A Comprehensive Guide to Best Practices in Data Security

Discover essential best practices in data security to fortify your organization against cyber threats, safeguard sensitive information, and navigate digital security.


The average organization sees 1,258 cyber attacks per week. If just one of these attacks is successful, the consequences could be severe – from financial damages and losing customer trust to legal issues with regulators. By following best practices in data security, your organization will be better prepared to fend off attackers, even as threats continue to evolve.

Understanding data security

Data security refers to the digital and physical protection of data assets from being stolen, accessed without permission, or compromised in any way. It protects data from external and internal threats, as well as human error.

Threat actors gain unauthorized access to data systems by exploiting different security vulnerabilities. They include unpatched software, relaxed access controls, stolen credentials, and missing data encryption.

Data security best practices

Effective data security starts with a multi-pronged approach that handles any potential vulnerabilities criminals could find and exploit. It addresses data access, user authentication, and other ways threat actors could get into your system and steal your data.


Encryption encodes data in a ciphertext format. The encrypted data is unreadable without an encryption key, increasing privacy and security. Guessing the correct key is impossible because it could be hundreds of characters long.

To prevent hackers from stealing decryption keys, encrypt and store them in a secure place, such as a hardware security module.

When encrypting data, it’s important to apply it to data at rest and in transit. The former refers to encrypting data while it’s stored in a database, while the latter protects data while it transits through the network.

Access control measures

Access controls using the principle of least privilege restrict data access to everyone except the team members who need it to do their jobs. For example, you could grant access to personally identifiable information (PII) only to specific people in the organization while everyone else is locked out by default.

Most people automatically link data breaches to external threat actors who gain unauthorized access to your system. However, 19% of data breaches are caused by internal actors, such as full-time employees, contractors, and even interns.

Rigid access controls lower the risk of someone on the inside stealing sensitive information. And even if an external actor gains access to an employee’s account, they might not be able to view all of the company data because of limited access.

Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

MFA has become integral to consumer and business-facing applications. It prevents threat actors from using stolen user credentials, which are the cause of 15% of data breaches

MFA involves the use of multiple pieces of evidence to grant access to an account. For example, an app might require your password and a temporary code from an authentication app when you log in.

If you don’t implement MFA, you risk not only data breaches but also legal consequences. Online liquor marketplace Drizly was ordered by the Federal Trade Commission to implement MFA in its databases and any other platforms that store consumer data after the PII of over two million customers was exposed in a breach.

These types of highly publicized incidents bring lasting reputational damage, which is all the more reason to incorporate MFA throughout your data system.

Data retention policy

data retention policy determines how long you’ll store data and what will happen to it once that period ends. It includes information on the types of data gathered and where you’ll store it, like a data warehouse or a backup server. 

Your policy should also address why you collect the data. Note that you should only collect data that you have a legitimate need for, not because you suppose it could be useful at some point.

Retaining more data than you need creates a greater security risk in the event of a breach. Plus, it inflates storage costs.

Remember to include a section in your policy on what you’ll do in case of violations, including contact information for customers who want to get in touch with you regarding data retention.

Incident response plan

By following best practices in data security, you’ll minimize the risk of security incidents. But this doesn’t mean you’ll be immune to them. If an incident occurs, you need a formal Incident Response Plan to guide your actions throughout the process.

This process addresses your preparation for potential incidents, your actions during an incident, and the analysis after the threat has been contained.

Without a plan, an organization risks taking too long to respond to a security incident, creating confusion around responsibilities and making the incident worse. There’s also the risk of damaging customer relationships.

Compliance and regulations

Without robust security measures, organizations are unable to maintain user privacy or comply with regulations such as the GDPR or CCPA. 

The GDPR, for example, requires organizations to process data in a way that “ensures appropriate security of the personal data, including protection against unauthorized or unlawful processing and against accidental loss, destruction or damage, using appropriate technical or organizational measures.”

In addition to securing customer data, you need an easy way to delete or suppress it upon request. This is difficult to achieve in a big data system that stores an abundance of data from numerous sources.

With Twilio Segment’s privacy tools, you can streamline compliance by automatically deleting user data from Segment archives, data warehouses or lakes, and other destinations when requested. 

Segment Trust Center

To safeguard your data, Twilio Segment’s customer data platform (CDP) follows data security best practices, such as MFA and encryption. Additionally, we implement regular penetration testing to discover potential vulnerabilities before they turn into security risks. In case any critical vulnerabilities arise, we handle them in one business day.

Multiple user access levels allow you to limit access to specific customer data to specific people, which further lowers the risk of security incidents. With Segment’s data masking capabilities, you get an extra layer of protection for PII like social security numbers, emails, and names.

Learn more in Segment’s Trust Center.

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Frequently asked questions

The most common cybersecurity threats that organizations should be aware of include:

  • Phishing: Phishing attacks try to steal important information such as passwords or bank account data by impersonating someone the victim knows, like a manager or coworker. Often, the attacker will send the victim to a fraudulent website where they’ll input the data without realizing someone will steal it.

  • Ransomware: Ransomware is a type of malware that prevents an organization from accessing their data or system until they pay a ransom. Some attackers also threaten to publish the data online or even target the organization’s customers.

  • Weak passwords: Weak passwords are vulnerable to brute force attacks, where criminals attempt to guess a password by trying numerous combinations.

  • Vulnerable third-party vendors: Cloud storage providers, data analytics platforms, and any other third-party software are potential entryways for cybersecurity incidents.

Proactive defense measures must address the human element, such as training employees to recognize phishing elements and the importance of using complex passwords. MFA is also a necessary layer of protection in case passwords get compromised.

Vet all third-party vendors, from how they encrypt data to their security certificates, which will decrease the risk of security incidents.

Organizations can use solutions like single sign-on (SSO) to simplify access to sensitive company data. With SSO, users sign in once to access multiple company platforms and apps. A company might introduce role-based access control, which grants select employees access to certain systems while others are locked out.

Regardless of industry, data security allows businesses to:

  • Maintain their reputation by demonstrating their commitment to security

  • Remain compliant with data protection regulations

  • Prevent security incidents and the costs of investigating data breaches

  • Stop threat actors from tampering with their data