By |Published On: February 21st, 2024|15 min read|Categories: Cybersecurity|

What you Need to Know About Data Security Posture Management

One of the biggest issues in cybersecurity for many firms in 2024 is data theft. If criminals are able to obtain confidential or sensitive information, this can be highly damaging. Hackers may seek to demand a ransom payment in exchange for not publicly releasing customer data, or could pass on trade secrets, research and development plans or other intellectual property to competitors.

Therefore, putting in place dedicated solutions for data security needs to be an essential element of any enterprise’s strategy. In order to achieve this, a holistic approach to cybersecurity that covers every aspect of a company’s operations is a must.

What is Data Security Posture Management?

For many firms, the answer to this will be data security posture management, or DSPM. This refers to a comprehensive approach towards security solutions, as well as the technologies that will be necessary to achieve this. However, not every managed service on offer falls under this category, so it’s vitally important to know what a DSPM solution provides and how it differs from the alternatives.

Why is Data Security Posture Management Important?

Having an effective DSPM offers businesses greatly increased visibility into their operations. It will be able to show firms clearly where their most sensitive information is stored – whether this is on an in-house network or in a cloud environment – as well as who is accessing it and for what purpose.

This insight is vital for numerous reasons. For starters, if enterprises don’t know where their data is, they can’t hope to protect it. As more firms adopt solutions such as hybrid working, embrace cloud infrastructure and permit the use of personally-owned devices, this can create huge volumes of ‘shadow data’ that are outside the traditional perimeter, and are therefore invisible to standard IT strategies.

According to research by Thales, around 60 percent of corporate data is now stored in the cloud, so tools to identify and manage this are essential. DSPM starts with a comprehensive program of data discovery to identify such issues. This can be vital, as without this knowledge, highly sensitive data may end up unprotected on consumer-grade storage services, while a company may not even realize it has been the victim of a data breach until it is too late.

Complete visibility also makes it much easier for businesses to meet their compliance requirements under tough regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This has high penalties for failures to safeguard data – up to €20 million or four percent of global turnover in the case of severe breaches.

What are the Differences Between Data Security Posture Management and Data Loss Prevention?

When compared with more traditional data loss prevention (DLP) software, a data security posture management solution offers a more comprehensive set of tools. DLPs, as the name  suggests, focus their attention on preventing data breaches that leak information. This means a strong focus on a firm’s perimeter, principally ensuring that endpoints are monitored and protected against both intrusion and data exfiltration.

DLP-based solutions can prove challenging as businesses grow and begin to experience data sprawl. As more information moves to cloud native solutions, the security controls included with a traditional DLP may find it difficult to keep up.

On the other hand, DSPM alternatives are designed from the start to cope with these ever-expanding networks. Indeed, firms can even take advantage of educated cloud security posture management tools in order to address any issues within their managed service solutions.

What are the Differences Between Data Security Posture Management and Data Governance?

Data security posture management solutions may also be viewed as part of a data governance strategy. But in fact, the two should not be viewed as one and the same. Data governance strictly refers to efforts to manage and control information. This includes areas such as ensuring data quality and usability, data privacy and putting in place best practices for gaining user consent to store and use data.

In other words, data governance is more about how data is used than how it is secured. By contrast, DSPM is more focused on protecting data from threats, with tools such as access controls, encryption and network security being deployed to minimize the risk of breaches.

What are the Benefits of Data Security Posture Management?

When implemented correctly, a DSPM tool will deliver a wide range of benefits to help defend systems from cyberattacks and prevent data loss or exfiltration. Some of the specific advantages that firms will benefit from include:

  • Lower data breach risk – DSPM tools can spot a range of issues, such as outdated policies, incorrect data classification and misconfigurations such as overly-generous permissions, to name but a few.
  • Improved compliance – Effective data discovery and auditing capabilities help ensure firms are compliant with all relevant requirements, whether this is general data protection rules like GDPR or industry-specific requirements such as HIPAA or PCI-DSS.
  • Reduced attack surface – The visibility provided by the data security platform lets companies spot unapproved or otherwise vulnerable endpoints and create policies to cut down on these weaknesses.
  • Improved efficiency – The use of automation to help continuously monitor the network frees up IT professionals to focus their activities on more productive and higher-priority activities, leaving day-to-day administration to the managed security platform.

How Does Data Security Posture Management Work?

DSPM services offer a holistic approach to defending data against hackers and other threats. In brief, the main goals of data security posture management are to determine:

  • Where sensitive data is located, both for storage and when in use
  • Who has access to it
  • How information is being used
  • What security systems are in place within the application or data storage facility
  • How effective such measures are and where improvements are required

What Are The Key Components and Capabilities Of Data Security Posture Management?

In order to achieve these goals, a good DSPM solution will include a range of tools, which work together to provide a complete picture of your data situation. While the exact makeup of these may vary between providers, there are a few core capabilities that no service should be without. These include the following tools and activities:

  • Data discovery: An essential first step for any DSPM system, the ability to understand exactly where data is stored throughout the business. To do this, it will catalog a complete record of data sources across databases, file systems, cloud storage and third-party applications.
  • Data classification: Once identified, the next step is to audit the data and prioritize it according to both its importance to the business and its sensitivity. Being able to correctly identify data types such as personally identifiable information, financial records, intellectual property and more is essential if resources are to be allocated efficiently.
  • Risk management: A good DSPM should be able to identify and remedy a range of vulnerabilities. This includes testing for potential firewall misconfigurations, reviewing access controls, patch management and more. Automation tools to correct any issues without human input will also be hugely valuable here.
  • Continuous monitoring: Maintaining a constant overview of activities within the network, including who is accessing what data and what traffic is being directed where,  provides critical visibility into day-to-day activities and helps quickly spot any unusual behavior.
  • Incident response: If suspicious behavior or telltale signatures of malware are detected, automation tools can be deployed to block any ongoing threats before they have a chance to compromise data. A comprehensive strategy should also be able to contain, investigate and remediate any issues that do lead to a data breach.

How Does Data Security Posture Management Understand What Data Is Sensitive?

With so much structured and unstructured data held within modern businesses, keeping track of this and correctly classifying it for security purposes is a major challenge. DSPM can assist by not only locating this data, but analyzing it to determine what it consists of.

When looking at structured data, for example, this can be achieved by tagging information with relevant details that the solutions can use. When combined with other capabilities such as data flow analysis, this gives companies clear visibility into how their most important data assets are moving around the network and where they are most used.

What Are The Challenges Of Data Security Posture Management?

While the benefits of a comprehensive DSPM are clear, getting the technology up and running is not an easy task. The tools are highly complex to implement, so often require a great deal of time and knowledge to handle initial configurations and integrations with the rest of an IT network.

What Are The Common Misconceptions About Data Security Posture Management?

There are a range of misconceptions about the concept of data security posture management that may hinder the effective application of these tools. For example, one incorrect idea is that this is a relatively new way of looking at security management. However, while the term itself is very recent, the fundamental practices underlying it are not. In this sense, DSPM is primarily more about taking a holistic approach to security and reframing how businesses look at their data protection strategies.

>Another idea is that the prime focus of DSPM is on data discovery – particularly when it comes to information held in the cloud. While the ability to locate and classify data across multiple locations is important, this is only the first stage of an effective solution. If firms view these tools as only adding visibility to their operations, they may not be taking full advantage of the capabilities of these services.

How Does Data Security Posture Management Impact Cloud Security?

With the amount of cloud data stored by businesses growing all the time, DSPM services are an invaluable resource for keeping this under control. It’s important to protect data wherever it is stored, so these tools deliver the solutions to achieve this without needing to bring sensitive information back in-house.

The use of cloud data security tools, strong access control technology and constant monitoring help ensure that information held in this type of data store is protected from threats such as unauthorized access. It can also help identify and address any vulnerabilities that can be caused by issues such as misconfigurations or the use of cloud services that fall foul of a firm’s security policy or other compliance regulations.

In an environment where ‘shadow IT’ solutions – i.e. the use of consumer-grade data storage tools or cloud applications without the knowledge or approval of the security team – are commonplace, this helps ensure that nothing is slipping through the net.

How Do Firms Continuously Improve Their Data Security Posture?

A key feature of an effective DSPM solution is the ability to continuously scan systems and conduct ongoing risk assessment of the entire organization. By keeping a constant watch over every data asset, firms can be instantly alerted when anything unusual or suspicious occurs, as well as being kept up-to-date on any emerging vulnerabilities and new attack paths.

It’s also important to remember that ultimately, the business is still responsible for its own data. While this may seem obvious, it can be all too easy for companies to move data storage solutions to third-party cloud services and assume the provider will take on the task of defending it from attack, but this is not the case. If firms rely too heavily on such tools and assume the work is done for them, they may be in for a nasty surprise if they fall victim to a breach a cloud security service can do little to stop.

What Are The Implications Of Poor Data Security Posture Management?

It’s also important to remember that even with the range of tools included, it may not be possible to cover every circumstance. Vulnerabilities caused by poor user behavior or emerging threats that have yet to be identified by security professionals can still lead to data breaches, even with the toughest defenses in place.

This can lead to serious issues such as lost business, reputational damage and the prospect of punitive action from regulators. To minimize these risks, it’s vital not to rely too heavily on any one piece of technology, but also to focus on training and user behavior.

How Should Firms Implement Data Security Posture Management?

Developing an effective data security posture management solution can be a complex process. As well as choosing a solution that is most suited to a firm’s individual needs, it’s imperative that security professionals have a full understanding of the capabilities of the technology and follow key best practice for both deployment and ongoing maintenance.

If firms fall into common traps such as focusing too heavily on discovery, not implementing adequate data access controls, not continuously monitoring their activities or failing to take compliance requirements into account, they will end up with an incomplete solution that leaves companies open to vulnerability.

How Does Data Security Posture Management Work in a Holistic Security Environment?

No data security tools can work in isolation. DSPM provides an essential overview about the network’s position, including what sensitive information a business possesses, where it’s stored and how it moves across the network.

In order to minimize their security risk, businesses still need defense across every layer of the organization. This ranges from outlining a clear policy of what tools are acceptable to use – especially when it comes to consumer cloud services – through to adding advanced defenses such as an anti data exfiltration (ADX) solution to every endpoint connecting to the network.

This ensures that even if hackers are able to find loopholes in a firm’s perimeter and gain access to sensitive data, they will still be unable to remove it from the network. This helps protect businesses from some of the most damaging ransomware attacks, which could otherwise have a devastating impact on a firm’s reputation and finances.

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