The importance of effective data classification

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Data storage alone isn’t enough: the importance of effective data classification

Kate Ellis - Cloud Senior Marketing Manager
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Over the last two years, we as a nation have greatly shifted our view on how personal data should be handled and stored.

First came the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where Facebook enabled the organisation to harvest data from over 300,000 Australian user profiles. This was then followed by the EU’s GDPR regulations, which sought to protect the data and privacy of its citizens and impacted businesses around the world – from tech giants like Facebook, to organisations in Australia that have European based customers.

Since this pivotal time in our digital history, Australia, and the world, realised the moral imperative we have to securely handle and use data, and have since put a stronger emphasis on data security. While we as a nation have learned about the importance of proper data management, we still have a way to go when it comes to maintaining data security and privacy.

Organisations continue to rely heavily on data to inform their day to day operations. Many have found themselves “hoarding” large quantities of unsorted data in the hopes that one day they will find a use for it. Though helpful, cloud storage can turn into disruptive technology when it comes to privacy and security, as many businesses do not understand how to property store it, which in turn puts them at risk.

Business and government leaders must ensure that their most sensitive information is not lumped with general data, as it is at risk of exposure from a cyber threat. Sensitive information that is stored digitally—including intellectual property, Medicare data, tax file numbers, MyGov information, and/or financial account and credit card details—need an extra level of security and cannot be stored alongside more general, non critical data . In order to protect highly sensitive data, you and your organisation must do what is called “data classification” – a process that allows organisations to secure unstructured data from unauthorised access by identifying it’s value to the business. 

As UNSW describes it, “data classification is the process of organising data into categories for its most effective and efficient use. Data classification is akin to putting a sticker on a box saying ‘Fragile! Handle with care!’” For example, when analysing data, the Australian Government uses three security classifications  – Protected, Secret and Top Secret – based on the likely damage resulting from compromise of the information’s confidentiality. In storing large quantities of data, Australian businesses must take a similar approach.

While data classification is an essential process, we realise that many may find it to be an overwhelming and technical task. As an Australian born, on-shore, cloud services provider, Vault cares about the wellbeing of fellow Australian businesses and is here to help in building awareness and developing processes, people and technology that protect and sort valuable data. Our hybrid cloud environment, for example, enables businesses to maintain tighter control over data and better organise it through a public and private environment, a key solution to storing your data, once classified.

To help you get started in the data classification process, we’ve outlined five key steps you can take to classify your data, using guidelines from the Australian Government:

  1. Assess the cloud provider used to store your data. Select a cloud solution that can meet your diverse data storage needs, such as a hybrid cloud environment, which enables you to store your classified data publicly or privately, varying by its sensitivity.
  2. Assess the value, importance or sensitivity of official information. To do this, you must consider the potential damage to government, the national interest, organisations or individuals, that would arise if the information’s confidentiality was compromised.
  3. Develop a formalised classification policy for your data. You must identify classification categories for your data, such as low sensitivity, medium sensitivity and high sensitivity, and clearly define what attributes make one piece of data more sensitive than another (a tax file number vs general business trends, for example)
  4. Categorise the types of data. Once the categories and attributes are identified, it’s time to categorise your data and store it based on its level of sensitivity.
  5. Enable controls. Once stored, appoint data access to a small group of trusted people for safekeeping and management.

At Vault, we are here to guide you and provide support on your data classification journey, no matter what industry your business operates in. We serve large and small Australian businesses across critical sectors, such as banking and finance, energy, food and grocery, health, transport, water services, and defence. 

In addition to providing a hybrid cloud environment, we offer a Critical Infrastructure Cloud, which was developed and designed to uplift the security and resilience of critical infrastructure and systems of national significance, and is well equipped to meet your unique needs. 

In addition to offering our own services, we can also work with your existing cloud provider as part of your cloud infrastructure strategy, so you won’t have to worry about switching over to a new solution all together. We’re here to support Australian businesses in every way that we can, especially during these vulnerable times.

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