Data is becoming an increasingly important resource for businesses across all industries and sectors. Whether it is used to drive digital transformation, inform business decisions or increase operational efficiency, it is imperative for a modern organisation to maximise the potential uses of their data to remain agile and competitive in such uncertain times.

But if 2023 has proved anything, it’s that the cybersecurity landscape is evolving too quickly for most businesses to keep up and ensuring data security and compliance has become increasingly important for leaders across various industries. With 54% of European organisations having experienced an increase in the volume of cyberattacks in the last year, proper data protection that can keep up with increasing regulation is not only crucial, but highly complex.

An emerging trend in data security outlined in an IDC report is that many European organisations currently have a significant data security gap which is hindering their ability to make the most of their data. It is crucial for business leaders to not only understand what is causing this gap, but how to deal with it effectively.

Data silos and ensuring secure access to data

While it has understandably become the norm for businesses to use data to fuel insights and analytics-driven decision making, this comes with dangers around misusing the data or it being  inadequately protected. With this often increasing the chances of unauthorised access, breaches, or leaks, the use of data is intrinsically at odds with effective data security.

With 29% of European organisations unable to fully utilise data within their organisation due to challenges with data security, it’s not surprising that the security risks are so high. 

When you consider the complexities that come with modern IT systems and data infrastructure on top of the data security challenges businesses are facing, sensitive data often ends up in isolated pockets or ‘siloes’. This is one of the primary contributors to the data security gap, as siloes often mean businesses are operating with data spread across multiple platforms and locations, making granting access to secure data much more complicated than it needs to be.

If an organisation is looking to streamline access to their data and benefit more from its use, breaking down these siloes is absolutely necessary.

Constantly evolving data privacy regulation

Data siloes are not the only factor contributing towards the data security gap. Data security regulation is constantly changing and with so many new laws in play, tech leaders who are already pressed for time can find grappling with data management rules and priorities daunting.

Regardless, organisations need to enforce and uphold policies aligned with regulatory requirements. Business leaders can conduct regular audits of data usage to demonstrate the appropriateness and compliance of these actions. According to the IDC survey, respondents have identified data privacy and regulatory compliance as their top operational security priority for 2023, surpassing both cyber resilience and hybrid work security.

Changing cybersecurity threats

As the use of data proliferates, so does the threat of data breaches. The last 12 months have seen 58% UK organisations experience an increase in cyber attacks, often occurring as a result of a larger selection of targets, the growing frequency of insider threats, and exploitation of the supply chain as a new attack method.

With so many different contributors to the evolving threat landscape, the importance of protecting sensitive data has become so much more important but also much more complex.

Decentralised data footprints

In the process of an organisation moving more of their data to the cloud, data sets are stored, copied, utilised and accessed in different ways across the entire workforce involved in the process. With the resulting data footprint spread across various platforms, tools and applications, the data has become much harder to protect due to the blind spot that has been created.

Undiscovered ‘shadow data’ left unsecure across the IT infrastructure during the migration process is often poorly protected. The IDC research found that only 42% of European businesses were “confident” or “highly confident” in their ability to discover and classify sensitive data, both known and unknown, in the public cloud. And if the businesses are aware of this, then so too are the cybercriminals looking to exploit it.

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Investing in and understanding data security

With the aforementioned challenges to data security weighing heavily on most business leaders’ minds, CEO’s are now putting more emphasis on addressing data security properly, with  45% of organisations in Europe now prioritising investments in data security, risk, and compliance this year. 

The majority of business leaders surveyed are looking to optimise security operations and tool setups, as 49% of security professionals have intentions to enhance or upgrade the implementation of data access controls in the coming 12 months. Moreover, 32% of European organisations plan to augment their investment in data discovery and classification, acknowledging the significance of addressing challenges associated with complexity.

Maximising the potential of data

There are undoubtedly significant challenges facing modern businesses looking to unlock the value of their data, but while the security and regulatory landscape may seem impossible, there is a path forwards.

The way to effective and secured data usage involves moving towards a unified data security platform that bolsters the protection of sensitive data across hybrid multi-cloud environments, allowing authorised users to efficiently leverage the data for business purposes. Through careful preparation and strategic investments in the right data stack, organisations can overcome the data security gap and embark on a secure and innovative journey driven by data.

Marketers, remember: your audience are humans, not targets