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Introduction To Data Loss Prevention

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By: Nihad Hassan

February 24, 2021

For many organizations in today's digital economy, protecting their data can be a matter of life or death. Data has become the lifeblood of enterprises in this information age. Most data is created digitally and never touches a physical medium (e.g., ink on paper). Digital data stored within an enterprise's IT – such as intellectual property, client data, financials, trade secrets, Personally Identifiable Information (PII), Personal Health Information (PHI), technology manuals, or competitive intelligence - has become critical for continuing an organization's operations and securing their future growth. Indeed, most businesses will suffer catastrophic consequences if their sensitive data is leaked.

Data loss prevention (DLP) is composed of tools and processes that ensure confidential data is not accessed, deleted, or modified by unauthorized parties. DLP solutions are software programs that classify sensitive business data (such as those subject to data protection regulations) and identify violations of organizations' policies or other regulatory bodies such as HIPAA, PCI-DSS, or GDPR. If a policy violation occurs, DLP can do many things to minimize the impact of exposure. For example, it can launch an alert notifying the system administrator or executing a predefined action (e.g., encrypt data or isolate a system from the network) to prevent accidental or intentional leakage.

DLP programs are commonly installed on endpoint devices (e.g., workstations or servers) and gateway networks in the enterprise environment. On the network, they scan data streams and detect unauthorized attempts to transfer sensitive data outside an organization's boundaries. A DLP solution is also used to protect data stored in the cloud, making it able to protect data in its three states (at rest, in motion, and use).

DLP solutions offer reporting capabilities to meet various auditing and compliance requirements and help organizations efficiently investigate security breaches.

Why do organizations need DLP?

There are many objectives for deploying a DLP solution within an organization; the main three goals are:

  1. Protecting PII and complying with data protection lawstext in italic: Any organization that collects and stores PII of customers or third-parties, PHI, or payment/ financial information is subject to a variety of data protection laws such as the European Union's (EU's) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). GDPR requires protection of this data and imposes large fines for non-compliance. DLP can monitor and classify sensitive data, prevent unauthorized disclosure, and generate periodic reports to send to the regulatory compliance office.

  2. Intellectual Property (IP) protectiontext in italic: Many organizations have IP (or trade secrets) that, if revealed to the wrong entity, can have substantial negative effects on an organization's work, brand, and reputation. DLP classifies an organization's most important data and applies the most restricted security controls to prevent malicious parties (both insiders and outsiders) from stealing these secrets.

  3. Have complete data visibility in large organizationstext in italic: Big enterprises generate, store, and process a large volume of data as part of their daily work. Enterprise DLP solutions allow the CEO to have a holistic view of all data movement within their organization. For instance, DLP monitors data on servers, endpoint devices and tracks how individual employees interact with this data.

  4. Secure employee's devices when linking to corporate networkstext in italic: Many organizations allow their employees to bring their computing devices to work. This policy, also known as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), imposes real security risks. Employee devices are typically not as secure as their company-issued devices. A DLP solution can prevent employees from leaking data using their personal (less secure) devices.

Other essential objectives for deploying a DLP solution include protecting against insider threats, securing Office 365 (or other cloud platforms), mitigate advance threats such as APT and ransomware, and monitoring individual employee's behavior when working with sensitive data.

Why is DLP witnessing growth lately?

According to Mordor intelligence, the data loss prevention market was valued at USD 1.21 billion in 2020 and is projected to increase to USD 3.75 billion by 2026. Most organizations increasingly adopt DLP solutions to achieve the following goals:

  1. Reduce the risk of data leakage to external parties.
  2. Allow the security team-or the Chief Information Security Officers (CISO) - responsible for protecting data to submit a detailed report to the CEO upon request about the protection controls and security status of an organization's data.
  3. Evolving compliance regulations: DLP allows organizations to be prepared for any update to data protection regulations worldwide and enables them to comply with the various data protection regulations.
  4. Increased adoption of the multi-cloud environment in business operations requires a solution to protect data flow to and from cloud storage. DLP is the most convenient solution to achieve this goal.
  5. The increased dependence on third-party providers and the complicated supply chain networks makes a DLP solution critical to protect data from multiple attack vectors.
  6. Managing the increase in advanced cyberattacks such as APT (originated from nation-states and criminal groups) and insider threats (disgruntled employees trying to leak data). Such attacks target organizations' most valuable data, and having a DLP solution can help prevent many of these attack types.


Customer's sensitive information and confidential business data are the most valuable possessions. When someone trusts a company and gives his/her data, the company should protect it using the highest security measures. DLP solutions can play an important role in protecting organizations' sensitive data from all types of cyberattacks targeting digital data.

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