Sensitive (PII) Data Scanning: Why is it important?

Sensitive (PII) Data Scanning: Why is it important?

In today’s digital age, businesses and organisations are at increasing risk of cyber attacks and data breaches from a variety of sources. Often these breaches are the result of criminal acts used to manipulate a business for a ransom, or to sell data on the black market for a profit.  In some cases cyber attacks can even be acts of war or terrorism.

To reduce the impact of cyber security breaches, sensitive data scanning is a vital activity that can help identify and protect information from falling into the wrong hands. In this article, we’ll explore the importance of sensitive data scanning and provide tips on how to get started.

What is sensitive data scanning?

Sensitive data scanning typically uses a mixture of process and policy, automation and software, to identify and locate sensitive data within an organisation’s digital systems and networks. Sensitive data scanning solutions are usually configured and programmed to seek out numerical patterns that match common personally identifiable information (PII) such as names, addresses, medicare, credit card, licence and financial information, as well as confidential business information such as intellectual property. 

By scanning for this information and locating it, businesses can identify potential vulnerabilities and take steps to secure data and prevent unauthorised access. Sensitive data scanning is the first step towards securing your data and getting a clear and comprehensive picture of vulnerabilities within your business.  

A critical followup activity to sensitive data scanning is the process of remediation – identifying how data at risk should be handled.  It requires policies and processes to determine if data should be removed, deleted, archived or ring-fenced. We will look at this topic in our next article.

Why is sensitive data scanning important for businesses?

Data breaches are becoming increasingly common and can have serious consequences for businesses, including financial losses, damage to reputation, and legal liabilities. In Australia alone, there have been some high profile data breaches in the past 12 to 18 months, with the Optus breach being one of the most infamous, affecting somewhere between 5 and 10 million customers.

Clearly data breaches have the potential to affect millions of people, bringing stress and anxiety to businesses and individuals as well as financial risk to both. One way of minimising this risk is identifying and addressing vulnerabilities before they are exploited by cyber criminals. 

As part of a broader data governance program, sensitive data scanning enables organisations to proactively identify information vulnerabilities and protect your business against potential attacks. Additionally, sensitive data scanning can help businesses comply with data protection regulations and industry standards, such as GDPR and PCI DSS.

What types of sensitive data should be scanned?

Sensitive data scanning should cover all types of data that could potentially be targeted by cyber criminals, including personal information such as names, addresses, and passport details, as well as financial information such as credit card numbers and bank account details.

Other types of sensitive data that should be scanned include login credentials, intellectual property, and confidential business information. It’s important to regularly review and update the types of data being scanned to ensure comprehensive protection against potential threats.

The results of sensitive data scanning often highlight that certain departments or divisions are not adopting basic processes when managing sensitive data.  Insights can provide organisations with best practice and practical approaches to manage, retain and dispose of this information, therefore lowering the impact and risk of a data breach.

How can businesses implement sensitive data scanning?

Businesses can use software specifically designed for sensitive data scanning, which is an in-house method to identify weak spots. Alternatively, you could work with an external services provider that specialises in providing a data scanning service (including remediation services) and that can provide ongoing monitoring and support. 

Having a data maturity assessment running alongside the data scanning will help give you overall data maturity awareness. Once you understand your data vulnerabilities, a clear roadmap should be drawn up to help you manage your exposure and potential risk. Sensitive data scanning is often the heart of the process, from which you can minimise your risk. 

At InfoCentric, we’ve helped many organisations across many industries mature their data governance capability, and our sensitive data scanning service is an increasingly important element of how we are helping our customers to manage information risk. 

Get in touch today to see how we can help.

Learn more:

Infosure Remediation for Unstructured PII Data

InfoSure Sensitive (PII) data governance service

Avoiding a data breach at your company

Client Story: Managing the risk of a data breach for a major retailer