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What is Data Segmentation?

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Definition of Data Segmentation

Data segmentation is the process of grouping your data into at least two subsets, although more separations may be necessary on a large network with sensitive data. Data should be grouped based on use cases and types of information, but also based on the sensitivity of that data and the level of authority needed to access that type of information. Once data is segmented, different security parameters and authentication rules should be established depending on the data segment at hand. 

If a hacker gets past a network’s traditional perimeter firewall and that network has skipped the data segmentation process, the hacker now has access to everything, rather than just a small portion of data within a segment. This lack of data segmentation leaves more data vulnerable to security breaches, and also makes it more difficult to find and stop the source of the breach across the wider network landscape. 

The idea behind data segmentation, then, is to categorize your data, separate out the most sensitive data from the rest and define that as your protect surface, and then apply additional security measures around any protect surfaces that you have identified. Even if a breach occurs, your most sensitive data is now protected by extra layers of security measures.

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A Long History of Security Breaches

Only a few weeks ago in March 2021, the Cancer Treatment Centers of America notified over 100,000 patients that their PHI may have been compromised through a hacked email account. In their announcement, CTCA stated that they were planning to implement additional security measures to prevent further breaches in the future. Although they stated that no financial or payment information was leaked, many details of diagnosis and treatment plans had been exposed to malicious attackers. 

This CTCA breach is only one of the most recent and lesser-known in a long history of security breaches on networks with sensitive personal data. Breaches like the Equifax breach in 2017 became global news when the financial information of tens of millions of customers was exposed. Major security breaches do not just damage the reputation and security of a corporation, but can also expose customers to financial ruin and personal blackmail. These breaches have dire consequences, and yet, they continue on a regular basis across industries.

So what can an organization do if their data has been exposed, or better yet, before it’s exposed? Like CTCA is probably doing now, it’s time to review data segmentation and zero trust policies to secure the most sensitive data from future attacks. 

Should Your Network Apply Data Segmentation?

Short answer: yes. Data segmentation should be applied to every network, regardless of how much sensitive information is stored in their systems. Beyond traditional PII and PHI, other sensitive data like your top B2B customers, conversations with customers, and even a rent discount on your office building may become sensitive, damaging information in the wrong hands. 

Data segmentation is crucial not only for foreseen and unforeseen cybersecurity needs, but also for a better understanding of your inbound and outbound marketing strategies. Here are just a few key reasons why data segmentation is important:

Data Segmentation and Zero Trust Networks

Companies suffer from external and internal cybersecurity threats on an ongoing basis. To mitigate some of the potential damage, many organizations are moving toward zero trust policies and architecture, or policies based on the concept of “trusting no one and verifying everything.” 

Data segmentation is one of the first and most important steps in implementing a zero trust network. The process helps you to map out your data and determine who needs access, what they need access to, when they need access, and how they should be able to access that information. Organizing and securing data through data segmentation decreases the accessibility of your network’s total attack surface, protecting against attacks whether internal or external, accidental or intentional. 

Data Segmentation, IoT, and Edge Security

More devices, particularly IoT and edge devices, now have access to store and process network data, though often with fewer built-in security and authentication features than those found in cloud data centers. If an unwelcome visitor or device makes it past your firewall through IoT or edge devices, your data segmentation provides a level of security around your data that IoT and edge device interfaces may not provide on their own.

Read More on Edge Computing: The Pros and Cons of Edge Computing

Data Segmentation and Personal Data Protection

Even outside of enterprise networks, data segmentation architecture builds secure microperimeters and authentication requirements around personal data, meaning that if a major network gets hacked, extra steps have likely been taken to secure your personal information. Banks, healthcare organizations, and credit card companies are some of the top industries that apply data segmentation to ensure customer privacy and security.

Data Segmentation and Marketing Strategy

Although data segmentation is not ultimately for the benefit of your marketing and sales team, it often helps them because the personal data of your customers and prospects have been reviewed and categorized throughout the data segmentation process. Marketing data is now more organized and secure, simplifying the process of engaging with customers on the buyer’s journey and securing their data every step of the way.

The Importance of Data Segmentation with 5G Networks

5G is spreading across the globe, and with it, more devices have the speed and capacity to access and process data. Consider IoT devices, such as smart home hubs, that can now respond to queries within a matter of seconds. The devices can operate on the edge of networks, relying on data transmission from nearby edge servers rather than requiring data to travel from faraway data centers in the cloud.

Edge devices often have fewer native security capabilities due to the simplicity of their interfaces. This makes any data that is processed or stored on these devices more vulnerable to attacks, unless IT professionals apply data segmentation to their databases and define security parameters for each set of segmented data.

Data Segmentation in a 6G Future

The potential future for 6G, or a cellular technology that goes beyond the speed and capacity of 5G, means that edge devices and servers may not even be required for localized data transmission in the future. Instead, many experts predict that the speed and capacity of 6G would enable widespread device-to-device data transmission. 

This advance increases the speed at which users can access data, but it also increases data vulnerability because virtually any device could be accessing your data at any given moment. Organizations with sensitive data may not know that there’s a problem until a significant breach has occurred on an unnamed and unknown device on the other side of the world.

In a 5G and eventual 6G world, data segmentation matters more than ever before because not all data access happens right under our noses anymore. Data can be transmitted, stored, analyzed, and stolen from a variety of physical and virtual locations at any time. But if your network upholds stringent security policies with data segmentation that is frequently audited and updated, your most sensitive data will remain behind barriers that only authorized users can easily bypass.

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