Data Loss Prevention Policy – How to Write one for Your Business

With the explosive growth in data we've seen in recent years, organizations are looking for ways to reduce the risk of their sensitive data leaking outside the business. In the current climate of data abundance and rising data breaches, preventing data loss has never been more critical. According to a 2021 report by Egress, 95% of organizations say they have suffered data loss in the last year.

However, it's not all bad news. While data loss is alarmingly common in the current threat landscape, you can prevent it with a robust Data Loss Prevention Policy.

Why Organizations Need a DLP Policy

Data flows in and out of organizations as part of everyday business activities. For example, it might flow from the company to customers, between employees, to remote employees, or business partners. Unfortunately, data sometimes also flows to unauthorized parties. In the best-case scenario, this data is forgotten or ignored and will never cause harm to the company. But in the worst-case scenario, this leaked data can cause irreparable damage, both financially and to reputation.

Poor data hygiene leaves the door wide open for bad actors to exploit vulnerabilities in your cybersecurity to extract valuable information or install malware. According to the latest research by IBM, the average cost of a data breach in 2021 is an eye-watering $4.24 million, a 10% rise since 2019.

How to Create a Successful Data Loss Prevention Policy

Data loss prevention describes the technologies and policies a company uses to ensure sensitive or critical information remains inside the corporate network. It ensures that sensitive data isn’t lost, misused, or accessed by unauthorized parties.

However, while the definition sounds straightforward, many companies struggle to implement effective DLP policies. This is because DLP can be difficult to implement and even harder to maintain. With this in mind, we've outlined the steps to creating a successful DLP policy.

What Exactly Does a DLP Do?

A successful DLP policy strengthens your cybersecurity by:

  • Controlling permissions to access information assets like files, PDFs, customer information, intellectual property, and so on. An information asset is any information of value to the business and can be electronic or physical (USB drives, paper, or other media).
  • Monitoring activity on corporate workstations, servers, and networks. For example, who is accessing or copying files or taking screenshots of sensitive information.
  • Auditing the flow of information in and out of the organization, including any mobile devices or remote workstations.
  • Controlling the amount of information transfer channels, for example, instant messaging apps or flash drives. The more data transfer channels you have, the higher the risk of data leakage.

Recommended Guidelines for Establishing a DLP Policy

Which parameters should you define when writing a DLP policy? Let's take a look.

1.   Identify, Prioritize, and Classify Data

Not all data is created equal. Some data, like personally identifiable information (PII), credit card information, patient records, and significant intellectual property, are more critical than other data like flyers for the company Christmas party. So, the first thing you need to do is determine which data would cause the biggest problem if it were leaked or stolen.

Once you've identified all the most critical data, it's time to move on to everything else. Organizations need to know the locations of all their data. You might find this data in various places, including cloud storage, network storage, and hardware storage.

Next, you need to apply labels to your data to help you define how it should be handled. Common tags include customer information, PII, payment card information (PCI), intellectual property, internal, and public use.

2.   Monitor Data in Motion

Once you've identified and classified your data, it's essential to understand how it flows in and out of the organization. By tracking data in motion, you gain greater visibility into what's happening to your sensitive data. You can then use this information to define your DLP policy's controls and rules around data use.

3.   Compliance, Developing Controls, And Defining Responses for Suspicious Activity

Regulatory compliance is one of the primary reasons for deploying a DLP policy, and, as a result, rules on compliance should be the first ones you implement. Of course, regulatory compliance will vary depending on your industry, location, and type of business, but incorporating compliance into your DLP policy is paramount.

Beyond compliance, you can use the data classifications to define rules for data handling. For example, you may only grant access to a file classified as "confidential " to certain employees. Additionally, this file might be blocked from leaving the organization via email.

DLP solutions help enforce these controls by:

  • Using pre-built classifications and dictionaries to track common types of sensitive data.
  • Using rule-based expressions to quickly analyze content for things like credit card information, Social Security Numbers, etc.
  • Automatically executing the rules in the case of data mishandling by blocking or flagging user actions. In some cases, users can overrule the automated decision if they have a good reason and seek permission.
4.   Train Employees and Offer Continuous Guidance

Training your employees in the DLP policy and approved cybersecurity practices can dramatically reduce the risk of accidental data loss by insiders. Typically, employees don't act with malice but simply unknowingly share sensitive information.

5.   Fine-Tune Your DLP Policy

Remember, your DLP policy isn't set in stone. Over time, you will implement more granular controls as new risks emerge. Before you know it, you'll have a mature Data Loss Prevention program.

What Are the DLP Must-Haves?

If you're concerned that your organization doesn't have the time or resources to implement a comprehensive data loss prevention policy, then what are your options?

In this situation, the best thing you can do to bolster your cybersecurity is to focus on data classification and employee education. If employees familiarize themselves with the different classifications and what level of importance or risk that data poses to the company, they are more likely to handle data safely.

Final Thoughts

No organization, regardless of size, is immune to data loss. In the increasingly dangerous cyber threat landscape of 2022, the best way to safeguard your data from ending up in the wrong hands is to deploy a data loss prevention policy.

About the Author: