Businesses, be it a startup or a large organization employing many employees, generate a lot of data on a daily basis. Emails, PDFs, Excel Sheets, PowerPoint Slideshows, Customer Communications, Client Data, etc. are all part of a massive cluster collectively known as “Data”. Needless to add, the data is not only useful but valuable. We may have heard of the popular adage, ‘Data is the new Oil’. And not without reason.
The true value of data emerges when it is properly collated and classified into human and machine-readable format. This is the basis of Data Classification. Even if the business is small, and all of its data could be stored on a pen drive, it is important to ensure Data Classification policies are in place and operational.
What is Data Classification?
Technically speaking, Data classification is the routine process of sorting and organizing data into categories. The process should make any data easy to retrieve, sort, and store for future use. A well thought and implemented data classification system can save any business countless hours that could be wasted in hunting down data. Moreover, the system allows businesses to have several important insights about the data, and protect the most sensitive bits of information. As an added bonus, businesses can also eliminate clutter and avoid drowning in data.
Data classification is a vital component of any information security and compliance program. It can come in handy for strategic decision making, business intelligence, risk management, legal defence, and meeting statutory compliances. Before diving deeper into the many benefits of Data Classification, let’s look at the tools and procedures involved in the process or organizing data before it becomes a massive mountain of disorganized, but still important, data.
At its very core, Data classification is all about correctly and regularly tagging data to make it easily searchable and trackable. Doing so effectively eliminates duplication of data. As a direct and beneficial consequence, it significantly reduces storage and backup costs while speeding up the search process.
Though the Data Classification process may sound technical, it is a topic that should be understood by everyone, including employees and management. This is because everyone not only creates data but also stands to benefit from it.
Types of Data Classification:
Data classification primarily needs multitude tags and labels that define the type and nature of data, its level of confidentiality, and its integrity. As part of the Zero Trust Security Model, companies must also include the ease and level of availability into data classification processes. As such, data’s level of sensitivity is classified based on varying levels of importance or confidentiality.
Under a Zero Trust Model, and using Identity Access Management, companies can tie up Data Classification to the security measures put in place to protect each classification level. There are three main types of data classification that are considered industry standards:
- Content-based classification: This type of Data Classification inspects and interprets files looking for sensitive information.
- Context-based classification: This type of Data Classification looks at application, location, or creator among other variables as indirect indicators of sensitive information.
- User-based classification: This type of Data Classification depends on a manual, end-user selection of each document. User-based classification relies on user knowledge and discretion at creation, edit, review, or dissemination to flag sensitive documents.
Just as each business is unique, so is the data that it generates, and the type of classification that it requires. In other words, Content-, Context-, and User-based approaches could fit well or clash with the business and Data Classification requirements. Basically, it all depends on the business needs and data type. Hence, many companies are moving on to two types of Data Classification: User and Automated.
Businesses are finding that employing automated tools to classify, tag, and store data with pre-selected parameters is a lot simpler, safer and accurate. In addition to accuracy and reliability, the business also benefits from significantly higher efficiency and scalability. Modern Data Classification engines are not just powerful, they are also smart and diligent to tackle multiple systems at once, without consuming too many resources.
Benefits of Data Classification for Businesses:
When done right, Data classification is a cumbersome process. Businesses must carefully predetermine the categories and criteria that will be used to classify data. Management must clearly understand and define its objectives. Employees must be educated about their roles and responsibilities while maintaining proper Data Classification protocols. Finally, the company must implement security standards that correspond with data categories and tags.
While this may appear complex and cumbersome, and for the initial phases, it is, Data Classification provides employees and third parties involved in the storage, transmission, or retrieval of data with a reliable operational framework. Below are the simple and straightforward benefits of Data Classification, and these are applicable to most modern-day businesses:
Improve User Productivity and Decision-Making: One of the most obvious benefits of Data Classification to businesses is a huge boost in user productivity and the reduction in time taken to take important decisions. Each hour lost searching for important data is essentially a loss to the company not just in the present but also in the future.
Data Security: By identifying the types of data that is stored, and pinpointing areas where sensitive data resides, businesses are much better equipped to organize and prioritize security measures. Companies can better use Zero Trust Model and Identity Access Management to limit access and minimize data exposure or leaks, and threats such as ransomware attacks.
Reduce Data Maintenance and Storage Costs: Unorganized data is not only a burden; it is also expensive. As the amount of data climbs, so do the costs associated with storage and retrieval. Moreover, there are high chances of data duplication and outdated data that add to business expenses.
Meet Statutory Compliances: Businesses dealing with sensitive data must follow strict guidelines pertaining to the classification, storage, retrieval, protection, and access to data. Needless to mention, Data Classification is mandatory in such cases.
Better Manage IT Infrastructure: Businesses can significantly improve their IT profile, and deploy efficient solutions that significantly reduce time and effort to collate the data and information. They can also allocate the right number of resources as Data Classification offers a clear idea about the needs.