IT teams today need to strike a delicate balance between robust, proactive cybersecurity and productive workflow. Employees need to get their work done without oppressive security protocols, but they need to do so safely. If the team erects too many barriers, employees will find workarounds that jeopardize security. One option focuses on providing data protection while including employees in the process: data classification.

Multiple factors are involved in implementing security solutions, including secure network gateways, data loss prevention systems and encryption. But with the rapid explosion of mobile devices that can store gigabytes of data and the easy access to cloud sync-and-share services, it is difficult for technology and IT teams to keep up and ensure that users are not accidentally leaking sensitive information. It is essential, therefore, that your users understand digital security risks and proper policies for sharing information.

To create a security-focused work culture, organizations need a solution that will do three things:

  1. Enforce security policies to protect users from their own mistakes.
  2. Educate and remind users about data security.
  3. Empower users to take responsibility for data security.

Fortunately, data classification is one category of solutions that can address all three needs. Classification applies the email or document classifications as visual markings that clearly identify to the user the sensitivity of the information. Classification headers and footers in emails, documents, presentations and spreadsheets ensure that users are always aware of the value of the information they are handling. There can be no “I didn’t know this was sensitive information” excuses, as the classification is clearly visible on screen or when printed.

Classification can be applied automatically based on a number of content, environment and contextual variables, but many organizations want their users to be actively engaged in cybersecurity. They want their users to stop, think and consider the value of the information they are creating and sharing. This modification to the users’ workflow is negligible from an efficiency perspective but hugely influential from a security culture perspective.

It can take as little as one click for employees to become more focused on and accountable for the classification of the information being shared. The act of applying classification and seeing it applied by others heightens users’ awareness of data security.

Human error must be taken into account, no matter how well thought-out the policy is or how cooperative employees are. For this reason, some solutions provide a classification policy engine so that users are given the chance to correct mistakes before they happen. Policy alerts appear before the internal email is sent to unauthorized recipients, before the file is printed to an unsecured location, or before a highly sensitive file is uploaded to an unauthorized cloud storage service. Policy alerts are sometimes completely customizable to suit the education and workflow requirements of customers. These alerts can provide details to the user about why the action is a threat, provide automatic remediation or even empower the user to continue with the risky action once the user provides justification.

Organizations have more data than ever before to keep track of and keep safe, and the stakes have never been higher. Employees’ personal data, financial records, intellectual property and more absolutely must be protected. Yes, sometimes malicious insiders are to blame for security breaches, but the much more typical scenario is that an employee inadvertently sends sensitive information to the wrong recipient or otherwise makes private data public. Data classification can help everyone in an organization, not just the IT team, take part in the security of their data and of their reputation.