Chuck Brooks GovConExpert

GovCon Expert Chuck Brooks: Three Steps for Protecting Data in the Public and Private Sectors

The information technology landscape has greatly evolved in recent years. The new reality is that almost all of our critical infrastructures operate in a digital environment, including the health care, transportation, communications, financial, and energy industries. The digital transformation has brought both challenges and new solutions to protecting data wherever it may reside. Three steps needed to protect data are 1) the use of comprehensive risk management frameworks, 2) employing full pervasive “everywhere” encryption, and 3) and operating in secure, transparent, and optimized cloud hybrid cloud environments.

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The Data Protection Challenges: 

In the transforming digital landscape protecting data needs to be a top priority because of growing risks. Greater internet interface and emerging automation technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence have provided new tools and access for hackers. An expanding internet attack surface, which many analysts suggest may include around 50 billion connected Internet of Things of devices by this year, has led to many data exfiltration vulnerabilities. The growing availability of ready-made attack kits, a commercialized black market for stolen data, and intensifying activity of organized crime and state actors targeting industries has heighted the challenge of protecting data.

Businesses are facing growing risks in data loss – both in cost and numbers. According to Statista, in 2019, the number of data breaches in the United States amounted to 1,473 with over 164.68 million sensitive records exposed. Statista found that the number of data breaches in the U.S. increased from 157 million in 2005 to 1.47 billion in 2019, while the number of exposed records jumped from around 67 million to 164.7 million during the same time frame. To put the data loss threat in perspective, A Clark School study at the University of Maryland estimates the rate of hacker attacks of computers connected to the internet to every 39 seconds.

Three Pillars of Protecting Data:

Despite the major threats and significant challenges associated with the transforming information security landscape and growing hacker threats, many government agencies, businesses and individuals do employ effective options for protecting their “Crown Jewels” of data and for operating at speed and scale. But there are steps that can be followed to help protect data during digital transformation.

A Risk Management Framework:

A first step is to develop and implement a risk management framework. Because of digital transformation, securing data necessitates a hyper-security focus.  At its core, the practice of vigilant and encompasses, identifying gaps, assessing vulnerabilities, mitigating threats. Data security and cyber risk management are an integral part of the overall enterprise risk management (ERM) framework to stay ahead of the threats.

A comprehensive risk management approach should be to protect core applications and ensure the privacy of the data. This requires transparency; knowing exactly where the data is, who is trying to access it, and what they are doing. An agile, flexible, multi-layered, data centric security solution should be easy for the user, if not unnoticeable. Optimal solutions should be able to fit any data center in any location.

A risk management framework is especially important as technology continues to evolve. New automation and analytic tools supported by machine learning and artificial intelligence can help identify gaps and provide for better mitigation and resiliency. A risk management framework can continually evaluate technology tools, processes, and people interacting with any data.

Data Encryption:

A second step for protecting data is to encrypt.  Encryption is a key algorithmic component of security risk management and privacy. A general definition of encryption is the process of applying a mathematical function to a file that renders its contents unreadable and inaccessible—unless you have the decryption key. Encrypting data protects the users from compromised file records, and it gives additional protection to the point of data in use.

There are a variety of encryption algorithms and standards available depending on the needs and requirements of the user. Customized Hardware Security Modules (HSMs) generate and store the keys used for encrypted communication. A newer capability is the ability to encrypt each data file through full pervasive encryption. Full pervasive encryption enables you to 100% encrypt the data at the database, data set and disk level, with no changes to applications.  That includes a zero trust model of comprehensive multiple layers of encryption – from disk and tape up through applications.

Encryption protects against most cybercriminals and hacktivists because it creates a formidable time/effort barrier for them to breach. There is a growing imperative for protecting data in all forms, no matter where it resides, whether it is located on premises, off premises, or whether it is at rest or in transit. Offering encryption “everywhere” can securely integrate important workloads and offer resiliency in recovery wherever the data is stored.

Operating in the Cloud:

A step is to optimize security in the cloud. The movement of government agencies and  business data to the cloud and hybrid clouds is trending. Forecasters are estimating that 92% of data processing workloads will be located in cloud data. How and where data is secured, has become a key concern among security administrators and that is why operating in clouds and hybrid clouds has become increasingly attractive.

Government and industry are building larger data repositories and sharing data centers to keep up with storage and analytic needs.  Consider that there are 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created each day and that the world’s production of data doubles every two years.  The ability to securely store, prioritize, analyze and share (and scale) that data is fundamental to operations and commerce.  Because of those functional requirements, storing data in the cloud or hybrid clouds is more than prudent.

The use of the cloud and hybrid clouds enables implementation of dynamic policies, faster encryption, drives down costs, and provides more transparency for access control (reducing insider threats).  When viewed from a security administrator perspective, optimized security in the cloud mitigates the risk of hackers getting key access to data.


In the digital transformation, protecting user data in any security approach needs to be dynamic and not static. As the sophistication of hackers and the attack surface grows, the cyber-threats will continue to evolve.  Thankfully, we can help address and help mitigate those emerging threats via three steps;  strong risk management strategies, utilizing “everywhere” encryption, and by operating in secured cloud and hybrid cloud environments. These steps should be a focus to CISOs, CIOs and anyone protecting vital data.

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