The Cloud and Data Loss: How to Protect Your Organization's Critical Data

Data loss can be extremely damaging for a business, affecting your brand's reputation, as well as financial losses from lawsuits, fines for non-compliance, and intellectual property theft. Data loss prevention (DLP) is the set of practices and tools that prevent data leakage, consisting of encryption, detection, preventative measures, educational pop-ups, and Machine Learning to identify vulnerabilities. Encompassing managed services, cloud capabilities, and enhanced threat protection, increased data breach have led to a surge in DLP to protect sensitive data.

The cloud can assist DLP, and cloud data loss prevention should be one of the top goals when managing risks with cloud storage. Email data loss prevention is a type of DLP that attempts to stop data loss caused by email transmission. This article will discuss how cloud email security correlates to data loss prevention and plays a crucial role in helping keep an organization’s sensitive or critical information safe from cyberattacks, insider threats, and accidental exposure. 

Email Security Is A Necessary Component of a Robust Cybersecurity Strategy

Cloud email security solutions are designed to provide comprehensive protection against email-borne cyber threats. Cloud email security includes functionality, such as compliant archiving, and secures messaging with email encryption, to help these organizations stay compliant. Adequate email protection depends on defense in depth, with multiple layers of security working harmoniously to detect and block threats in real-time, building on each other to provide stronger, more resilient protection than any of these features would on its own.

DLP security is critical to cloud email transactions, often involving exchanging sensitive information such as personal data, financial information, or intellectual property. DLP helps prevent unauthorized access, sharing, or leakage of this sensitive data. 

DLP solutions also help detect and prevent data leakage caused by insider threats, whether intentional or accidental. This includes employees mistakenly sending sensitive information to the wrong recipients or deliberately attempting to exfiltrate data. Hence, implementing a robust DLP security checklist ensures your sensitive data stays protected throughout its lifecycle.

Email DLP tools monitor a company’s email communications to determine whether data is at risk of loss or theft. There are several methods of email DLP, all of which attempt to monitor data sent and received via email, detect suspicious email activity, and flag or block email activity that leads to data loss. As email is the most common method of corporate communication, email DLP plays a vital role in a security strategy. Email DLP can be used to help minimize human error, which is the most likely way sensitive information is exposed, whether by accident, neglect, or malicious intent. Email DLP has been a critical security component, especially for organizations that are subject to compliance audits.

Several data loss methods for exfiltration include ransomware, spear phishing, business Email Compromise (BEC), malicious attachments, vendor or third-party compromise, and corporate spying. Email data loss can have dire consequences, some common indicators that your data might have been exposed include:

  • Unusual Mail Rules: an employee auto-forwarding business emails to their personal email address or sending company emails to personal accounts can be a red flag. 
  • Wrong Recipients: accidentally replacing even one letter of the recipient’s email address means your company’s financial report was sent to a stranger or a competitor.
  • Suspicious Download Activity: Look for activities that don’t fit the typical behavior pattern.
  • Confidential Data Leaks: employees may share confidential documents containing customer data with an unapproved third-party analyst, sometimes intentionally.
  • Suspicious or Anomalous Email Activity: unusual behavior can be a sign of sensitive or confidential data loss, such as sending a large number of emails outside of business hours

Supplementary Methods of Protection

Establishing email security best practices and training employees on the dangers of email data breaches is always a good idea. However, there is more that your organization can do beyond proper security training and education. Email DLP software adds an extra layer of protection by monitoring, detecting, and taking action to prevent the malicious or unintended sharing of sensitive data over email: blocking emails from being sent, encrypting sensitive data within email communications with unauthorized recipients, and deleting emails across mailboxes.

Another method of prevention is to use multi-factor authentication (MFA). MFA is a type of security technology that requires multiple pieces of authentication to confirm a user’s identity for logins and other transactions. MFA combines the user’s credentials to verify that the user logging into the account is the owner. An MFA scheme requires a user to provide additional authentication factors, such as after entering a password, the authentication scheme might require a login prompt sent to their mobile device or a fingerprint before accessing their account. MFA helps protect access to an authorized account, even when malicious actors compromise the corresponding username and password. 

Likewise, phishing-resistant MFA is a process that is immune from attempts to compromise or wear down the authentication process commonly achieved through phishing attacks. This sometimes includes other attacks, such as spear phishing, brute force attacks, man-in-the-middle attacks, replay attacks, and credential stuffing. This type of MFA requires proof of your identity and intent through deliberate action. Contrary to popular belief, passwords, SMS, and other One-Time Passwords (OTP), security questions, and even push notifications are not considered phishing-resistant mechanisms as they are susceptible to some or all of the attacks previously listed.

How Can I Optimize Cloud Data Protection For My Business?

Basic protocols, such as strong and unique passwords, are an essential first step in your security strategy. However, several other techniques can help improve your cloud implementation and DLP efforts. Some best practices to prevent data loss in the cloud and ensure essential tasks are completed include:

Train Your Employees

You can reduce insider data loss by training users on security policies and common social engineering scams, such as phishing attempts. Human error is a leading cause of data being compromised when faced with social engineering attacks or lack of proper education.

Begin by identifying training needs and creating comprehensive materials covering security policies, common threats like phishing, and best practices for data handling. Deliver training through various formats and simulate real-world scenarios to reinforce learning. Encourage ongoing education, reward positive behavior, and regularly assess the effectiveness of your training program to ensure continuous improvement.

Security Monitoring

Cybersecurity threat monitoring detects threats and data breaches. IT infrastructure monitoring is crucial to cyber risk management, enabling organizations to detect cyberattacks as they emerge and respond to them before they cause damage. This will help the business understand how sensitive data is processed and assess the scope of any issues that need to be addressed by the cloud-based DLP approach.

DLP employs tools such as intrusion detection systems, SIEM, and endpoint detection to identify abnormal behavior or indicators of compromise in real time. By enabling early threat identification, incident response, and forensic analysis, security monitoring helps organizations mitigate the impact of security incidents and comply with regulatory requirements.

Compliance

Email compliance ensures that transmitted data in an email meets the requirements of all the regulatory and governing bodies involved. For many regulatory frameworks, email compliance requires organizations to maintain immutable archives and have measures to protect email data and personal information from theft or public exposure.

DLP solutions scan the content of outgoing emails to identify sensitive information, which includes personally identifiable information (PII), financial data, intellectual property, or any other data that falls under regulatory compliance requirements. This uses predefined rules, regular expressions, keyword dictionaries, or machine learning algorithms.

Visibility

Complete visibility into the security of your email and the threats targeting your business is necessary. This increases the level of security, effectiveness, and cost-efficiency while enabling better cybersecurity planning, allocation of resources, and enforcement of company security policies, reducing your exposure to risk and providing control over your email systems.

Hacker Targets Iowa School District

A recent cyberattack on Iowa's Davenport Community School District resulted in many students and other district data and information theft. District officials notified more than 6,000 students and staff members of the possibility that their personal information, including Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, and medical information, may have been stolen during the September cyberattack.

The group, known as Karakurt, claims to have stolen 845 GB of data from the Davenport Community School District. The incident also potentially impacted personal information belonging to certain current/former employees. The group posted online, writing, "In this release, we will show you 845 GB of their data, which includes a giant, massive array of students' personal information." Without knowing how much data has been compromised, those affected may risk attackers acting as brokers and selling the data to other attackers or information ending up on lists sold on the dark web “marketplace.” Aside from this, the district must face consequences, such as remediation and the damage caused by the pervasive nature. 

Experts say, “They’ll have had access to the network, possibly for some time, and then will have stolen data… The data they may have stolen could include insurance policies, so they possibly know how much coverage the district has and how much it could potentially pay for ransom." The hacker group made a ransom demand by the end of October, but the district followed expert recommendations and decided not to pay. 

Keep Learning About Data Protection

Data protection is necessary for an organization’s cybersecurity strategy and customer experience. Because email plays a significant role in internal and external communications, it’s the most likely vector for exposing critical information. Email data loss prevention is vital for IT leaders in protecting sensitive data from security breaches.

Adopting a cloud solution for data loss prevention is essential to manage threats while applying risk management protocols to protect against emerging threats. Theft, data leaks, or accidental disclosure of sensitive data can lead to consequences such as intellectual property loss, reputation harm, and legal and regulatory penalty fees. Companies must have visibility into and protection of data, so cloud-based data storage and applications are essential.

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