Data Privacy Week – Privacy Best Practices

by | Jan 22, 2024 | Cyber Risk

Data Privacy Week is an international initiative that aims to raise awareness about the importance of privacy and data protection. The week-long event encourages individuals and businesses to safeguard data and enable trust. The theme for 2024 is “Take Control of Your Data.” 

This year, Cowbell has been named a Data Privacy Week Champion by the National Cybersecurity Alliance and we take our commitment very seriously. Trust is foundational to our business and it’s critical that we remain a leader in the space, modeling exemplary behavior and sharing guidance and best practices with others in the ecosystem.

Why is Data Privacy important?

Data make up our online presence and identity. To have the ability to control who can see your information is crucial not only to avoid others knowing your information but also to prevent bad actors from acting maliciously with it. 


Getting started: Encryption for data privacy

What is encryption?

Encryption protects confidential or sensitive information by concealing and scrambling it into random information bits. In the encrypted form, any viewer of the information would only be able to see the scrambled data and wouldn’t be able to make sense of it, thus the information remains confidential. Authorized users will have the ability to view the information in an unscrambled form through a process known as decryption. The encryption process protects a user’s online footprint and activity from others who may want to view their online activity. 

How does encryption work? An encryption algorithm uses a string of characters to randomize data into scrambled information. This process uses a “key” which then encrypts (locks) or decrypts (unlocks) data. Only the right string of characters can unlock the data. One form of this is called “transport layer security” or TLS. TLS is used by websites for encrypting data in transit to protect user privacy. One quick way to see if a website is using encryption is by checking for HTTPS:// URL or the lock symbol in front of the URL; this will indicate that the website is using encryption for data in transit and is, therefore, more secure.

How to implement encryption

There are many solutions to encrypt data, from encryption for personal mobile devices to work computers. Most mobile devices will have encryption by default and generally won’t require additional encryption solutions. Check out our cybersecurity partner platform Cowbell Rx for data encryption services and more. 


Regulations and Compliance

What is privacy compliance?

Privacy compliance is an organization’s commitment to protecting personal information and following a specific set of guidelines to adhere to. More recently, privacy compliance has become common for organizations to implement due to regulations such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). These regulations are designed to protect the privacy and security of personally identifiable information of customers and employees. With these regulations, the individual customer is protected by mandates that organizations must comply with in order to use customer data. 

Why is privacy compliance important?

Data privacy is crucial to preserving user control over an individual’s personal information. This gives the user control over how their data is collected, shared, and processed by organizations and other users. Protecting the user’s data privacy ensures that their data is not misused or exposed to unauthorized users. Protecting user information not only protects their online identity but also their personally identifiable information (PII), payment card information (PCI), and protected health information (PHI). All of these (PII, PCI, and PHI) should remain confidential to the user and to authorized users to access only. 

How to implement privacy compliance

The first step in implementing privacy compliance is to fully understand an organization’s data and how it’s being collected, processed, and stored. From there the organization should understand what are the requirements for collecting, processing, and storing the data – much of this is highlighted in privacy acts such as CCPA or GDPR. 

The next goal should be to create a data privacy policy so employees understand how to manage the data within the organization. This will determine the guidelines and procedures that users will follow to comply with the privacy policy and ultimately fall in line with privacy acts. The organization should also consider other risk management frameworks such as ISO 31000 and ISO 27005.  With all that in mind, it should implement data privacy controls including technical and non-technical measures such as securing servers with customer or confidential data and limiting access based on a need-to-know basis. Lastly, organizations should implement robust data privacy training for employees to ensure they understand their responsibilities in protecting sensitive data. 


Principle of Least Privilege

What is the Principle of Least Privilege?

The principle of Least Privilege is a security concept that suggests limiting a user’s or system’s access permissions to the minimum that is necessary for performing their tasks. In other words, individuals or systems should have only the bare minimum access rights or privileges required to accomplish their functions, and no more. This concept can be applied to both human and non-human processes including systems, applications, and devices. 

Why is it important?

Principle of least privilege reduces the cyber attack surface bad actors have access to. As you limit user access, if a bad actor does gain access to those credentials they’ll have a limited ability to sensitive data. It also limits the ability to escalate privileges which makes it more difficult to deploy malware on mission-critical systems. Many policies, procedures, and guidelines will require this concept to be applied throughout the organization which makes it a great privacy best practice to implement. 

How to Implement the Principle of Least Privilege

An organization needs to perform an internal audit to determine all administrative or privileged access within its infrastructure. Next, it needs to decide which accounts are absolutely required for the business and which administrative accounts can be removed. From here, it can determine the minimum amount of access to allow employees to do their work. Finally, it needs to continuously monitor all activity on administrator accounts for any suspicious logins and attempts to access sensitive data. 


Monitoring third-party access to data

What is third-party monitoring?

Third-party monitoring is an organization’s ability to continuously monitor a vendor’s cybersecurity posture. This includes understanding how the vendor is securing information and reducing the risk of a vendor-related supply chain incident. This type of monitoring is typically used to ensure data security and operate in a safe ecosystem with third-party vendors. 

Why is it important?

Creating a third-party monitoring program helps an organization reduce the likelihood of a vendor-related incident from occurring, particularly when it comes to mitigating supply chain-related incidents. Third-party-related risks have increased due to the level of connectivity from cloud and SaaS environments.  Establishing trust between companies is critical to doing business today and third-party monitoring is foundational to building that trust.

How to implement third-party monitoring

Performing a third-party vendor risk assessment is an excellent way to understand the risks an organization may face while doing business with a vendor partner. Identifying and assessing the potential risks associated with the third party helps an organization determine whether they should engage with the third party or whether they need to address concerns or simply move on. Steps to performing a third-party vendor risk assessment include screening and onboarding a vendor partner, assessing possible threats, quantifying the risk, and understanding how the vendor is being proactive to mitigate or eliminate the risks in question. 

Ultimately, data privacy has never been more crucial. As individuals entrust increasing amounts of personal information to various online platforms, organizations bear a significant responsibility in fostering a robust ecosystem that prioritizes the protection of sensitive data. Beyond legal compliance, there exists a moral and ethical obligation for businesses to uphold the privacy rights of their users. Recognizing data privacy as a shared responsibility, organizations can contribute to creating a secure and trustworthy digital environment that benefits both individuals and the broader digital community.

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