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Discovering and Protecting Sensitive Data in M365 and SharePoint On-Premises

by | Aug 4, 2022

Discovering and Protecting Sensitive Data Using Existing Classifications and Metadata

With the introduction of various compliance requirements such as HIPAA, PCI and GDPR (just to name a few from around the world), there is an increasing need for organizations to determine where their sensitive data is located, secure access to it and protect it accordingly.  There are many products that incorporate the ability to Discover and Classify data. NC Protect is no different. However, what makes NC Protect unique is the ability to protect that data, no matter where its located, instead of just reporting on it or attempting to move it to a quarantine folder. Read on to explore NC Protect’s capabilities for discovering and protecting sensitive data using existing classifications and metadata or NC Protect applied classifications.

If you are already heavily invested in a Data Discovery and Classification solution, NC Protect can leverage existing classifications, metadata and Microsoft Purview Information Protection sensitivity labels to add additional security controls to the data. NC Protect specializes in protecting sensitive data and can apply a variety of mechanisms to do so on top of your existing or NC Protect applied classifications.

Here’s 5 practical use cases for NC Protect’s advanced capabilities for discovering and protecting sensitive data in your Microsoft 365 applications, SharePoint on-premises and file shares.

1. Protecting Sensitive Data through Obfuscation

NC Protect can obfuscate or hide files that are sensitive. Unauthorized users won’t be able to see that those files exist, even if those same users have full access to the Folder, Site Collection or Team the data resides in.

For example, it can prevent the classic mistake of saving a sensitive file to the public directory or the ‘Companywide’ Teams Chat.  Take for instance an HR file. NC Protect can apply simple rules to prevent anyone who isn’t part of the HR department and/or who doesn’t have Manager or Director in their title from seeing that file even if it is accidentally placed in a public folder.

This is also a useful capability for controlling Guest Access. NC Protect can enforce rules to prevent Guest users from being able to see or interact with any type of sensitive data in your environment, a key concern for many companies when enabling Guest Access.

NC Protect File Obfuscation Showing Guest and Internal User Views

2. Redacting Sensitive Data

NC Protect also has the ability to redact or remove sensitive data from within a file.  For example, maybe you want to give access to Customer Sales Order Forms to the shipping department or to the customer service department.  However, those order forms could contain sensitive information such as account or credit card numbers.

98% of that document is probably not sensitive and would be useful to both the Shipping and the Customer Service departments, particularly in cases where they need to verify an address, specific shipping instructions or similar information.  However, you don’t want them to be able to view that credit card number if it’s in that document. Wouldn’t it be great if they could only view the portions of the document that aren’t sensitive?

NC Protect can redact the data that you’ve deemed as sensitive and leave the rest of the document accessible so the Shipping and Customer Teams can use it without revealing the sensitive information and potentially creating a compliance issue or data breach.

Redact Sensitive Data with NC Protect

It can perform redaction while the data is in motion, so it’s not actually altering the source document in anyway. It is only redacting the version that the end user can view.  In this way it can keep the sensitive pieces of information out of the hands of people that shouldn’t see it, while still allowing users that need access to see it to perform their job. This enables the secure collaboration of useful data between departments without needing to create sperate documents or repositories.

3. Dynamic Security Watermarks

In addition to obfuscating files and redacting data, NC Protect can add dynamic security watermarks that contain any variables such as the user’s name and the date, along with any other relevant data to make screen grabbing of sensitive data more challenging.  This makes it much less likely that authorized users will leak sensitive data such as company salaries when their username and id is splashed across a document.

Protect sensitive data with security watermarks

NC Protect’s data protection capabilities are far more flexible than just applying encryption to sensitive files. Encryption provides a lot of additional security to documents; however, it can produce a lot of overhead. Many organizations want to take the additional step of encrypting sensitive documents, but don’t want to deal with the hassle of encrypting all of their documents when they don’t need to. With NC Protect only apply encryption if truly needed, not as a catchall for protecting sensitive data.

4. Discovering Sensitive Data

All this extra protection is great, but what if you don’t even know where your sensitive files are? NC Protect has its own Data Classification Engine along with 200 out-of-the-box (OOTB) Rule sets for Accessibility, General Privacy, Financial Information, HIPAA data, CUI and more.

These can be used ‘as-is’ or further customized to your organization’s specific needs.  For example, I once had a client whose case numbers were in the following format: ###-##-####.  Of course, this is the exact same format as US Social Security numbers.  We were able to tailor the rule set to ignore Case numbers.

NC Protect’s OOTB rule sets are user configurable to allow you to reduce not only the number of ‘false positives’ that you receive, but also the number of ‘false negatives’. For those not familiar with those terms, a false positive is a file that has been marked as sensitive that isn’t. A false negative is a file that is not tagged as sensitive, even though it is.

False positives can create a lot of additional overhead for managing files that aren’t actually sensitive (especially if you’re using a tool that is moving sensitive files to a quarantine folder).  False negatives create overhead and risk potential as they can result in the loss of intellectual property, lack of confidence in the organization or even significant fines in the cases of HIPAA, PCI or GDPR failures.

5. Reporting on Sensitive Data Access

NC Protect can also produce reports to tell you where your sensitive data is located, who has access to it currently and who’s been accessing it. This allows you to provide tracking data to auditors, if necessary, as well as verify that the rules are working as intended. You can also easily ingest user activity and logs collected in NC Protect into Microsoft Sentinel via a free Connector or import it into Splunk to analyze the data at cloud scale, as well as trigger holistic alerts and remediation actions alongside the dynamic and real-time access controls of NC Protect.

Report on Sensitive Data Access

Taking a Proactive Security Posture

I always say that there are 3 types of people who take security as a high priority.

  1. People that are forced to because of a compliance requirement.
  2.  People who know that just about everyone will be breached eventually.
  3.  People who have already been breached.

While finding and protecting sensitive data seems like an additional burden for many, the possibility of losing Intellectual Property, incurring significant fines, or just a huge hit to the bottom line can be a massive motivator to find and lock down data.

There have been a large number of companies that have had to provide credit check services to all users and undergone a significant loss of trust after a data breach.  Unfortunately, not all of these organizations, especially smaller organizations, have been able to withstand these losses. Fortunately, most organizations have realized that security and the protection of their data is a critical operating expenses, and they are always re-evaluating their security posture.

If you have any questions about how NC Protect assists with discovering and protecting sensitive data, please don’t hesitate to contact us.



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