Data loss prevention (DLP) is the practice of identifying, managing and protecting an organization’s sensitive data. DLP is accomplished through the use of technology and processes to monitor and control the flow of data in and out of the organization.

While larger companies are often at a greater risk of massive data breaches that cost, on average, roughly $3.9 million, even small businesses have to be concerned with data security.

Implementing a robust DLP policy can make a significant difference in reducing the risk of data loss. You owe it not only to your customers and partners but also to your employees, to implement some or all of the following data loss prevention best practices:

1. Categorize Your Data

The first step in implementing an effective DLP strategy is to categorize your data. This means creating a data inventory and understanding where sensitive data resides within the organization.

Once you know what types of data need to be protected, you can begin to put into place specific controls to protect that information.

Different industries will have different categories of sensitive data that need to be protected. Healthcare companies, for example, will aim to protect Protected Health Information (PHI), while financial institutions will focus on protecting account numbers and other personal information.

Regardless of what industries you work in, it is important to understand where your sensitive data is located to understand what needs to be protected. It can be a slog but categorizing your data will make it easier for you to manage and protect your data—especially if business process automation is on your company’s radar.

2. Clarify Data Archiving Rules

Data archiving is the process of backing up and storing data for long-term retention. Many businesses archive data to meet compliance requirements or to protect against accidental loss or destruction of data.

When it comes to DLP, it is important to clarify archiving rules for two reasons.

First, if you do not have a clear archiving process in place, an employee may accidentally delete something that needs to be retained for compliance.

Second, you’ll want to make sure that data is being backed up correctly and stored securely so it can be retrieved when needed. For example, if your organization uses network-attached storage (NAS) devices or cloud-based file-sharing services, make sure you understand the retention policies for those services.

3. Set a Clear Chain of Command for DLP Responsibilities

Having a hierarchy in place for DLP responsibilities ensures that there is a clear line of authority when it comes to making decisions about data security.

This chain of command helps to define who has the authority to make changes, as well as what happens if there is a dispute over how an issue should be handled.

Some key questions to consider when defining your chain of command include:

  • Who will create your data security policies?
  • Who will implement them?
  • Who will handle data loss incidents?
  • Who will revise and maintain your data security policies?

4. Keep Abreast of Sensitive Data Flows

Sensitive data is constantly flowing in and out of organizations as employees send emails, use social media, and access cloud-based applications.

It is important to have a process in place for monitoring these data flows so that you can identify any potential threats brewing down the line.

5. Choose the Best DLP Tool for Your Needs

The best DLP tool for you will depend on your specific needs.

Some factors to consider include the size of your organization, the type of data you need to protect, and how much you are willing to spend.

Getting a DLP for Slack, for example, might be a good choice for a small business that needs to protect employee data but does not have the resources to implement a full-scale DLP solution. DLP solutions for other tools used by remote teams, such as G Suite, are also available.

6. Test Your DLP Policy Before Implementing

It is important to test your DLP policy before implementing it to make sure that it works as intended.

You can do this by creating a mock scenario and simulating what would happen if that data was leaked or hacked into. This will help you identify any gaps in your current security posture and ensure that all employees are aware of how to properly handle sensitive data.

7. Define the Criteria for Evaluating your DLP Policy’s Effectiveness

No matter how lean your DLP policy is, it will still be a significant expense. That’s why it’s important to set some key performance indicators (KPIs) to determine whether the policy is worth the investment.

Some of the most crucial KPIs to keep an eye on are:

  • The number of false positives generated by the DLP system
  • The accuracy of the DLP system
  • The amount of time it takes for employees to comply with the DLP policy
  • The number of data loss incidents that occur after the policy is implemented

Staying on top of these KPIs will help you to determine whether the DLP policy is meeting your organization’s needs and whether any adjustments need to be made.

We like to think of DLP more as a process instead of a one-time solution. It is important to conduct frequent audits of your DLP policy to identify any gaps and ensure that it is working as intended.

The most effective policies are those that evolve based on real-world use cases and feedback from employees who must adhere to them every day. By staying vigilant about making improvements, you can ensure that your DLP policy will continue to protect your organization for years to come.