Data Quality

What is data security?

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Data security is the process and procedures put in place to protect an organization’s data and digital information from unauthorized access, corruption and/or distribution through each stage of its lifecycle. Data security encompasses every level of data protection, including:

  • Physical security of hardware and software devices
  • Digital security of administrative and access controls
  • Logical security of software applications

Effective data security strategies are critical protections against data breaches and data loss from cybercriminal activities. With data security comes improved data quality as your teams know their network is protected and trustworthy.

Learn more about the importance of data quality here.

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Data security best practices

Each year showcases digital technology that has evolved leaps and bounds to improve businesses’ communication, data management, marketing and sales operations and customer success. Yet, this digitization and accessibility of work processes also increase security risks as cybersecurity threats evolve? to target any weak points in your organization’s data security.

Read on to learn more about best practices that can keep you well-positioned against future cyber threats:

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Implement strong password protocol

One of your first — and most effective — lines of defense is your password. As a preventative method, all employees and users should be required to create strong passwords to guard their accounts with a scheduled end period where they must change their passwords to maintain high security standards.

A strong password should fit the following criteria:

  • Doesn’t contain words or phrases
  • Must be difficult to guess
  • Uses numbers, letters and symbols
  • Is eight characters or more
  • Has not been used previously
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Use multi-factor authentication

Multi-factor authentication (MFA), requires users to submit an additional identifying code to access their accounts and systems. This adds a backup protection method that will stop hackers from unauthorized access if they’ve stolen or compromised a password.

MFA is a simple, but effective security addition that won’t place too much pressure on the user. Most people have already utilized MFA in multiple ways throughout their lives — for example, when you swipe your debit card and then enter a PIN. For your accounts’ data security, MFA may look like an automated code that gets texted to the user when they enter their password, which they then submit to gain access to their account.

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Determine what is sensitive data

Does your company work with personal data and/or sensitive customer data? Your organization must identify and classify each type of data that is being collected to ensure data privacy.

Your security team should scan your data warehouse and classify the types of data, which can then be used to determine which users have access to each classification. This will prevent unauthorized users from accessing sensitive information that is not relevant to their job or work.

Important note: Ensure that only privileged users, such as heads of security, can alter data classifications. This will help prevent other users from changing your company’s data classifications without approval.

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Clearly define and uphold your data usage policy

Your organization should have a detailed and accessible data usage policy that dictates the different data access rules, such as:

  • Who has access to data?
  • What is proper data usage?
  • What are the different types of access?
  • How is the policy implemented?
  • And more

Once shared with all users, this policy should be followed closely to ensure best practice data use. This means restricting user access to customer data if needed and deactivating access when relevant. Any policy breaches should be identified and addressed immediately.

Interested in a secure data management system that keeps data clean and helps implement a data governance process?

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Importance of data security

When companies collect and utilize data for their business operations, they have a moral and legal obligation to protect their user and customer data from unauthorized access.

Much of the digital data stored by organizations contain sensitive financial, personal and/or medical information that must be protected. Besides being unethical, unauthorized access or dissemination of this data can have extremely harmful consequences for all parties involved.

Legally, there are statutory privacy requirements that your organization may have to follow, such as HIPAA, GBL FERPA, etc. In 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect as a legal framework that companies must follow if they collect and process personal information from any individuals who live in the European Union. This standard protects the data and privacy of EU citizens and holds companies accountable for their data security practices.

If you’re dealing with sensitive data, look into your state, national and industry legal requirements to ensure that you’re following proper data security guidelines. Liability and compliance problems can happen if you aren’t properly protecting your data. Although following guidelines can’t guarantee complete compliance, it’s still an effective way to increase your data security and due diligence.

Data security can also improve your organization’s reputation. A data breach will seriously and permanently damage your company’s reputation. Your teams will have to spend time, money and resources identifying the security gaps and attempting to repair the business’s standing — which may not recover.

Your organization’s information is an invaluable asset and good data security treats it as such. Effective data protection can give you a competitive edge as it limits competitor access to your information, improves your brand’s integrity and streamlines data accessibility to users who need it.

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Types of data security solutions

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As previously discussed, setting up specific ways to identify and authenticate users before they gain access to your data is critical for data security. This includes settings up measures such as:

  • Passwords
  • PIN numbers
  • Security cards
  • Biometrics
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Access controls

This security measure refers to both physical and digital access. To ensure your organization’s data is protected, you should implement measures that only allow users with the proper permissions. For physical workstations and spaces, this means restricting entry to computers and devices and for digital spaces, such as requiring a specific login entry.
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Data masking

This type of security technique is extremely important for situations where your data may be compromised or accessed by unauthorized users. Data masking software works to hide original data with obfuscation; letters and numbers are replaced by proxy characters. Meanwhile, the original data is only viewable by an authorized user.
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Almost all organizations should have their communications, files and database encrypted to some extent. Encryption uses a computer algorithm to make your information unreadable to unauthorized users. Only if you have proper permissions can you unlock the encryption keys and reach the protected data.
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Data security risks

When considering different data security methods, it’s also important to understand what types of risks your organization might encounter:
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Accidental exposure

Unlike other security risks, accidental exposure happens when an employee or user shares, loses or mishandles sensitive data. Oftentimes this is an accident or due to a lack of data security policy training. This can leave your data open to unauthorized users who may copy the data and/or use it for malicious purposes.
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Phishing and other social engineering attacks

These types of cyberattacks are socially engineered with the sole purpose of accessing and using private information for harmful purposes. Usually, these cyber attacks have been designed to look like they’re from a trusted source to gain the victim’s trust. They then ask for sensitive information or send a malicious link, which then gives them access to your data network.
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Ransomware is malware that attacks corporate devices and networks to encrypt data from your organization — effectively taking it hostage. The malware may display a message that requests payment for access to the data, but that can become an additional scam. Companies may choose to pay, but then still lose important data.

This is a particularly harmful data security risk as it can spread rapidly and cause significant data loss for companies.

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Insider threats

There are three types of insider threats:

  • Non-malicious insider: This is related to accidental exposure. Your employee doesn’t intend to cause a security breach, but they do so because they’re not aware of proper data security practices.
  • Malicious insider: This is a user who is trying to steal data or harm your data network for personal gain.
  • Compromised insider: Similar to victims of ransomware, a compromised insider has had their user access or credentials compromised by a cyber attack. They’re not aware of the breach and the attacker can pretend to be the user and cause harm.
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Data loss in the cloud

As technologies advance, more and more data is moving to the cloud for improved sharing and collaboration. However, this interconnectedness also means that data is more difficult to secure as users utilize personal devices and unsecured networks to access data. Due to this, there are increased risks of losing data and sharing sensitive information with unauthorized users.
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How will data security change in the coming years?

As data becomes more important and accessible with evolving technologies, how will your organization protect its most valuable asset in the future?

Trying to be forward-thinking is a difficult task when it comes to the fast pace of digital upgrades each year. The key is to implement an ever-evolving data security strategy that can be updated and adapted to new threats and risks.

By following market changes and technological innovations, such as AI, you can keep your data security competitive.

Dig deeper into Validity’s data cleaning solutions and see DemandTools in action.