Thanks to the endless parade of data breaches that fill news headlines, discussions about data privacy have become commonplace in the corporate world. That’s good news; corporate organizations have lots of internal controls they could put in place to reduce the damage a breach can cause.

As a business objective, data privacy is concerned with the proper handling of users’ sensitive or confidential data, such as personally identifiable information (PII), credit card data, or personal health information. Effective data privacy practices help organizations to:

  • Prevent the unauthorized access and use of data
  • Build trust with “data subjects” (the people who own or generate the data)
  • Collect, store, and process personal data in line with regulatory compliance obligations or industry standards

To achieve these goals, the right data privacy internal controls are essential.

What Is Data Privacy?

Most people have some data that they want to keep private. They also want to know what kind of personal data organizations are collecting about them, and how those organizations will process, use, share, and store it. This is what data privacy is about.

Data privacy is concerned with controlling how confidential or sensitive data is collected, shared, stored, and used, particularly in relation to data privacy regulations such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, the California Consumer Privacy Act, HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), and so forth.

Data privacy is not the same as data security, but data privacy cannot exist without data security, either.

The Importance of Data Privacy

Data privacy programs are essential for the modern business. Failure to protect the privacy of data subjects (customers, employees, sales prospects, and more) can lead to enforcement actions from regulators that might include painful monetary penalties and legal costs; or harm your corporate reputation with customers and business partners. Non-compliance with data privacy laws can erode the company’s brand value, lead to loss of consumer trust, and increase customer attrition.

Data privacy laws are in place all over the world to assure that organizations:

  • Are transparent about their data collection practices and purpose
  • Use this data ethically and legally
  • Implement adequate safeguards to prevent data breaches or data loss
  • Preserve the business value of the data without inconveniencing, harassing, or harming anyone

The Need for Data Privacy Controls

Data privacy controls allow organizations to meet their operational, reporting, and compliance-related objectives. They protect user data from unauthorized access and assure that organizations only use the data the way they are allowed to use it. Additionally, robust information privacy controls are vital to:

  • Protect the data away from malicious actors
  • Maintain data integrity, confidentiality, and consistency
  • Help the company follow all applicable data protection rules

The Most Important Data Privacy Controls

An effective data privacy program consists of multiple controls that protect data from improper access and losses, maintain its confidentiality, simplify data management, and minimize data protection challenges. Six such important controls are discussed below:

Data register

Data privacy starts with knowing what data is being collected, how it is collected and used, and where it is being stored. This is where a data register – a catalog of all the data you possess – enters the picture.

The first step to creating a data register is data discovery. This can clarify:

  • What kind of personal data the organization holds and processes
  • Whether the data is located in unsafe or protected locations
  • Who has access to the data and under which conditions
  • How long the data is retained
  • When the data is destroyed

Once you understands the organization’s data ecosystem, you can prepare the data register and populate it with important descriptors (that is, “metadata” to describe the data you have), such as:

  • The purpose of collecting and processing the data
  • The systems and locations where data is processed
  • Data retention period
  • Data security measures
  • Details about the data protection officer (DPO) who’s responsible for keeping the data secure and private

Data protection officer

A DPO oversees the company’s data privacy and protection efforts. He or she also assures that the business complies with laws and regulations, and represents the organization to authorities and data subjects. Appointing a DPO is mandatory under some privacy regulations, such as the GDPR, if the organization does large-scale data processing.

Security mechanisms

Companies must implement reasonable measures to protect personal data and maintain regulatory compliance. These measures should be both organizational and technical.

Privacy policies are one type of organizational measure. Other examples include:

  • Standardized procedures
  • Risk assessments
  • Data governance practices
  • Data audits
  • Training and awareness

Technical controls are the controls that work automatically and consistently based on some pre-defined rules. These could include:

  • Physical security controls
  • Limits on data sharing and data transfers
  • Data encryption
  • Data deletion measures
  • Data security fabric (DSF)

Authentication and access controls

A large part of maintaining data privacy is controlling who can access the data and for what purpose. Strong authentication and access mechanisms are required to implement this control, such as:

  • Strong passwords
  • Multi-factor or biometric-based authentication
  • Controls to regulate remote access

Vulnerability assessments and penetration tests

Vulnerability assessments and “pen tests” help businesses to identify risks to their data: missing controls, unpatched software, outdated antivirus software, and the like. Based on the results of the tests, the security team can implement appropriate security measures to mitigate identified risks.

Due diligence on third parties

Third-party risk management (TPRM) is an important component of data privacy, especially for companies that work with a large number of vendors, suppliers, and other business partners. Some important TPRM controls for data privacy include:

  • Due diligence assessments on all third parties to ensure they have implemented adequate controls to protect consumer data
  • Clearly defined data protection responsibilities and obligations included in the contract
  • Mandates that require third parties to comply with applicable compliance requirements
  • Regular risk assessments and audits to confirm that third parties’ controls remain effective

Give a Boost to Your Data Privacy Program with ZenRisk

ZenRisk, an integrated cybersecurity risk management solution, is built for organizations looking to automate their data privacy program and data protection family tree. It provides actionable insights in the context of business processes so you can effectively identify, assess and mitigate data risk throughout your organization.

Want to see how ZenRisk can deliver value to your risk management program? Schedule a demo!