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What is Data Loss Prevention? And Why You Need It

A simplified guide to understanding the concept and benefits of data loss prevention for your organization


Data loss prevention (DLP) is a set of practices, policies, tools, and rules that aim to protect sensitive data while it’s in use, in motion, or at rest.

As organizations digitally transform, data flows far and wide — into containers, virtual machines, laptops, mobile devices, hybrid cloud servers, and desktops. Chances are high that at least some of that sensitive information or critical data will end up somewhere you didn’t anticipate. For example, cloud migration can rapidly expand the number of locations where data resides, outpacing your ability to keep track of it. Additionally, legacy assets may be overlooked and abandoned, which can result in security vulnerabilities. Mass remote working has also added a whole new fleet of potentially unmanaged endpoints to the mix.

These are just some of the challenges organizations face today, highlighting the critical need for data loss prevention to become a vital component of a modern data security strategy.

Since March 31 is #WorldBackupDay, let’s explore how organizations can leverage DLP solutions to help prevent data breaches, comply with regulations, and safeguard organizational reputations.

What is data loss prevention?

Data loss prevention, also referred to as data leakage prevention, is a proactive approach to protecting data from unauthorized access, disclosure, or misuse.

Key components of DLP

To achieve more effective data loss prevention, a robust DLP program should help organizations address these main use cases:

  • Identification: DLP can classify your data according to its sensitivity, location, or owner and assign appropriate security policies and controls.
  • Monitoring: DLP can track and audit your data activity, such as who accesses, modifies, or transfers your data, and can help you detect any anomalies, violations, and potential access control issues.
  • Prevention: DLP can help you enforce your security policies and controls, such as encryption, authentication, authorization, or blocking to prevent unauthorized users or other risky data actions.
  • Response: DLP can alert and notify stakeholders, such as IT and security teams, and take corrective actions, such as quarantining, isolating, recovering, and using pattern matching to quickly delete infected files, in case of a critical data loss incident.

Why is data loss prevention important?

Data loss prevention is important for organizations because it can help protect their valuable and sensitive data from theft, leakage, or corruption.
Data loss can have serious consequences, such as:

  • Financial losses: Data loss can result in lost revenue, fines, lawsuits, or compensation claims.
  • Operational disruptions: Data loss can affect productivity, efficiency, or quality of service.
  • Reputational damage: Data loss can erode customer trust, loyalty, or satisfaction.
  • Legal risks: Data loss can violate contractual obligations, industry standards, or regulatory compliance.

By implementing data loss prevention measures, organizations can reduce the likelihood and impact of data loss incidents while enhancing their security posture and resilience.

Common causes of data loss

While outsider threats are often cited as a leading cause of data loss, not all breaches are caused by external actors. Data leaks can occur due to various reasons, such as:

Human error

Employees may accidentally delete, overwrite, misplace, or send critical information to the wrong recipient.

Insider threats

Employees or contractors with malicious intent may intentionally steal, sabotage, or expose confidential data for personal gain or revenge.


Hackers may exploit vulnerabilities in your organization’s network, devices, or applications to access, encrypt, or erase data.

[Read also: Learn about the 3 biggest GenAI threats today—and how to fend them off]

Natural disasters

Fire, flood, earthquake, or power outage may damage your physical storage devices or servers.

What are the benefits of data loss prevention?

In addition to helping protect sensitive data by detecting and preventing unauthorized access, transfer, or deletion of confidential information, data loss prevention can help address other common pain points related to improper data usage, such as:

  • Reducing the risk of data breaches: DLP can help prevent data leakage, theft, or data exfiltration by protecting against misuse by your own employees and external threat actors.
  • Improving compliance: DLP can help you comply with data protection regulations, such as GDPR, HIPAA, or PCI DSS, which mandate safeguarding certain types of data to avoid penalties or sanctions.
  • Enhancing reputation: DLP can help you demonstrate your commitment to data security and privacy, and build your customer trust, loyalty, or satisfaction.
  • Increasing efficiency: DLP can help optimize your data management and governance, reducing your operational costs and risks.

Types of data loss prevention

There are three main types of data loss prevention solutions that can help you protect your sensitive data whether it’s in use, in motion, or at rest:

  1. Endpoint: This type of DLP controls data “in use,” including data stored or accessed on endpoint devices like laptops, desktops, smartphones, or tablets. Endpoint DLP can enforce encryption, deletion, or the quarantine of sensitive data and restrict the use of removable devices, such as USB drives or CDs, which can be used to introduce threats into or remove data from your environment. It can also prevent data loss via local storage, printing, copying, or offline transfer.
  2. Network: This type of DLP monitors network traffic and filters or blocks data “in motion,” such as identifying data transfers that violate predefined policies or rules. Network DLP can be deployed at the network’s perimeter, such as firewalls or proxies, or within the network, such as switches or routers. It can prevent data loss via email, web, cloud, or FTP applications.
  3. Cloud: This type of DLP secures data “at rest” or shared in the cloud, such as SaaS applications, cloud storage, or cloud collaboration platforms. Cloud DLP can scan and classify the data in the cloud, apply consistent policies across different cloud services, and integrate with other security tools, such as cloud access security broker (CASB) or identity and access management (IAM) solutions. Cloud DLP can prevent data loss via cloud-based email, file sharing, or social media.

Data loss prevention best practices

A lot of noise is made about data loss prevention as a primary bulwark against data risk. While it’s important, DLP is not a silver bullet.
Data loss prevention programs won’t work if you don’t know what data you hold that needs protecting and where it is. Lack of visibility into where data comes from, where it’s saved, and where it’s going is a common reason why many DLP projects are unsuccessful.
Fortunately, you can easily strengthen your data loss prevention strategies without reinventing the wheel, and it all starts with gaining visibility and control of your endpoints and the important data residing on them.
Here are five practical approaches organizations can start leveraging today to help improve data loss prevention efforts:

  1. Implement preventative policies
  2. Two important but often overlooked best practices to incorporate into your DLP strategy include enforcing preventative policies like hard-disk encryption and backups.

    Hard-disk encryption can help prevent data loss by protecting the data stored on your devices from unauthorized access, theft, or tampering. If someone tries to access your encrypted data without the correct password or key, they will not be able to read it or use it. Encryption can also deter hackers from targeting your devices or network, as they will have a harder time breaking into your system and stealing your sensitive information. Most operating systems have built-in hard-drive encryption functionality, so make sure to enable them.

    Performing regular backups can help you recover quickly from data loss incidents, such as accidental deletion, ransomware attacks, hardware failures, or natural disasters. Backups can also help you comply with regulatory requirements and industry standards that mandate data retention and availability. By having multiple copies of your data stored in different locations, you can also reduce the risk of losing critical information and ensure business continuity.

  3. Take a Zero-Trust approach
  4. Enterprise IT environments are increasingly characterized by their complexity, which extends to corporate network security. The traditional “castle and moat” model built around a secure perimeter is no longer appropriate in a dynamic, cloud-centric world of remote work, mobile devices, and the growing number of malicious actors.

    Organizations need instead to be able to assess the identity of each person logging in and the security posture of every endpoint device accessing data. Whether to grant full access or provide limited access in the form of VDI, for example, must be based on a comprehensive assessment of the endpoint.

    [Read also: What is security automation? Learn about the benefits, importance, and features]

    Key to this strategy is having insight into whether endpoints are up to date with patches, configured in accordance with policies, and set to block access to only certain types of data based on user access policies. This is the basis of Zero Trust, an increasingly popular, flexible approach built for the challenges of modern business interactions.

  5. Proactively searching endpoints and data
  6. Since sensitive intellectual property (IP), regulated data, proprietary data, confidential information, and classified financial data often end up where you least expect, there is an urgent need to be able to proactively search your endpoints for that data to ensure these locations adhere to data loss prevention policies.

    Tanium Reveal: Mitigate exposure by locating and managing sensitive data across endpoints at scale and in real time

    Once you know where sensitive data is, you can take action to transfer that data to a more secure environment or ensure its current location complies with policy. Anything less will fail to provide the visibility you need, given today’s complex IT environments.

  7. Dynamically assigning controls to streamline global compliance
  8. There are scores of different data protection laws around the world. The most efficient way to deal with these requirements is to adopt the most restrictive regulatory framework and apply those controls and standards across regions, such as setting a geographic ring-fence of controls based on a particularly demanding regulation.

    Without data loss prevention tools, you would have traditionally needed to manually identify and create lists of all applicable endpoints to apply and maintain related controls. Instead, try basing controls on key attributes like language and time zone settings, network segments, or Active Directory organizational units to dynamically manage compliance controls on endpoints in a more operationally efficient way.

  9. Baking privacy into new projects from the start
  10. Privacy-by-design is increasingly the mantra of regulators worldwide. So, whether you’re migrating to the cloud for the first time or designing a new system, service, or product, use the opportunity to think about data protection by asking these questions:

  • What data do you need to perform a given business function?
  • What are your data storage and retention requirements?
  • How are you searching for, identifying, and monitoring sensitive data to better understand potential data loss risks?

Incorporating privacy and DLP policies from the start is often cheaper and more effective than retrofitting preventative measures for data protection, especially since most organizations will eventually need to comply with specific data regulatory requirements anyway.

[Read also: Are cybersecurity analytics missing from your security strategy?]

How enhanced endpoint control unlocks stronger data loss prevention

Complexity is the enemy of data protection, and there’s plenty of it in the modern enterprise IT environment. It can create critical data visibility gaps that could leave an entire organization dangerously vulnerable and non-compliant.

The truth is that as long as humans are involved, things may not go as planned. Data may end up in places you don’t want, as users (often unintentionally) end up circumventing security controls.

What does this mean? Wherever data ends up, you must ensure it’s protected.

To improve data visibility and security, you need a set of tools that can not only monitor and protect your data but also swiftly and effectively take endpoint actions to mitigate any risks. You need a solution that can leverage the latest technologies to identify and respond to threats across your network. You need a solution that can integrate with your existing business processes and workflows to provide you with actionable insights and recommendations. You need Tanium.

Using our latest innovation around Autonomous Endpoint Management (AEM), you can harness the power of composite artificial intelligence (AI), which is designed to leverage machine learning and other AI techniques for better cybersecurity, to identify and prioritize anomalies and threats, streamline your data security and risk management processes, and more.

Tanium provides the leading Converged Endpoint Management (XEM) platform that empowers you to manage and secure your endpoints from a single console. With Tanium, you can gain real-time visibility into your data and devices, regardless of where they’re located or how they’re connected. You can also use Tanium to enforce granular policies and controls to prevent data loss, comply with regulations, and automate endpoint actions to remediate issues and incidents in minutes, not days.

Don’t let your data fall into the wrong hands—protect it with Tanium. Request a demo today and see for yourself how Tanium can transform your endpoint security and data protection.

Tanium Staff

Tanium’s village of experts co-writes as Tanium Staff, sharing their lens on security, IT operations, and other relevant topics across the business and cybersphere.

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