The process of data obfuscation in general

Juliet D'cruz

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Data privacy has never been a common point of concern as it is today. The world not only runs on data but data breaches and mishaps keep on growing in intensity and scale. As per figures in the last year or so there are about 10 billion data breaches. The use of data obfuscation may prevent a lot of them, even if the breaches would have gone on to become successful.

It is a process where you obscure the meaning of data by incorporating an additional layer of data protection. Suppose if a data breach occurs, to the attackers the sensitive data will be useless. The organization and the people who are handling the data would be uncompromised. It is necessary for an organization to prioritize. Sensitive information as part of the  data handling process.

The top methods of data obfuscation

Asking a few people about the definition of data obfuscation and different answers will emerge. The reason being there are different methods that suit different purposes. Below are mentioned three main methods of data obfuscation

  • Tokenization- the method would substitute the sensitive data with a value making it meaningless. The process is not to be reversed. But still you can map the token back to the original data. It supports operations like operating a credit card payment where you do not reveal the credit card number. The real data is never going to leave the organization, that cannot be decrypted or seen by a third party provider
  • Data masking- the method would substitute the real data, where the real data is not put at risk. It goes by various names and you may have heard the name data shuffling. Whatever you may call it the fake data would replace the real data. In addition there is no algorithm in place to recover the masked data and its values.
  • Encryption- a secure method, but when data is encrypted you lose out on the ability to work with data. More the complexity of encryption algorithm, the safe data is going to be from unauthorized access. This works out to be a good obfuscation method, if you are looking to store or deal with sensitive data.

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A comparison of data masking and data obfuscation

A common method of obfuscation is data masking. The mere fact that masking is not reversible makes this method secure and less expensive than encryption. It is one of the benefits of data integrity. For example application developers  and testers, developers would be using data sets that is popular with realistic data.

The question is how fake data would be data integrity? When it is case of obfuscated data, integrity does not mean accurate data. An example is a credit card number may be replaced would be replaced by a 16 digit number. If you fail to check the lump sum it does not have data integrity.

Data obfuscation and their benefits

One of the obvious benefits of data obfuscation is to handle sensitive data, from people who do not have an authorization to witness it. There is bound to be benefits beyond data protection.

  • Regulatory and risk compliance- coming to privacy regulations like GDPR, it would mean minimizing of personal data. With this form of obfuscation you may store or disclose personal information. it is going to reduce possibility of fines, and even if data is breached protection is provided.
  • Data governance-  to control data access data obfuscation is a vital process. If you carefully think a lot of business do not require unrestricted access to real data. The non- production methods will not require personal data, there is no point to expose sensitive information. This would only open an organization to risk and as part of your data governance framework data obfuscation is important. The concept of static masking of data would mask a subset, granular controls is provided by dynamic masking. If data masking is dynamic permissions are denied or granted at multiple levels. A business owner needs to access real data, whereas others are only going to witness what is important to them.
  • Data sharing- Data sharing has emerged in importance, so data masking is the way forward. Data sets can be made public or it can be shared with third parties where it is possible to mask sensitive information.
  • Flexibility- the features of data extends to being customizable. It is possible to choose the data fields that needs to be masked and the manner on how to format every value. Any form of substitution is possible as it depends upon the user case.

Each and every data obfuscation method yields different results. The best method of use would be dependent upon the user case and the data sources.

How data obfuscation can do wonders for your organization?

Numerous types of data obfuscation are there. The right choice of method would be dependent upon the job at hand. Some of the common cases are application, testing, support and development. It requires a need for data masking as you replace sensitive data with fake real data. A masked data is able to maintain the integrity of the original data as it cannot be decrypted. For your specific needs you will be able to customize it.

There are various benefits of data obfuscation for data risk, governance and compliance. For obtaining more information about the same platforms like Appsealing can guide you further. There is a saying that if you are doing the job in the right manner it may consume time along with resources. By resorting to the best practices the process will become efficient. The best way to trim down the costs is to begin with a solid plan and when possible automate data masking procedures.

Pretty much like data obfuscation has its benefits, there are some challenges. One of the major task is planning that will consume a lot of time and resources. Data management would be an enterprise driven effort. If the organization would be struggling with health data, there is a need to figure out where the sensitive data is stored.

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