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The idea that knowledge is power is a timeless one. The concept first appeared in the Old Testament, predating our modern age by millennia. And yet, its core teaching couldn’t be more relevant in a digital age that sees thousands of data breaches per year. Cyberattackers are painfully aware of what access to confidential information can earn them, and they exploit this awareness constantly. This is why your company needs DLP security.

What Is Data Loss Prevention?

Data Loss Prevention aka DLP is a term that is used to describe a set of processes, policies, and technologies that are used to help prevent data from being lost by protecting, monitoring, and identifying data in motion, data in use, and data at rest. Data is considered to be lost when it is either disclosed to an unauthorized person or device or when it becomes inaccessible due to a system failure.

Data loss prevention can be achieved through encryption, data backup and recovery, policy enforcement, and other methods.

Data Loss Prevention vs. Data Leak Prevention

You might often find the phrases “data loss prevention” and “data leak prevention” interchanged. The main difference between the two is that DLP security allows businesses to protect themselves against both.

What Can Cause a Data Leak? Data Loss Examples

Data loss can happen through various means. However, I will emphasize two data loss examples: ransomware attacks and insider threats.

Ransomware Attacks

Now that we’ve all settled with the data loss prevention definition, you might wonder how can data become “lost”.

Well, I’ll give you a simple example: data loss can happen during a ransomware attack. Being infected with ransomware means that your sensitive data is encrypted by hackers and you are required to pay a ransom to get it back. However, ransomware attack techniques have evolved, and now hackers exfiltrate your data before encrypting it in the so-called double-extortion technique to put more pressure on you to pay the ransom by threatening to leak your confidential data online. That is how data loss can happen.

Insider threats

A user with privileged permissions is called a privileged user and can be an insider threat as he/she can abuse their permissions to sensitive data to extract it from the system and make it fall in the wrong hands. Who can be an insider? An evil-minded employee or former employee with unrevoked permissions who has access to confidential data and decides to abuse it or a threat actor who gained access to a privileged account.

Types of Data Loss Prevention Solutions

There are 3 types of data loss prevention solutions: DLP for endpoints, DLP for the cloud, and DLP for the network.

Endpoint DLP includes

  • Virtual desktops
  • Removable storage
  • Web applications
  • Desktop email

Cloud DLP includes

  • Cloud applications
  • O365 exchange
  • Gmail
  • Box

Network DLP includes

  • Email
  • Web
  • FTP
  • IM
  • IPv6

Why Is Data Loss Prevention Important? Benefits of Data Loss Prevention

It Keeps Away Data Breaches

The most important role of data loss prevention is to work on preventing data breaches that will further lead to data leakage and data exfiltration. Endpoints are vulnerable because of their connection to various unsecured networks, so here’s where dlp comes into play to protect devices and laptops. Besides, it prevents hackers from exfiltrating sensitive information from a network because if data loss prevention solutions identify suspicious data transfers, they block them and immediately trigger security alerts. Thus, important data like, for instance, Personally Identifiable Information (PII), or intellectual property are being kept safe.

It Protects Various Areas Like Endpoints, Networks and Cloud Instances

As described above, DLP solutions work in different areas like endpoint, network, and the cloud.

DLPs technologies are useful because they protect the network, by monitoring and safeguarding data in use, in motion, and at rest, endpoints by monitoring everything from endpoints and servers to computers, mobile phones, laptops, or any other device that is used for data storage, data moving or data saving purposes and finally the cloud as these protect companies that employ cloud repositories to store their data.

It Helps You Maintain Compliance

Since data loss prevention works on continuous endpoints, storage systems, or servers’ sensitive data identification and classification, one of its main benefits is that it helps your company meet compliance standards like GDPR, HIPAA, PCI DSS (Payment Card Information Data Security Standard), CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) or PIPEDA (Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act) through its security controls, monitoring and reporting features. Due to its reporting capabilities, data loss prevention helps also have information for incident response and forensics purposes.

It Safeguards the Company’s Proprietary Data

It safeguards any corporate proprietary data a company might store related to clients, customers, partners, or affiliates. What can proprietary data refer to? Plans linked to internal projects, proprietary code, email communication, business documents, or internal processes.

How Does Data Loss Prevention Work?

Data loss prevention works by making use of two technical categories: context analysis and content awareness.

Context analysis involves only elements such as metadata or document properties like format, size, or header.

Content-awareness refers to the process of the analysis and reading of documents, or content for potentially sensitive information identification purposes.

To further extend the strategies that data loss prevention solutions use we can mention:

  • Regular expression matching
  • Structured data fingerprinting
  • File checksum analysis
  • Partial data matching
  • Lexicon matching
  • Statistical analysis
  • Categorization

And if you want to gain even more technical insight into the functionality of the DLP process you can read Vladimir’s comprehensive article on data loss prevention techniques.

Categories of DLP Technologies

From another point of view, DLP Technologies can be split into two broad categories:

Enterprise DLP

When talking of enterprise DLP solutions these are bundled in three different ways:

In agent software when referring to PCs and servers.

In physical and virtual appliances when thinking of the traffic that flows through networks and emails.

In soft appliances when we talk about finding data.

Integrated DLP

On the other hand, when talking about integrated DLP the difference between the two becomes quite simple to remember since integrated DLP solutions involve just these products:

  • Secure email gateways (SEGs)
  • Secure web gateways (SWGs)
  • Solutions featuring email encryption
  • ECM platforms
  • Tools designed for data classification and data discovery
  • CASBs (Cloud Access Security Brokers)

What Is DLP Security?

DLP security is a cybersecurity strategy that prevents sensitive data from being moved outside a corporate network. It achieves this by allowing sysadmins to screen what data individual endpoint users within the company access and share amongst themselves.

How Does DLP in Cybersecurity Function?

DLP in cybersecurity works by:

  1. Monitoring, which provides system and data access visibility.
  2. Filtering, which limits suspicious network activity.
  3. Reporting, which is useful to auditing and incident response.
  4. Analyzing, which identifies gaps in security and irregular behaviors.

DLP Security Benefits

Now that we’ve established what DLP security is, it’s time to get into what it can do for your organization. An information security strategy based on data loss prevention has some benefits that you should consider, namely data visibility, and intangible assets.

Data Visibility

Your company’s network administrators will receive insight into how user accounts on various endpoints handle and use sensitive data by establishing a DLP security policy thus achieving data visibility into the networks, endpoints, and the cloud. You must first determine where confidential information sits in the system and who has access to it in order to secure it from hostile third parties.

Intangible Assets

The presence of trade secrets and other confidential information in a company’s data pool is not uncommon at the enterprise level. Hackers or unscrupulous insiders would love to get their hands on these valuable pieces of information. A DLP security approach will assist you in not just identifying but also protecting vital infrastructure data.

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How to Implement DLP Security. Data Loss Prevention Best Practices

#1 Identify and Categorize Company Data

The first step in implementing a successful DLP security approach for your enterprise starts at the D in DLP, aka the data. To protect the confidential information stored within your systems, you must first know where and what said information is. A data audit can help you achieve this.

According to Techopedia, a data audit assesses the quality or utility of the information in your system to determine what purpose it serves. Usually, the process depends on having a registry of data assets in the first place. That’s why your company needs asset tracking software such as our very own Heimdal™ Patch & Asset Management.

#2 Data Classification Based on Context

Data classification by context is a simple and scalable approach. To enforce this, you need to link a classification of the data creation user, the data store, or the source application. Companies have the possibility to trace the data used by implementing classification tags.

#3 Assign Essential DLP Security Roles

Besides knowing what data your company holds and where it exists in the system, you should also identify who does what within your DLP security strategy. To clarify, certain employees are more suitable to handle the protection of data assets than others depending on their position and level of involvement. Essential roles must be assigned from the get-go within the relevant teams so that data loss prevention is successful.

#4 Create a Data Loss Prevention Policy

A data loss prevention policy will involve the following:

  • Locations and systems where sensitive data must be safeguarded
  • When and how should data be protected?
  • When a security issue is found, rules that describe sensitive data and actions are created
  • Different actions are assigned to different risk ratings under certain conditions

#5 Secure the Most Sensitive Data First

At this point in the implementation of DLP security, it is essential to also determine which of your data assets are more susceptible to cyberattacks through an extensive vulnerability risk assessment. Knowing which parts of your network are more likely to be targeted will allow you to prioritize their security. In this way, crucial resources will be focused where it matters most for the time being. After ensuring that the most sensitive files are safe, you can continue implementing the strategy on a larger scale.

#6 Automate the DLP Security Process

Enforcing DLP security on a daily basis can become a resource-extensive and time-consuming task for your sysadmins who have to do it manually. This is why automating the process as much as possible will help you widen the scope of its deployment and save your employees precious hours in their workday as well.

One way to achieve automation is through our Heimdal™ Patch & Asset Management solution that I mentioned in step #1. Besides keeping a record of the software installed on company endpoints, it also acts as an automatic software updater that patches application vulnerabilities as soon as new versions are released by their respective third-party vendors.

In addition to managing patches and assets, our Heimdal Security suite of cybersecurity tools allows administrators to streamline workflows through Privileged Access Management and standalone Heimdal Application Control. These two solutions allow them to easily curate access rights within the organization, as well as black or whitelist applications on session elevation.

#7 Discover What You Want to Achieve with a DLP Solution

In order to choose the right DLP solution that will work for your company, you should first determine your primary data security goal. What do you want to achieve? Is it safeguarding intellectual property, getting broader data visibility, or is it meeting compliance your main goal?

#8 Use Advanced Threat Detection

Another way to prevent data exfiltration is by putting advanced threat prevention and detection system in place. Advanced solutions utilize machine learning to not only create a database of already existing suspicious behaviors but detect new ones as well.

Heimdal™ Threat Prevention and its DarkLayer Guard™ & VectorN Detection technologies can help you with that. Our proprietary tool comes in two separate Network and Endpoint modules that can be used individually or in tandem. For complete DLP security, I recommend that latter approach.

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Wrapping Up…

A multi-layered affair, DLP security protects your enterprise against one of the most prevalent modern threats: data breaches. Fortunately, you can prevent them with the right strategy and state-of-the-art tools that back it up. And when it comes to tools, rest assured that the Heimdal Security suite of solutions is at your disposal. Contact us at sales.inquiries@heimdalsecurity.com and find out which of our products are right for your organization.

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This article was initially written by Alina Petcu in Feb 2021 and updated by Andra Andrioaie in March 2022.

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Andra Andrioaie

Security Enthusiast

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Hi! My name is Andra and I am a passionate writer interested in a variety of topics. I am curious about the cybersecurity world and what I want to achieve through what I write is to keep you curious too!

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