What is Data Classification?

Employee round-table discussion
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What Is Data Classification Whitepaper

For businesses with a requirement to gain better control over their unstructured data, data classification has become a key part of the data management strategy.

In the context of information security, data classification is the classification of data, documents and files based on its level of sensitivity to an organisation.

By classifying data effectively an organisation can safeguard sensitive information. Typically, data is classified into three categories:

  1. Highly sensitive data – includes strictly confidential corporate and customer data that could put an organisation at financial, legal or regulatory risk if it were to be leaked.
  2. Sensitive internal data – includes data and documents that could pose a risk to operations if disclosed outside the organisation. Examples include supplier or customer contract information, sales performance data, marketing documents and other private sales and marketing collateral.
  3. Public data – which includes any information, data or documents that, if read by any member of the public, would not damage the reputation of the organisation, nor would it pose any threat financially, legally or otherwise. This category of data typically includes press release documents, advertisements, research publications and externally focussed marketing documents.

Data classification schemes needn’t be restricted to these three categories however, but in order to maintain an effective data classification policy the classification levels must be simple enough for employees to execute on a self-service level and yet complex enough to handle the requirements of a multitude of data.

The truth is that businesses are dealing with more data than ever before, and data strategies vary so much from one business to another that the balance of classifying data can be just as varied.

David Langton, Marketing Director from Boldon James comments: “Data classification is fast becoming the must-have solution for any security-conscious organisation. Unless you can give your data a value, you have no way of adequately protecting it.” David goes on to say: “Using a classification solution adds important metadata to documents and messages, making it easy to control using downstream security technologies such as DLP, encryption or information rights management.”

What is Data Classification?

Data Classification Brings Potential Cost Savings

There are several cost benefits to implementing a robust data classification solution, the first – and most crucial for many businesses – being reduced costs achieved by reducing the chance of a data breach.

The threat of such an incident is growing by the day, as cyber criminals get more advanced in their approaches. With effective data classification, you have superior visibility over where your data is stored and how it is used.

A good data classification policy also puts a level of responsibility on to your employees; they typically become more aware when handling sensitive data. This reduces the chance of an insider breach which is one of the main causes of leaked information.