What is data security?

Data security is the process of protecting your most critical business assets (your data) against unauthorized or unwanted use.

This not only involves deploying the right data security products, but also combining people and processes with the technology you choose to protect data throughout its lifecycle. Enterprise data protection is a team sport.

Best practices for effective data security include taking a risk-based approach to protecting data, using a unified platform that integrates data security information across your entire enterprise and ensuring scalability across environments of any size across public cloud, on-premises and hybrid cloud deployments.

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What are the top data security challenges?

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Explosive data growth

Data is growing at an exponential rate. Keeping up with new data sources across multiple environments creates new complexity at an unprecedented scale.

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New privacy regulations

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), Brazil’s Lei Geral de Proteção de Dados (LGPD) and more.

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Operational complexity

Movement to cloud, big data technologies and disparate tools from multiple vendors intensifies complexity.

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Cybersecurity skills shortage

Organizations are already dealing with a lack of skilled security professionals, and this gap is only expected to widen over the next several years.

Why is data security important?

Data security enables organizations to protect revenue, facilitate digital transformation, comply with regulatory mandates and generate customer loyalty.

Effective data security can be a critical differentiator for today’s digital businesses. Data is at the heart of almost every organization, and keeping it protected while also facilitating effective usage to drive business value is a key success factor.

Business, technology and compliance leaders know this — but so do cybercriminals and malicious insiders. What’s at risk? Personally identifiable information (PII), personal health information (PHI), payment card information (PCI), and intellectual property (IP), spanning data points like Social Security numbers, addresses, phone numbers, banking information, passport data, medical records, insurance information, source code and more.

75 percent

of consumers won’t buy a product if they don’t trust the company to protect their data

Each industry has its own unique data security challenges

Financial services and insurance

Financial services and insurance accounted for 19 percent of total cyberattacks in 2018, making it the most targeted industry. Not surprising, given the highly sensitive data types these institutions handle. Customer bank information and payment card data offer financial motivation for external and internal actors to steal or misuse the data. Industry-specific regulations, including PCI-DSS, FINRA, and NY-DFS (23 NYCRR 500) also complicate data protection.

Source: 2019 X-Force Threat Intelligence Index


Transportation is a critical component of any country’s infrastructure, but if traveler data such as payment information, address or national ID numbers falls into the wrong hands, the results can be disastrous. Heavy reliance on distributed IT infrastructures and third-party vendors expand the attack surface, making it more important for the industry to secure sensitive data.


Retail organizations are among the most highly targeted groups when it comes to data breaches. Opportunities for data theft and exposure abound, with many different access points in the retail data lifecycle. Retail customers and associates access and share sensitive data in physical stores, online, and through mobile applications.


Healthcare organizations, which process and store a unique combination of personal health information and payment card data, are subject to strict data privacy regulations such as HIPAA. Healthcare records also have the highest cost per breach record ($408), almost triple the average, making the proper use of data security products critical from both a business and regulatory compliance perspective.

Source: 2019 X-Force Threat Intelligence Index

What constitutes effective data security?

The best data protection solutions will provide an integrated suite of data security capabilities, which allow organizations to gain greater visibility, use actionable insights, enforce real-time controls, and automate compliance support throughout the data protection journey.

The top 12 critical data protection capabilities

Data discovery

Determine where data resides and discover databases or file sources in your network that potentially contain sensitive or regulated data.

Data classification

Parse discovered data sources to determine the kind of data they contain, matching against a predefined set of patterns or keywords. Then, assign labels based on the data type to inform policies.

Vulnerability assessment

Scan data environments to detect vulnerabilities and exposures such as missing patches, weak passwords, unauthorized access and changes, misconfigured privileges, account sharing and other behavioral vulnerabilities.

Data risk analysis

Identify data sources with the greatest risk of exposure or audit failure and help security professionals prioritize where to focus first.

Data and file activity monitoring

Capture and record real-time data access activity, with visibility into all transactions for all platforms and protocols by users including database admins, developers, outsourced personnel and applications.

Real-time alerting

Surface abnormal activity using machine learning and cognitive analytics to detect risk around sensitive data access, privileged user actions, change control, application user activities and security exceptions.

Blocking, masking and quarantining

Prevent unauthorized access completely by obscuring data or blocking further action by risky users when activities deviate from regular baselines or pre-defined policies.

Active analytics

Capture insight into key threats such as SQL injections, malicious stored procedures, denial of service, data leakage, account takeover, schema tampering, data tampering, and other anomalies. Gain actionable recommendations to reduce risk.


Render sensitive data useless to cybercriminals, unauthorized employees, and third-party service providers by encoding it in such a way that only authorized individuals can read it by decrypting the encoded data with a key.


A special type of format-preserving encryption that substitutes sensitive data with a token, which can be mapped to the original value.

Key management

Securely distribute keys across complex encryption landscape, centralize key management, and enable organized, secure key management that keeps data private and compliant (FIPS)

Automated compliance support

Pre-built capabilities mapped to specific regulations (such as GDPR, HIPAA, PCI-DSS, CCPA), including audit workflows to streamline approval processes, out-of-the-box reports, pre-built classification patterns for regulated data, and a tamper-proof audit repository

Data security solution

IBM Security Guardium family

Meet critical data protection needs throughout the data protection journey.

IBM Data Security Services

Experts who can help you discover, identify and protect your data wherever it resides.

Data security resources

From readiness to transformation

Learn how to address privacy regulations and keep your data safe.

Best practices for cloud data security

Understand cloud data security trends, challenges, and best practices.

Top data protection mistakes

Why it’s important to quantify your data security return on investment.