Taking data safety to the next level

Taking data safety to the next level
March 10, 2015

Data security has been making headlines—and it’s not likely to fade away any time soon, as businesses increasingly store large amounts of data. With recent hacks illustrating the devastating effects of a security breach, executives are working hard to ensure that their safety measures can withstand malicious attacks.

But when it comes to data safety, cyberattacks and theft of identifying information are only one piece of the puzzle. There’s also the issue of supposedly anonymous data—what it reveals about people and what might be done with these insights. The term “metadata” describes data generated every time a person interacts with technology. Metadata includes information such as locations, behavior patterns, app usage, and more.

Metadata could unwittingly provide intimate glimpses into people’s lives, writes Robert Lee Hotz in The Wall Street Journal. "'It is very, very, very difficult to remove any ability to identify people in these data sets, especially financial data,' says Joseph Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy & Technology."

Experts already know to keep personally identifying information secure—but is that good enough?

From an organizational perspective, you need to think about the data generated by people within your company, what it might reveal, and how you need to protect it. Here are a couple things to keep in mind as you think about how to build a more secure system.

  1. Choose top quality cloud services
    The cloud has improved security of some the most sensitive information out there. Dependable cloud service providers are critical to keeping information safe. Remember, not all data storage is created equal. What might seem like an economical choice may end up costing you far more in the long run—both in actual cost and reputation. If a cloud service provider is cutting corners with its product, your data might not be as safe as it should be.

    Look for providers that are transparent about their security measures. Strict controls, automatic alerts, and two-step authentication are bare-minimum features that should be built in to your web services and data storage solutions. Increasingly essential features include robust, around-the-clock support and comprehensive audit trails that will let you see exactly who has access to your data, who edited it, and why. That way, if anything happens, you’ll be able to trace the problem right back to its source.

  2. Give all data equal priority
    Whether you’re storing data generated internally or by your clients and customers, every piece of information needs to be treated with the same level of respect. Patterns in data can be extremely useful—but they can also reveal too much if they fall into the wrong hands.

Educate everyone who comes into contact with your financial and other data about the importance of keeping it safe. Show how audit trails will keep each person accountable. Ongoing education, clear communication, and advice from your vendor partners will help you ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to security.

Making data safety a key organizational value will not only set you apart, it will also help others in your industry to take the steps they need to ensure a more secure world for everyone.

Mike Sellberg

About the author

Mike Sellberg is Executive Vice President and Chief Product Officer at Workiva. He is the former EVP and CTO at iMed Studios and the former Divisional General Manager at Engineering Animation, Inc.