What is a sensitive data exposure?

Sensitive data exposure is when important data like personally identifiable information (PII), payment card information (PCI), electronic protected health information (ePHI), and intellectual property (IP) gets leaked, either by accident or on purpose.

The likelihood of this kind of exposure is directly related to how well teams implement security controls for particular data types. Hackers can obtain sensitive data through system security weaknesses. This includes SQL injection, phishing, and malware.

 Vulnerabilities arise from insufficient data protection measures implemented by organizations, which allow sensitive data to become public. 

Cybercriminals frequently use this flaw to gain unauthorized access to passwords, cryptographic keys, tokens, and other important data, which may lead to system integrity breaches.

Businesses considering the possibility of data exposure must conduct thorough risk assessments, implement efficient mitigation techniques, and deploy automated and risk-aware SaaS Security solutions such as DoControl to reduce the risk and protect your applications and data.

Types of Sensitive Data

Strong data protection requires the ability to recognize and accurately classify critical information.
Different levels of protection are needed for categories like personal, private, health, regulated, business, and confidential data.
Even though personal information is the most vulnerable, high-risk data, which includes trade secrets, intellectual property, and details of an organization's digital infrastructure, seriously jeopardizes its reputation, trust, and legal compliance.
Proactive categorization is essential to implementing targeted security measures and mitigating potential risks.
Complete names, birth dates, social security numbers, and contact details are examples of Personally Identifiable Information (PII), which calls for strict security measures to protect personal privacy.
Financial data must be rigorously protected against unauthorized access since it includes sensitive information about bank accounts, credit cards, investments, and income.
Medical information, including diagnosis and treatment records, must be handled securely to protect the privacy of an individual's health information.
Based on distinct physical characteristics for identification, biometric information must be protected with cutting-edge technology to avoid abuse.

Pain Points in Sensitive Data Exposure

Data Encryption and Secure Storage

  • Encryption can be difficult and time-consuming to implement and manage across various platforms and applications.
  • Securing and managing encryption keys is essential because neglecting to do so could result in data exposure and decryption.

Access Control and User Authentication

  • Unauthorized access can become more likely due to a lack of multi-factor authentication, insufficient password length, and complexity requirements.
  • Access controls must be implemented more complexly to ensure productivity and make user access easier.

Employee Training and Awareness

  • Many staff members may need more knowledge about data security threats or how to handle sensitive data.
  • Workers may fall victim to social engineering schemes and phishing emails that steal confidential information.

Regular audits and Incident Response

  • The impact and harm caused by data breaches that leads to sensitive data exposure can increase with delayed detection and response.
  • Complying with multiple data protection regulations necessitates frequent audits and comprehensive incident response plans for organizations.

Vendor Security and Compliance Measures

  • Risk can be increased by neglecting to carefully evaluate a vendor's security procedures and adherence to data protection laws.
  • Organizations must know data residency and sovereignty regulations when choosing vendors, especially for sensitive data.

Sensitive Data Storage

Maintaining safe storage of sensitive data is an important part of managing and protecting data, especially for businesses that deal with huge amounts of private, financial, or proprietary data stored in SaaS apps.

Cloud Storage: Many SaaS apps store data on AWS S3, Azure Blob Storage, or Google Cloud Storage and highly risky for sensitive data exposure.. These services scale, are reliable, and have superior security. Cloud service provider data centers hold cloud data.

Databases: Data in SaaS databases is typically sensitive. SQL (Mysql, PostgreSQL) or NoSQL (MongoDB, Cassandra). These databases might be cloud- or on-premises.

File Servers: SaaS applications may employ on-premises or cloud-based file servers to store files and documents.

Data Caches: Redis and Memcached can boost application speed. Temporary caches might include critical data.

Application servers: The essential logic of SaaS applications may temporarily keep sensitive data in memory.

Third-Party Integrations: CRM, ERP, and payment gateways typically interface with SaaS programs, which may store or process sensitive data.

Backup Storage: SaaS providers often backup data. These sensitive backups might be stored in separate physical or cloud storage to ensure data recovery after data loss

To avoid data loss, leakage, and abuse, It is recommended to deploy SaaS security solutions such as DoControl, which scans and monitors all sensitive SaaS application data activity, performs end-user behavioral analytics to detect insider threats, and automatically starts safe procedures to prevent sensitive data exposure.

How to Prevent Sensitive Data Exposure?

Classify sensitive data based on its vulnerability

To properly classify data and enforce data security standards at the appropriate levels, it is essential to have a thorough understanding of the sensitivity of the data being stored.

For increased precision and effectiveness, combine automated and manual classification features.

Create a data usage policy

A policy defining the different types of access, classification-based conditions for data access, data ownership and usage guidelines, and other details must be created. 

Remember that there should be unambiguous penalties for any policy infraction to prevent data from sensitive data exposure.

Enable strict data access control measures

Keep sensitive data under control and restrict employee access to the files necessary for daily tasks. 

This practice is referred to as the principle of least privilege. 

Implement change management and database auditing

To comply with security audit requirements, a minimum of one year's worth of database, file server, and login activity logs must be kept. 

Immediately notify the information security administrator of any account with more unsuccessful login attempts than allowed so they can begin an investigation. 

Curtail unnecessary storage of sensitive data

Track down and properly handle any sensitive data that is kept in your organization for non-business-related purposes. 

A complete data life cycle management solution is required to assist in archiving or removing unnecessary sensitive information due to the rising cost of secure storage and strict compliance requirements.

Use data encryption

When traveling via a network or portable devices, all important company data should be encrypted both in transit and at rest to prevent from sensitive data exposure.

Encrypted disk solutions are recommended for portable systems that will store any kind of critical data. 

Incident Response Planning

Have a robust incident response plan in place. This should outline the steps to be taken in case of a data breach, including notification procedures.

Case Studies

Due to sensitive data exposure, a cyberattack on Marriott's Starwood reservation system in 2018 exposed 500 million guest records, including names, addresses, passport numbers, and credit card information.

Marriott made a number of advancements, such as:

  • improved incident response and security monitoring capabilities.
  • migrated to a single, more secure reservation system.
  • more money spent on educating and training staff members about data security.

Due to a web application vulnerability, 147 million consumer records—including names, addresses, social security numbers, and driver's license numbers—were made public in the 2017 Equifax data breach.

To strengthen its security posture, Equifax implemented several measures, such as:

  • Patching the exploited vulnerability.
  • upgrading data encryption and implementing more stringent access controls.
  • carrying out an extensive audit of security.

Although Equifax has improved its security posture, it still faces legal issues and harm to its reputation.

Moveit: June 2023:, the MOVEit file transfer tool attack affected over 200 companies and 17.5 million people. Multiple government agencies are affected, including Energy, Agriculture, and HHS. The breach likely targeted most U.S. schools.

Here, DoControl plays a crucial role in detecting blind spots by monitoring critical SaaS application data activity, performing end-user behavioral analytics to avoid insider threats, and automatically initiates safe procedures to protect sensitive enterprise data.

Key Takeaways

  • Ensure that full disk encryption (FDE) is enabled on any device that stores or transmits data to prevent sensitive data exposure.
  • This will safeguard the data in the unlikely event that the device is mishandled.
  • Getting rid of information can help prevent problems, even if it is no longer useful. 
  • If it is less sensitive data, at the very least, remove it and empty your recycle bin to prevent a simple click from restoring the data.
  • Although backups are essential, there is a chance that they contain vulnerabilities. 
  • Because of this, you ought to store sensitive data in a crypto container prior to making backups of it.
  • One copy of a file may be kept on your computer, another on an external drive, or in dependable cloud storage. 
  • Store your data in multiple locations that are isolated from one another.
  • If you forget the password to an archive with crucial business information, the information itself is lost.
  • That is the reason you should keep your passwords in a dedicated app. 

Importance of Sensitive Data Protection

Many laws require data protection. For instance, the EU's GDPR, the US's HIPAA, and many more regional data protection legislation. Noncompliance might result in hefty fines.

Sensitive data exposure based attack targets typically contain personal information that can be used for identity theft, financial fraud, and other crimes. Protecting this data prevents criminals.

ISO 27001, PCI DSS, and other standards govern data security in addition to legal requirements. Business typically requires compliance with certain norms, especially in specific areas.

Customers demand secure and responsible data handling. A compromise of sensitive data can damage consumer trust, making it hard to rebuild. Maintaining client confidence requires solid data protection policies.

Data breaches may cost a lot, including breach response, legal fees, compensation, and fines. Indirect expenses include company loss and stock value fall.


Sensitive data exposure can lead to serious consequences, including identity theft, financial fraud, and damage to an organization's reputation.

Both people and businesses can suffer a lot when private data is made public. In the case of people, it can cause identity theft, scams, and a breach of privacy. 

It can cost businesses money, hurt their image, get them in trouble with the law, and make customers less likely to trust them. 

So, businesses need to implement strong security measures, do regular security checks, and promote a culture of data protection knowledge. 

This includes encrypting data, having strong access controls, keeping systems up to date, and teaching workers how to keep data safe. Protecting private information is not only a technical problem in this digital world, it is also an important duty for all groups.

If you want to handle and lessen the effects of a data breach that leads to sensitive data exposure successfully should it happen, you need to have a well-thought-out incident reaction plan.

Looking to learn more?
Our latest tips, insights, and news

Get updates to your inbox

Our latest tips, insights, and news