Organizations face more challenges around data protection today than ever before. Hence it’s critical to develop a data protection strategy that addresses these challenges, and to prepare for new ones that might develop in the future.

In this article we’ll take a closer look at some of the common data protection challenges, and provide some best practices your business should consider to overcome them.

What Is Data Protection?

Data protection is defined by SNIA (the Storage Networking Industry Association) as “the process of safeguarding important data from corruption, compromise, or loss; and providing the capability to restore data to a functional state should something happen to render the data inaccessible or unusable.”

More simply: data protection aims to protect data from compromise and to restore data after corruption. Data protection strategies usually consist of a combination of data backup, disaster recovery, and business continuity techniques; and involve elements such as cybersecurity management, ransomware attack prevention, and regulatory compliance, among others.

There are three broad categories of data protection: traditional data protection, data security, and data privacy. Traditional data protection has to do with the physical infrastructure of data protection during the entire data management lifecycle, from data storage and backups to archiving and deletion. On its own, traditional data protection has some noteworthy limitations. For example, it’s usually confined to the datacenter perimeter.

That said, traditional data protection is far from obsolete, and is likely to evolve to meet the changing needs of the modern business environment. Generally, traditional protection is most useful to organizations that use it in tandem with the other types of data protection: data security and data privacy.

Data security has to do with protecting data from malicious attacks that could result in a security incident such as a data breach. This includes endpoint security practices including encryption, threat monitoring, authentication practices, access control, breach access and recovery, and data loss prevention.

This type of data protection encompasses every aspect of information security, from the physical security of your hardware and storage devices to your administrative and access controls, as well as the logical security of your software apps. Generally, data security is made up of organizational policies and procedures. It aims to protect your organization against any sort of malicious attack, including cyberattacks.

Data privacy has to do with the use and governance of personal data. It is enforced through legislation, best practices, policies, third-party contracts, data governance, and global variations. In the next section, we will introduce some specific data protection regulations and discuss how your organization can become compliant with them.

Ultimately, each type of data protection is important and aims to prevent some of the data protection challenges we describe in the following section. A robust data protection strategy should include each of these data protection categories to assure that it’s covered from all angles.

Common Data Protection Challenges

The challenges below have been around for years, and are likely to continue into the foreseeable future.

Corporate Culture

The first (and probably least obvious) data protection challenge is an underlying corporate culture that doesn’t take cybersecurity seriously.

Most organizations, and especially small to medium businesses (SMBs), are shocked when they experience a security incident because they simply never imagined that they could be the victim of a cyberattack. Many SMBs truly believe that their data isn’t valuable to cybercriminals; they are wrong. Most of the time, cybercriminals target smaller businesses precisely because they know those businesses are less likely to have a robust cybersecurity program in place, which makes them an easier target.

On the whole, a preventative approach to cybersecurity is much more beneficial to organizations than a defensive one. Security incidents, and especially data breaches, can have a long-lasting impact on an organization’s reputation – not to mention the potential for class-action lawsuits and financial ruin.

A culture that prioritizes data protection starts at the top. The more important cybersecurity is to your senior executives, board members, and decision makers, the more important it will be to your employees, your third parties-and your customers.

Security Threats

A number of security threats pose unique challenges to data protection strategies today. For the sake of clarity, we have broken down this broad category into more specific types to address the particular data protection challenges that come with each one.

Cybersecurity Threats

Even as the digital transformation continues to revolutionize how organizations use technology, the weakest link in the cybersecurity chain will probably always come down to human error. In particular, social engineering attacks such as phishing emails remain one of the most common ways in which malicious actors gain unauthorized access to systems and networks.

Phishing emails sometimes even contain ransomware, a growing threat in the business community. Employees who unknowingly click on a malicious link or download malicious software (malware) can put your entire organization – and its customer data – at risk.

Weak user credentials including usernames and passwords are also vulnerable, especially when your employees are using the same password for multiple accounts. Unfortunately, most passwords are easy to guess, especially for botnets that are designed to execute brute force attacks.

As remote and hybrid working environments become more prevalent, the number of potential cybersecurity threats has skyrocketed for most organizations with employees working remotely. This correlation is not simply by chance; malicious actors know that organizations’ networks, systems, devices, and employees are more vulnerable in these unprecedented times.

Physical Security Threats

Although it might be one of the least glamorous and most neglected aspects of data protection, physical security is critical for thorough data protection strategy. After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many physical workspaces (offices, campuses, and even datacenters) were suddenly and almost entirely unoccupied. The devices, data, and other organizational assets that were left behind became even more vulnerable to theft, alteration, or even deletion.

Employees who were once confined to the physical workspace are now working from home under much less scrutiny, which means they are more vulnerable to the risk of lost credentials or data at home or in the public spaces they use to conduct private business.

Because physical security and cybersecurity are often managed by different groups and have different business processes, many organizations face divided commands over security. Coordination between physical security and cybersecurity is essential for a solid data protection strategy, and should be addressed in your organization’s disaster recovery and business continuity plans.

Insider Threats

A constant concern in the business community is the risk of insider threats. While most organizations don’t want to admit that their employees might be capable of executing internal attacks on their systems and networks, the area unfortunately warrants further exploration.

Holding your employees accountable, especially in the midst of the remote work revolution, can be a difficult task. There are, however, some steps you can take to prevent insider threats from becoming security incidents. We will explore those later when we introduce some of the best practices for overcoming data protection challenges.


As data protection gains more traction in the business community and among consumers, it’s likely that the number of regulatory requirements affecting businesses that deal in personal data will continue to grow.

One of the most well-recognized and widely enforced regulations is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which applies to any organizations collecting data from people residing in the European Union (EU). The GDPR was introduced in 2018 and has become the foundation upon which many other data protection laws have been based.

In the United States, organizations handling the data of California residents must comply with the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Similar data privacy laws including the Virgina Consumer Data Protection Act (VCSPA) and the Colorado Privacy Act (CPA) will soon also apply to any organizations that handle the data of consumers in those states.

Other data privacy regulations have also emerged in India, China and Brazil, with more on the way. According to Gartner, 65 percent of the world’s population will have their personal data covered under a regional or global privacy regulation by 2023.

What these growing regulations mean for data protection is an increase in accountability. This is good for consumers, but could be potentially devastating for the organizations that aren’t compliant. It’s likely that regulatory compliance will become even more critical for data protection in the near future, and organizations should act now if they want to stay in business.

Best Practices for Overcoming Data Protection Challenges

Unfortunately no one-size-fits-all solution exists for data protection. Your organization will need to determine which of the following best practices are most relevant to your unique data protection needs.

Changing Corporate Culture

Revising the ways in which your organization approaches data protection means finding a way to communicate its importance to your senior executives, board members, and any other decision makers who drive your organization’s spending. Data protection isn’t cheap, and you will need to have the data to back up any claims you make about the risks that come with ignoring it.

Calculating risk isn’t easy, but it will be a critical component to persuading those at the top that data protection is important. The easier the information is to digest, the more impactful it will be. Typically, a solid and evidence-based statistic will hold more weight than a qualitative measurement. Communicating urgency to someone who might not understand the complexities of risk calculations is easier when you can say something along the lines of “the risk of a data breach is 95 percent” as opposed to “the risk of a data breach is high.”

Another way to raise security awareness in the workplace is through security awareness training, for both employees and upper management. Training employees to spot and report phishing emails, for example, has shown great success in reducing the overall number of successful phishing attacks. Regularly training your employees and testing their knowledge will give you the peace of mind knowing that the people who act as the gatekeepers of your organization’s data know how to keep your data safe.

At the same time, your organization needs to spell out and enforce clear rules, roles and responsibilities. Make sure that your employees know that any malicious acts will be punished to deter the possibility of insider threats, and create a way in which employees can report suspicious behavior anonymously to upper management.

It’s also critical that your organization establishes clear communication channels among departments so that everyone involved is aware of the rules, roles and responsibilities that apply to each department. Again, creating more cohesion between physical security and cybersecurity is a good place to start.

Addressing Security Concerns

Many organizations don’t know where to begin addressing both physical and cybersecurity concerns. While it’s best to start with basic security measures (a lock on your office door, antivirus software and firewalls) these alone are not enough.

A robust cybersecurity program can take years to establish, but the sooner your organization gets started, the more prepared it will be to respond to any forthcoming cyberattacks. If you haven’t already, your organization should start with a comprehensive business continuity plan that includes planning for disaster recovery.

You should also strongly consider implementing multi-factor authentication practices for your employees, as well as setting strong password policies. These two things alone are responsible for deterring the majority of cyberattacks, as they significantly raise the barrier to entry. Cybercriminals are looking for the easiest target, and the more obstacles you put in between a hacker and your data, the less likely they are to bother with an attack.

If your organization relies on remote workers, you’ll also need to create a remote work policy that outlines the security measures in place to prevent some of the challenges we described above. A remote work policy will help to assure that your remote employees are following your security protocols when working from home or in public spaces, and should include internal controls that hold those employees accountable.

Another area that requires concern is that of third-party risk. As more and more organizations come to rely on third-party service providers along the supply chain, the risks that those third parties pose will continue to rise. In fact, IBM and the Ponemon Institute reported that more than 50 percent of businesses have already experienced a third-party vendor security breach, and of those affected, more than 70 percent were a result of giving that third party access to too much sensitive data.

If third parties are putting your organization’s data at risk, it’s probably time to implement or reevaluate your third-party risk management program to determine whether they’re working effectively.

Comply With Regulations

Even if your organization isn’t required to comply with one of the regulations listed above, it probably will be in the near future. The best bet is to take a look at some of the existing data protection regulations and gauge where your organization falls on the spectrum.

The GDPR is a great place to start, especially because many newer frameworks and regulations are loosely based on its seven principles of data privacy. Compliance regulations, however, change constantly; which means that your organization’s data protection strategy needs to be flexible and scalable.

Using the IAPP US State Privacy Legislation Tracker, you can stay up to date with the most current legislation in your state. Currently, at least four states have serious comprehensive consumer data privacy proposals under review: Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

Use Tools to Help

If you haven’t started on the journey towards data protection, we probably know why. For most organizations, it’s overwhelming – especially so if you’re relying on spreadsheets to get the job done. Between changing compliance regulations, emerging security threats and the changing business environment, most organizations struggle to do it all.

Fortunately, there are security solutions designed to help.

Today, many organizations are increasingly reliant on technology that’s centered around streamlining and automation to help protect their data and create visible audit trails to lessen the burden of compliance-related tasks.

A focus on data protection automation means using software solutions that can help your organization respond to privacy requests, categorize data into different sensitivity categories, and to comply with reporting requirements set out by regulations like the GDPR.

With data breaches on the rise, it’s not surprising that more and more organizations are turning to automated solutions to help them make data protection a more zen process.

Protect Your Data With Reciprocity ZenComply

The ultimate goal of a data protection strategy should be to document and demonstrate all the ways you protect your customers’ data, to instill digital trust and to protect your organization from security incidents that could compromise your business. Recovering from such an incident can be insurmountable, and can often result in irreparable damage to your reputation. Fortunately, there are automated security solutions that are designed to help.

Reciprocity ZenComply is a compliance and audit management solution that delivers a faster, easier, and smarter path to compliance by eliminating tedious manual processes, accelerating onboarding and keeping you up-to-date on the progress and effectiveness of your programs. With Reciprocity ZenComply, your organization can get audit ready in less than 30 minutes – no coding or cumbersome imports required!

With expert-built preloaded content at your fingertips to make scoping, sending requests, and gathering evidence easier than ever, Reciprocity ZenComply can help you reach your goals faster and keep your teams connected. Streamlined collaboration capabilities and automated workflows minimize manual task tracking and eliminate audit fatigue.

Reciprocity ZenComply doesn’t stop at maintaining compliance. It also helps you understand how your compliance activities affect your risk posture, so you can effectively prioritize your investments. Now you can easily handle your compliance needs and take managing your IT risks to the next level.

With seamless integrations with Reciprocity ZenRisk and the ZenGRC, ZenComply gives you a unified, real-time view of risk and compliance, and the contextual insight needed to make smart, strategic business decisions that keep your organization secure and earn the trust of your customers, partners and employees.

Take your compliance to the next level with Reciprocity ZenRisk. Talk to an expert today to learn more about how the Reciprocity Product Suite can help your organization improve its risk and compliance posture.