Sensitive data exposure is a significant concern for data security leaders, particularly as regulations continue to expand. Cybersecurity professionals must take proactive steps to protect sensitive data from unauthorized access, disclosure, and misuse to avoid financial, legal, and reputational consequences.
What is sensitive data exposure?
Sensitive data exposure is the unauthorized disclosure of sensitive information such as personal identifiable information (PII), financial data, healthcare records, and confidential business information. Cybersecurity professionals are concerned about this issue because it can lead to a range of negative consequences, including data breaches, reputational damage, and financial losses.
As regulations expand, sensitive data exposure becomes an even bigger concern for data security leaders. Regulatory compliance such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) place strict requirements on how organizations handle personal data. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in hefty fines and legal penalties.
How do these incidents occur?
Sensitive data exposure can occur in many ways, such as through unsecured databases, misconfigured cloud storage, and phishing attacks. Hackers and malicious insiders can exploit vulnerabilities in an organization’s security infrastructure to gain access to sensitive data. Once they have access, they can sell the data on the dark web or use it for fraudulent activities.
To prevent sensitive data exposure, cybersecurity professionals must implement a range of security measures such as encryption, access controls, and regular vulnerability assessments. They must also provide comprehensive security awareness training to employees to help them understand the importance of data security and how to protect sensitive information.
Creating a sensitive data exposure defense plan
To protect against sensitive data exposure incidents, security teams must create a comprehensive plan of action. Here are some steps they can take:
- Identify sensitive data: Start by identifying all the sensitive data your organization stores, processes, and transmits. This includes personal identifiable information (PII), financial data, healthcare records, and confidential business information.
- Conduct a risk assessment: Conduct a comprehensive risk assessment to identify vulnerabilities in your organization’s security infrastructure. This will help you understand the potential threats and prioritize your security measures accordingly.
- Implement security measures: Implement security measures such as access controls, encryption, and data loss prevention tools to protect against sensitive data exposure. Also, ensure that your security infrastructure is regularly updated and patched to address known vulnerabilities.
- Develop a security awareness program: Develop a security awareness program to educate employees about the importance of data security and how to protect sensitive information. This includes training on how to identify phishing attacks, how to create strong passwords, and how to report suspicious activities.
- Perform regular security audits: Regularly conduct security audits to ensure that your security measures are effective and up-to-date. This includes penetration testing, vulnerability scanning, and security assessments.
- Have an incident response plan: Have an incident response plan in place that outlines the steps to be taken in the event of a sensitive data exposure incident. This includes notifying affected individuals, investigating the cause of the incident, and implementing measures to prevent similar incidents in the future.
Sensitive data exposure and data breach – are they one and the same?
Sensitive data exposure and data breaches share several commonalities. Here are some of the key similarities:
- Unauthorized access: Both sensitive data exposure and data breaches involve unauthorized access to sensitive information. In the case of sensitive data exposure, the information may be accessed without the knowledge or consent of the individual or organization that owns it. In a data breach, the information is typically accessed by hackers or other malicious actors.
- Impact on individuals and organizations: Both sensitive data exposure and data breaches can have a significant impact on individuals and organizations. For individuals, sensitive data exposure can lead to identity theft, financial fraud, and other negative consequences. For organizations, both incidents can lead to reputational damage, legal liabilities, and financial losses.
- Regulatory compliance: Sensitive data exposure and data breaches can both result in non-compliance with regulatory requirements. Organizations that fail to protect sensitive data may be subject to fines and other legal penalties under regulations such as GDPR, CCPA, and HIPAA.
- Security measures: To prevent sensitive data exposure and data breaches, organizations must implement a range of security measures such as access controls, encryption, and regular vulnerability assessments. Additionally, both incidents require a comprehensive incident response plan to mitigate the damage and prevent future incidents.
Sensitive data exposure and data breaches share several commonalities, and it is essential for organizations to prioritize data security to minimize the risk of these incidents and protect sensitive information.
The cost of sensitive data exposure
Several high-profile cases in recent years have seen organizations fined significant amounts for failing to protect sensitive data. Here are some examples:
- Marriott International: In 2020, Marriott International was fined $23.8 million by the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for a data breach that exposed the personal information of around 339 million guests worldwide. The ICO found that Marriott had failed to put appropriate security measures in place and had not conducted sufficient due diligence when it acquired Starwood Hotels, the company that suffered the breach.
- British Airways: In 2019, British Airways was fined £20 million ($26 million) by the ICO for a data breach that exposed the personal information of around 400,000 customers. The ICO found that the breach was caused by weaknesses in British Airways’ security measures, including poor authentication processes and inadequate encryption.
- Equifax: In 2019, Equifax, one of the largest credit reporting agencies in the US, was fined $575 million by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for a data breach that exposed the personal information of around 147 million people. The FTC found that Equifax had failed to take reasonable steps to secure its network and had not adequately addressed known vulnerabilities.
- Capital One: In 2020, Capital One was fined $80 million by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) for a data breach that exposed the personal information of around 100 million customers. The OCC found that Capital One had failed to establish effective risk management practices and had not adequately assessed the security of its cloud-based infrastructure.
These examples show that fines for failing to protect sensitive data can be significant, with organizations facing penalties in the millions or even hundreds of millions of dollars. It is therefore crucial for organizations to prioritize data security and take proactive steps to prevent data breaches and sensitive data exposure incidents.
Reduce the Risk of Sensitive Data Exposure with BigID
Here’s how BigID works:
- Discovering sensitive data: BigID uses machine learning algorithms to discover and accurately classify sensitive data across an organization’s entire data landscape. This includes data stored in on-prem databases and hybrid cloud environments.
- Mapping data flows: BigID identifies where sensitive data is stored—in both structured and unstructured forms, who has access to it, and how it’s being used. This enables organizations to monitor data flows and ensure that sensitive data is being handled appropriately.
- Identifying risks: BigID analyzes the risk associated with each piece of sensitive data, enabling organizations to prioritize high risk data, remediate vulnerable data, and improve their data security posture.
- Automating compliance: BigID automates compliance with data privacy regulations such as GDPR, CCPA, and HIPAA by identifying and classifying sensitive data, mapping data flows, and generating reports.
To gain more visibility from your data and reduce your risk of sensitive data exposure— schedule a free 1:1 demo with BigID today.