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In the current business environment, data control is paramount. In the summary below, we’ll look at six fundamental data control elements for your enterprise to consider.

1. Data Governance

Data governance is the process of defining and enforcing data management policies. By formalizing this process, you can ensure that your company’s data is accurate, complete, and consistent across all data layers. Effective data governance also makes your data accessible to authorized users while protecting it from unauthorized access.

Since data governance impacts everything from how data’s collected and entered into systems to how it’s used to guide important decisions, a data governance program requires buy-in from all stakeholders. Executive leaders, business unit managers, and IT staff need to understand the program’s importance and agree on how to implement it.

Data governance can improve data quality by:

  • Establishing clear policies and procedures for how data should be collected and managed
  • Appointing someone responsible for ensuring that those policies and procedures are followed
  • Putting systems in place to monitor compliance and track progress

Implementing an effective data governance program provides:

  • Improved decision-making: When operating with high-quality data, organizations can trust that they're making decisions based on accurate information. 
  • Operational efficiencies: Well-governed organizations have processes and systems that make it easy to find and use the data they need when needed.
  • Cost savings: Quality data governance can help organizations avoid costly mistakes.
  • Regulatory compliance: Organizations subject to restrictions such as Sarbanes-Oxley or HIPAA must have systems in place to ensure that their data complies with those regulations. Data governance can help them meet those requirements.

Data governance is essential for any organization that relies on data. An effective governance program can drive better decisions, operational improvements, and consistent compliance — all while saving time and money.

2. Data Quality

Data quality measures how accurate, complete, and consistent data is, making it vital to ensure that your company's decision-makers can use data effectively.

While the daily operations of most businesses generate massive amounts of data, this data is not always correct or relevant. This fact underscores the importance of a thorough data quality management process.

Bad data leads to bad decisions. If decision-makers rely on inaccurate or incomplete data to make strategic decisions, quality decisions will be difficult, if not impossible. Additionally, poor data can adversely affect a company's relationships with its customers, suppliers, and partners.

To ensure your company’s data is always high-quality, follow this four-step process:

  • Identify data quality requirements
  • Develop processes and controls to ensure the requirements are met
  • Monitor the program’s processes and controls
  • Take corrective action when necessary

Identifying data quality requirements involves analyzing the business needs and determining the types of data necessary to meet those needs. The second step requires you to design procedures to collect, store, validate, and cleanse data so that it meets the requirements identified in the first step. The third step, continual monitoring, involves periodically testing the processes and controls to ensure they work as intended. If they don’t, the fourth step gives you a chance to fix any problems found during the monitoring stage. Doing so ensures that the processes and controls continue to meet the business's needs.

Available data quality management tools can help identify and correct errors in data sets. Data cleansing tools offer record matching, survival analysis, standardization, and enrichment features. Data mining tools help extract useful information from large data sets by utilizing features like classification, prediction, clustering, and association rule mining. Data warehousing tools help store large amounts of data, making it easily accessible by users across an organization.

3. Data Security

Data security protects data from unauthorized access. This process ensures data is encrypted and stored in a secure location. For added protection, it also creates backups that preserve critical data in case the original files are lost or corrupted.

To maximize your data security:

  • Keep your software up to date. Outdated software can be full of vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit. Be sure to keep all your software, including your operating system and web browser, up to date with the latest security patches.
  • Use strong passwords. Weak passwords are easy for hackers to guess. Use a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols in your passwords. Avoid using easily guessed words like "password" or your name. 
  • Encrypt your data. Encryption is a process of transforming readable data into an unreadable format that makes it difficult for hackers to access your data if they manage to penetrate your security defenses. 
  • Back up your data regularly. Backups provide an additional layer of protection in case your primary copy of data is lost or damaged. Make sure to store backups in a secure location, such as an off-site cloud storage service.

The best option is to use a global cloud file system such as CloudFS, which protects data against loss or damage by making it immutable once it’s in cloud storage. Instead of restoring from a complete backup, you can restore files, folders, or the entire file system to a point in time from lightweight snapshots.

Your employees are one of the most valuable lines of defense against cyberattacks. Make it a priority to train your employees in cybersecurity best practices and educate them on how to spot suspicious emails, phishing attempts, and other cybersecurity risks.

4. Data Privacy

When your data privacy is in order, personal information is protected from being disclosed without individual consent. Effective privacy controls also ensure that personal data is collected and used in a way that complies with privacy laws and regulations.

One of the most important aspects of data privacy is understanding what data you need to keep and what can be safely discarded. Keeping unnecessary data takes up valuable storage space and increases the chances that sensitive information could be compromised in the event of a breach. To avoid this, take stock of all the data you have on hand and determine what can be safely deleted.

Another crucial aspect of protecting your data is keeping it secure with robust security measures. This includes a combination of physical security measures like locked cabinets and electronic security measures like password protection and firewalls. By taking these precautions, you can help keep your data safe from both external threats and internal threats like disgruntled employees.

If you collect customer data, it is important to be transparent about how that data will be used. Customers should always be aware of what information is collected. They should also know why you’re collecting it. They should also have the option to opt-in or out of having their data collected entirely. Furthermore, your privacy policy should inform your customers about security measures to protect their information. If they feel confident that their information is safe in your hands, they will be more likely to do business with you.

Even when you take all the necessary precautions, there’s always a chance that sensitive data could fall into the wrong hands. That's why it's important to have a proactive plan for dealing with breaches quickly and effectively. This plan should include steps for notifying affected individuals as well as steps for preventing future breaches. By being prepared ahead of time, you can minimize the damage caused by a breach and help protect your business's reputation.

5. Access Control

Data access control restricts access to data to only those who need it. This process involves identifying which users should have access to which data, assigning permissions accordingly, and then enforcing those permissions. Data access control is important because it helps you secure your data by ensuring only authorized individuals can view or modify it.

There are two main types of data access control: physical and logical. 

  • Physical data access control involves restricting physical access to data center resources, such as servers and storage devices, and uses security measures like locks, badge readers, and CCTV cameras.
  • Logical data access control, on the other hand, involves controlling access to data through software settings such as permissions and passwords.

Data breaches are becoming increasingly common, with the number of reported breaches rising each year. Implementing data access control measures is one of the best ways to protect your organization from a breach. Restricting access to sensitive data can make it more difficult for hackers to obtain and misuse your company's information.

In addition to reducing the risk of breaches, data access control can help you comply with regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which requires organizations to protect the personal data of EU citizens from unauthorized access and disclosure. By implementing data access control measures, you can ensure that your organization complies with the GDPR and other regulations.

The best access control approach for your company will depend on factors like the size of your organization, the type of data you need to protect, and your budget. Standard methods for implementing data access control include role-based access control, least privilege principle, separation of duties, and two-factor authentication.

  • Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) is a popular method for managing user permissions. Under this approach, users are assigned roles within the organization (administrator, human resources employee, etc.) and then given permissions accordingly. This makes it easier to manage user permissions because you can simply assign a role instead of specifying permissions for each user individually.  
  • Least Privilege Principle (LP) users are only given the minimum level of permissions needed to perform their job duties. This helps reduce the risk of unauthorized activity because users do not have excess privileges that could be misused. 
  • Separation of Duties (SoD) is a security measure that requires multiple people to complete a task before it can be completed successfully. For example, if an expense report needs to be approved by both a supervisor and someone from accounting before it can be processed, this would be considered a separation of duties. 
  • Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) is a security measure that requires two forms of authentication before granting someone access to protected information or systems. The most common form of 2FA is something you know (password) plus something you have (smartphone). Other forms include something you know plus something you are (fingerprint or facial recognition).

6. Audit Logs

Audit logs are records of a system's user actions. These logs are critically important because they can be used to track changes made to data, monitor user activity, and troubleshoot problems. They also help you prove regulatory compliance and assess damage in the event of a ransomware attack. However, the utility of these records goes even further.

They allow you to track who is accessing your data, when they’re accessing it, and what they’re doing with the information. This information can be valuable in identifying unauthorized access or activity and identifying the root cause of data damage or loss. User audit logs can also provide valuable insights into your users' behavior, reveal how they interact with your data, and identify activity anomalies. Using the information in your audit logs, you can improve the overall user experience and optimize your storage expenses by making cost-saving decisions about storage tiers.

The ability to easily read and analyze raw user logs is vital. A variety of SaaS applications, like Panzura Data Services, can ingest and interpret your data. Of course, you may choose to store your own logs and analyze them with local applications.

However you decide to manage it, data control needs to be a priority for your organization. The six steps outlined in this article should give you a few actionable steps to improve your organization’s data profile.