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What is Sensitive Data? Examples, and Types

Natasha Murphy | 6 min read| Published On - December 18, 2023

Sensitive Data

Data has become one of the most valuable assets for organizations, hence why it is often referred to as the “new gold”. Companies collect large amounts of data to help them make informed business decisions, manage security risks, improved overall efficiency and productivity. Of course, if data is valuable to a company, it will also be valuable to hackers, as they can steal it and use it for identity theft, or sell it on the dark web. So, what exactly is sensitive data?

What is Sensitive Data?

Sensitive data refers to any information that, if disclosed or accessed by unauthorized individuals or entities, could potentially cause harm to an individual, organization, or even a nation. This data is often subject to privacy and protection regulations and requires additional measures to ensure its confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

Sensitive Data Examples

Sensitive data can take various forms depending on the context and the entity it pertains to. Here are some common examples of sensitive data:

Personally Identifiable Information (PII)

This includes data that can directly identify an individual. However, it’s important to note that not all PII is considered sensitive. Sensitive PII refers to data such as an individual’s full name, Social Security Number, driver’s license, mailing address, credit card information, passport information, financial information, and medical records. Non-sensitive PII, on the other hand, is easily accessible from public sources like phonebooks, the Internet, and corporate directories. Examples of non-sensitive PII include zip code, race, gender, date of birth, place of birth, and religion. While this information alone may not be enough to identify an individual, when combined with other linkable personal information, it can potentially reveal someone’s identity.

Protected health information (PHI)

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) defines protected health information (PHI) as any health information that can identify an individual, and includes names, phone numbers, emails, and biometric information like fingerprints and facial images. PHI can be transmitted electronically or on paper. Covered entities, such as healthcare providers, insurance companies, and hospitals, are responsible for safeguarding PHI. Unfortunately, the healthcare industry recorded the highest average cost of a data breach, reaching nearly 11 million U.S. dollars, during the period between March 2022 and March 2023, according to Statista.

Financial Information

This includes credit card numbers, bank account details, and financial transaction records. Any unauthorized access or disclosure can lead to financial fraud and identity theft. According to recent research from IBM X-Force, the financial sector, known for storing large amounts of valuable information, has actually experienced a decline in the number breaches it has been subjected to. That said, it is still one of the most targeted sectors.

Intellectual Property (IP)

Trade secrets, patents, copyrights, and proprietary research are considered Intellectual Property. The increased use of electronic storage has made intellectual property a highly valuable asset for organizations. However, it has also exposed it to potential breaches. Intellectual property comes in various forms, ranging from operational know-how to original creations. Organizations prioritize safeguarding intellectual property as a breach could result in competitors stealing their secrets and thus gaining a competitive advantage.

Government Secrets

This includes classified information, military strategies, and other sensitive government documents. Leakage of such data can have severe national security implications. The UK Government classifies sensitive information according to whether it is Official-Sensitive, Secret, and Top Secret. Official-Sensitive applies to the majority of government information and requires reasonable measures to protect it and comply with relevant legislation. Secret is used for very sensitive information that could have severe consequences if compromised. Top Secret is the highest level, reserved for information that, if compromised, could result in widespread loss of life or threaten national security or economic wellbeing. Controls for each level are determined based on the level of sensitivity and the potential threats.

Sensitive Data Types

Sensitive data can be broadly categorized into two types:

Structured Data

Structured data is typically stored in relational databases and presented in a structured format. Structured data finds applications in various areas like airline reservations, inventory management, sales analysis, ATM activity, and customer relationship management. In the past, businesses heavily relied on structured data for decision-making, and there are numerous tools available to collect and analyze structured data to assist in making informed business decisions.

Unstructured Data

Unstructured data refers to information that is not organized but can be easily accessed and shared. It includes various formats such as email, word processing documents, PDF files, audio and video files, social media posts, spreadsheets, and mobile text messages. While the accessibility of unstructured data facilitates communication, it also opens up the threat of unauthorized access.

Personal Data vs Sensitive Data

While personal data is a subset of sensitive data, there are some distinctions between the two. Personal data refers to any information related to a specific individual, such as a name, address, phone number, and more. Sensitive data, on the other hand, is highly confidential information that can cause significant harm if exposed, such as financial or medical records. While personal data may not always be considered sensitive, it should still be protected. It is important for organizations to differentiate between public knowledge and confidential data, and to understand what types of data are being accessed and shared in order to comply with regulations and protect customer and business information.

How Lepide Helps Secure Sensitive Data

The Lepide Data Security Platform is designed to help organizations monitor and protect their sensitive data effectively. With Lepide’s platform, businesses can:

Discover and classify sensitive data: Lepide allows organizations to scan their network and endpoints to identify and classify sensitive data automatically. This helps in assessing the data at risk and implementing appropriate security controls.

Monitor data access and usage: With robust real-time monitoring capabilities, Lepide tracks user activities and generates alerts whenever suspicious or unauthorized access attempts occur. This helps organizations promptly respond to potential data breaches.

Control access to sensitive data: With the help of Lepide’s intuitive dashboard, organizations can see who has access to sensitive data, and implement granular access controls and policies, ensuring that only authorized individuals can access and modify sensitive data.

Meet compliance requirements: Lepide helps organizations comply with various data protection regulations, such as GDPR, HIPAA, and PCI DSS. It offers comprehensive auditing and reporting capabilities, simplifying the process of demonstrating compliance to auditors and regulatory bodies.

If you’d like to see how the Lepide Data Security Platform can help to protect your sensitive data, schedule a demo with one of our engineers or start your free trial today.

Natasha Murphy
Natasha Murphy

Natasha is a dedicated customer success advocate, helping Lepide customers to get the most out of their solutions.

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