What is data security posture management (DSPM)?

Learn why data security posture management (DSPM) is the solution to understanding and protecting your business' sensitive data. Learn the benefits, the challenges, and what you should look for in a provider.

Belinda Walsh

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Belinda Walsh

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May 26, 2024
What is data security posture management (DSPM)?

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With the rapid growth of corporate data, over 90% of businesses now use a hybrid cloud or multi-cloud environment to capture, classify, and store their data. But this brings its own unique set of security challenges. Suppose an organization manages data that’s siloed across dozens of cloud-native platforms, databases, and SaaS solutions, like CRMs, chat applications, and productivity suites like Microsoft 365. How can they be sure their assets are secure?

In 2023, 82% of data breaches involved data exposure in cloud infrastructures. With corporate data spread far and wide across dozens of disparate stores, it’s more challenging than ever for businesses to manage, monitor, and safeguard their data assets. This disorganization opens the door for cybercriminals to compromise sensitive information.  

Data security posture management (DSPM) is the solution to this problem. It tells you exactly where your sensitive data is, who can access it, and whether it’s secure, so you can take the necessary steps to safeguard it and stay compliant with regulations.  

DSPM expands on many of the other standard security approaches available, such as data loss prevention (DLP), cloud infrastructure entitlement management (CIEM), and cloud security posture management (CSPM).  

What is DSPM?

Data security posture management (DSPM) is a technology that protects sensitive cloud data from unauthorized access, alteration, or destruction.  

To achieve this, DSPM relies heavily on data lineage, which is the ability to track the origin, movement, and transformation of data over time.

Unlike traditional security postures that typically focus on protecting networks, applications, and devices, DSPM security focuses on the data layer. This helps organizations discover where all of their data lies, who has access to it, and how it’s being used. In short, it puts data protection at the forefront.  

At its core, the goal of DSPM is to automatically keep cloud data secure by safeguarding against data leaks, unauthorized access, and compliance violations.  

We’ll dive into the features and benefits of DSPM later, but first, let’s take a look at where conventional security technologies are missing the mark.  

Where do conventional data security systems fall short?

Conventional security solutions prevent unauthorized access to networks, devices, and applications. They focus on securing the perimeter to protect the data assets within.  

Think of it like a secure bank vault. The doors to the vault are locked tight and safeguarded by data access controls and surveillance systems. The data inside is unprotected, but the information is safe—as long as the vault stays secure.  

So, where do the problems start? In short, businesses now handle more data than ever. This information is often siloed across hundreds of different data stores in multi-cloud and on-premises environments, including SaaS applications like CRMs, chat tools, and productivity platforms. This leads to a multitude of issues concerning efficiency and data discovery, but it also has profound security implications.

With all this siloed information, it’s difficult for businesses to be sure that every bit of data they have is secure. The number of watertight ‘bank vaults’ needed to store data is increasing, and the possibility of lapses in a business’s line of defense is growing.  

Central to this issue is the vast number of individuals handling and processing data within an organization. The more people work with data, the greater the risk of shadow data as assets are copied, transferred, or backed up between stores. It can also lead to issues with tracking data and data flow analysis.

Consider a DevOps team that regularly backs up data to help with iterative testing or an AI engineer who uses enormous amounts of structured and unstructured data to train ML models. If the data they’re using is inadvertently duplicated to an unencrypted store or public Amazon S3 bucket, the data becomes vulnerable to unauthorized access.  

Situations like these are all too common, with 47% of companies having at least one exposed cloud-hosted database or storage bucket.

Related: Craft the right security strategy for you with RecordPoint

5 key capabilities of DSPM

The biggest problem companies face when trying to keep all their assets secure is a lack of knowledge about where their data lives, who can access it, and how it’s being used.  

DSPM fits the bill for these problems to ensure businesses can safeguard every single asset they possess, even in complex multi-cloud environments.  

It begins by helping businesses achieve holistic visibility of their data. Then, it identifies and classifies the data based on its value to the organization. In the process, it offers information about who has data access, where it came from, and most importantly, whether it’s at risk.  

If DSPM detects a high-risk asset, it will alert a company’s security team and provide steps to remediate the issue. In many cases, a great DSPM platform can even carry out these processes automatically.  

To explain how this works, let’s look at the five critical DSPM capabilities in more detail.  

1. Data discovery and identification

Before you can safeguard your data, you need to know exactly where it lives. The DSPM process starts by mapping out your data landscape to identify unstructured and structured data stores across both cloud and on-premises environments.

This could include cloud warehouses like Snowflake, Google BigQuery, or Amazon Redshift; object storage like Google Cloud Storage or Amazon S3; databases hosted on virtual machines; and data within various SaaS tools such as CRMs, chat applications, and productivity suites like Microsoft 365. It will even discover dark data, unknown datasets, and shadowed data stores that could present an immediate data risk.

The goal is to provide you with a holistic view of sensitive data. No matter where it lives, giving you the tools you need to secure information, enforce data security policies, and stay on the right side of compliance.  

2. Data classification and categorization

Once you know where your data sits, a DSPM solution will tag and classify sensitive data automatically, whether it be personally identifiable information (PII), confidential company information, or any other type of sensitive information.  

During this process, a DSPM tool will also determine who has access to data, how the data is being used, and if your data governance policies are enforced by any regulatory frameworks, such as the General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR) or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

3. Risk assessment and vulnerability detection

A thorough risk assessment is the cornerstone of effective security posturing. It enables detection and response tools like DSPM to automatically identify vulnerabilities and potential attack paths that could lead to a breach.

Risk factors that a DSPM tool will detect include:  

  • Problems with data flow: DSPM tracks all the various places a data asset has been and who accessed it in each location. In short, it maps the journey of every piece of sensitive data to check whether there are any potential attack paths due to mishandling.  
  • Misconfigurations: One of the most prevalent causes of data breaches is simple security setting misconfiguration. This could be due to outdated software, insecure API configurations, or a lack of data encryption. DSPM will discover any flaws in the settings of a data asset, providing a roadmap to make your data more resilient to attacks and improving overall threat intelligence.
  • Access control monitoring: DSPM will evaluate data to determine any issues with over-entitlement (more people having access to sensitive data than is necessary). This typically occurs due to misconfiguration of a security system or carelessness when adding and removing permissions from users.  
  • Risk of compliance: DSPM will evaluate your data in the context of your organizational policies and against the standards set by legislation such as the GDPR and ISO 27000. The result is ensuring all your data is adequately stored and secure, to help you maintain regulatory compliance.  

Identifying these issues is a necessary step toward maintaining a robust data security posture.

4. Reporting and alerting

DSPM is great for threat detection and security control. When a vulnerability is discovered, DSPM tools will report the findings to you in real-time via an easily understandable dashboard. It will also prioritize these vulnerabilities based on risk factors, allowing your security team to address the most critical flaws first.  

5. Remediation and incident response

DSPM is designed to make it more straightforward for businesses to address their vulnerabilities. As such, most solutions will offer step-by-step advice on remedying problems. This also includes incident response playbooks to resolve immediate risks or breaches in progress.

Some DSPM solutions will also automate remediation by altering access controls and settings to make data assets watertight.  

The benefits of DSPM for businesses

Now that we understand how DSPM works, let’s dive into how it benefits your organization.  

Improves your security posture

DSPM solutions provide visibility of an organization's data, no matter where it lives. And, of course, when you know where your data lives, you can work to safeguard it effectively.  

The automated identification and classification features of DSPM also help to discover unknown data and shadowed stores that could be an immediate security threat.  

Reduces the risk of a data breach

Company data is an essential asset. And unfortunately, that means bad actors will do anything in their power to get it.

DSPM protects data at the source, reducing your attack surface while giving you a bird's eye view of your data and the security tools you need to protect it. And, as DSPM tightens access governance across multi-cloud environments, it also protects your company against insider threats.  

Finally, suppose the worst-case scenario does occur. In that case, DSPM provides the right information at the right time, allowing your cybersecurity team to respond quickly and confidently. This is a notable difference from having no overview of your multi-cloud data spread across various platforms like Salesforce (CRM), Slack (chat app), Microsoft 365 (productivity suite), Google Workspace (productivity suite), and Zendesk (customer support), and no idea that a breach is in progress.

Helps you adhere to compliance legislation

Between GDPR, HIPAA, GLBA, NIST 800-53, and ISO 27000 family, the modern data security team must contend with a lot of regulations at once.

But, if you break it down, almost all these regulations share common ground. They require you to know where your data lives and have the protocols in place to protect it.  

DSPM tools will evaluate your data against these compliance standards. If it discovers that a data asset is non-compliant, it will alert security teams as to why, alert them about the potential risks involved, and provide the necessary steps to fix the issue.  

Plus, as DSPM facilitates data inventory and classification, it also makes proving compliance during an audit easier.  

Read more: How can RecordPoint help with regulatory compliance?

Saves your business money

DSPM will automatically identify all unused, shadowed, duplicated, and misplaced data stores your business has. Then, it’ll guide teams to dispose of and destroy this information securely.  

This allows organizations to hold the minimum amount of data they need, helping to cut cloud storage costs. And, of course, with the average data breach worldwide costing $4.45 million USD, the protection and peace of mind a DSPM offers is worth its weight in gold.  

DSPM vs CSPM: What’s the difference?  

It’s easy to get DSPM and CSPM mixed up, especially as they both operate within the cloud environment. However, they each address different aspects of data security.  

Cloud security posture management (CSPM) focuses on bolstering an organization’s security posture within a cloud computing infrastructure, such as in a SaaS, PaaS, or IaaS platform. In contrast, DSPM focuses on protecting the data within a cloud platform.  

In simpler terms, CSPM secures the vault surrounding the cloud data, while DSPM secures the valuable data itself. Both technologies are essential for ensuring the security, accessibility, and integrity of data. And because of this, many businesses opt to use both security tools for enhanced protection through additional layers of security.

What should I look for in a DSPM provider?

Getting started with DSPM is surprisingly straightforward. The key is to know what to look for in a great provider.

1. Smart data discovery and classification

Your DSPM solution should be able to discover all types of data across all your clouds without configuring anything manually or moving anything to a central data catalog.  

Look for a solution that can automatically classify sensitive information, and apply rules at scale to ensure you know where your most valuable data lies, who has access to it, and how it’s protected.  

2. Security

Choose a DSPM solution that puts data security at the forefront. Your platform should be able to flag high-risk data automatically and provide comprehensive support to remediate any identified flaws, such as:

  • Automated remediation
  • Guidance and recommendations
  • User training and documentation
  • Customer support
  • Integrate with existing tools
  • Monitor vulnerabilities with timely alerts

3. Connections

It doesn’t matter whether you’re using Microsoft 365, Google Workspace, Azure, Snowflake, or Zendesk. A great DSPM should connect with all cloud storage services, databases, and SaaS apps, to provide a holistic view of your data regardless of organizational boundaries.  

4. Customization

Opt for a platform that lets you customize your DSPM solution to meet the unique requirements of your business, such as setting custom schedules for data disposal and retention. The more customization offered, the better it can align with your security strategy.

5. Lifecycle management

Choose a solution that will help you handle every data lifecycle stage, from creation to archiving and disposal.  

6. Ongoing monitoring

Pick a solution with continuous monitoring so any newly-created data can be discovered and classified in real-time.  

RecordPoint: Powering the future of data security

Looking to get started with DSPM? RecordPoint can help.  

We’re pioneering the next generation of data lifecycle management. Our platform will help you discover, understand, and act on your data, no matter where it is located.

Here’s how we can help.  

  • Data discovery: Our scalable discovery tools connect to hundreds of essential systems to help you discover and inventory your data, no matter where it sits. You can view every data asset you possess in one central place, including dark data, without having to move a thing.
  • Data classification: Our ML and security models identify critical data across every data store you possess. If misplaced or duplicate data is discovered, our platform can defensibly dispose of this information based on predefined criteria, helping you stay on the right side of compliance.
    • The platform’s Intelligence Signaling feature scans all incoming data and records for Personally Identifiable Information (PII)—sensitive critical PII like social security numbers, tax file numbers, driver’s license numbers, and passport details, as well as less sensitive PII like name, email, phone—as well as Payment Card Industry (PCI) data.  
    • RecordPoint’s Classification Intelligence allows you to train a machine learning model to auto-categorize based on content and context. The machine learning models themselves are straightforward to build through a simple interface, with key features like prediction probability scores.
  • Compliance: Our solution gives you a unified view of the entire data lifecycle. From ingestion to disposal and minimization, ensuring you stay in line with compliance standards like the GDPR and ISO 27000.
  • Remediation: If a breach does occur, our platform will help you understand what data—and therefore which customers—were affected.

RecordPoint is going above and beyond to provide organizations with the tools they need to thrive in an increasingly data-driven business landscape. If you’re looking to discover, control, and protect your information at scale, we can help. Reach out and schedule a demo today to find out more.

Frequently asked questions

1. What is the difference between DSPM and CSPM?

DSPM focuses on securing sensitive data, while CSPM secures the overall cloud infrastructure. DSPM ensures data protection by identifying, classifying, and securing data across platforms, while CSPM focuses on securing networks, applications, and workloads.

2. How does DSPM automate data discovery and classification?

DSPM automates data discovery by scanning cloud and on-premises environments to identify data locations. Then it automatically classifies data based on sensitivity and compliance, such as PCI DSS, to further reduce security risks.

3. What are the benefits of integrating DSPM with other security platforms?

Integrating DSPM with other security platforms provides comprehensive visibility, enhances detection and response capabilities, automates compliance management, and strengthens zero-trust implementation.

4. How does DSPM support organizations in managing security risks and protecting sensitive data?

DSPM supports organizations by continuously monitoring data, conducting risk assessments, enforcing data control and compliance, and implementing targeted security measures to protect sensitive data.

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