides a holistic view of your system and DLP tools but also helps control incident management workflows.