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Data masking – What your business needs to know

Data security is one of the most important technical considerations your business must deal with.

There are various laws and regulations that govern this, and there is also an ethical responsibility to protect the personal data of customers.

Beyond this, your business’s critical operational data is extremely valuable to malicious parties, making it imperative that you take measures to prevent it falling into the wrong hands.

Gartner has published a guide to data masking as a means of desensitising or protecting sensitive data.

What is data masking

Data masking involves the desensitisation of data – which protects it against confidentiality or privacy abuses.

“These technologies enable organisations to operationally minimise the footprint and propagation of sensitive data (or its view), without extensive custom development,” said Gartner.

“Data is either masked before access or at the time of access, depending on the use-case requirements. The most common use case for DM technologies is the desensitisation of data in nonproduction environments.”

To do this, it provides users with fictitious, yet realistic, data. This replaces the real data, but maintains the ability of businesses to carry out necessary processes.

When data masking takes place ahead of the use of the data, it is known as static data masking; data access at the time of use is dynamic data masking.

It can also take place within a suite, and with varying degrees of integration between static and dynamic data masking.

Gartner said there are several key trends that ensure the data masking industry continues to garner strong interest:

Data analytics

Data analytics is critically important for the modern-day business, and it is crucial that access to the appropriate data and trends is available to guide future decisions.

However, information used for data analytics operations is often of an extremely sensitive nature.

Data masking allows for this sensitive data to be transformed into less sensitive, but still useful, data – which can in turn be used for various analytics activities.

Gartner added, however, that since increased volume of masked data brings increased risk of reidentification of the dataset, it is important that companies limit the amount of static data masking applied to such data sets.

However, the Gartner Data Masking Market Guide also provides insights to options for balancing data protection strengths with data usability and utility. For example, as big data analytics scenarios can make effective deidentification difficult due to the impact on data utility. Gartner states, “therefore consider approaches such as tokenization and format-preserving encryption.

Micro Focus’ SecureData solution encrypts your sensitive data from your big data use cases – including real-time analytics, which increases your access to data. This results in you having access to insights faster. Learn more about how this is achieved here.

Privacy regulations

There has been a notable move to implement comprehensive tech-related privacy regulations in recent times.

This includes GDPR – implemented by the EU to protect its users’ data – and South Africa’s own POPI.

Gartner said that the implementation of data masking is an efficient compromise between confidentiality and functionality.

“Fortunately, there are many masking algorithms and approaches; however, each option brings strengths, weaknesses, and characteristics that make it more or less applicable to certain data uses,” said Gartner.

It said that these businesses must determine their needs and find an appropriate data lifecycle management and protection solution to match. As data privacy trends are global and data sensitivity as well as regulations change over time, it is critical to protect data with the full data lifecycle in mind.

Micro Focus’ SecureData solution allows you to simplify the process of data privacy compliance by utilising voltage encryption and pseudonymisation, helping you to build customer trust. Learn more about this here.

Migration to public cloud

As businesses migrate in increasing numbers to the public cloud, there is an increasing need for data masking to protect the transferred data.

This is particularly the case for big data and analytics projects, which continue to grow both in size and their security needs.

Migrating data to the public cloud is a large undertaking, making it critical to take the best possible measures to protect all critical data.

Data analytics, privacy regulations, and migration to public cloud often converge in a single enterprise initiative, and enterprises need effective solutions to address data protection from the source, end to end.

Risks of data masking

Gartner said organisations must assess whether a specific dataset that has been masked for the purpose of deidentification is at risk of reidentification.

“This requires analysis of the reversibility of a single masked data element, as well as the risk of reidentification of the whole masked dataset, based on what is masked and how it is masked,” Gartner explained.

“The probability that deidentified data can be reidentified also grows with the volume and variety of auxiliary data, including other internal and publicly available datasets.”

For this and related reasons, the first in the Guide’s Market Recommendations includes: “Review your data security and compliance roadmap. Focus on vendors that offer more than one type of data deidentification technology and support consistent policies across your deidentification scenarios, applications and platforms on-premises and in the cloud.”

“Data masking is a well-established, mature technique for data protection, with many use cases,” said Micro Focus Senior Product Marketing Manager for Voltage Data Security, Carole Murphy.

“Tools like [Micro Focus’] Voltage FPE enable secure analytics in use cases such as performing research on collections of otherwise sensitive data, where one-way transformations such as data masking can’t produce the needed insights.”

Micro Focus

Micro Focus can assist you with a wealth of security solutions which can help with every element of your data privacy needs.

They can help you determine your business’s specific needs and provide you with a comprehensive security solution to solve your unique security needs.

Click here to learn more about Micro Focus’s Voltage data encryption security solution.

This article was published in partnership with Micro Focus.

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Data masking – What your business needs to know