Guide: Data Masking

The Fundamentals of Data Obfuscation

 In today’s world, data is the fuel that drives businesses, as well as our daily lives. The collection, handling, and processing of data are how we carry out basic and advanced functions, from deciding what to buy, to diagnosing critical diseases in patients. This is also why data security and privacy are some of the biggest concerns that organizations face in this day and age.

In the past year alone, there have been several instances of data breaches and leaks, which have also caused losses amounting to millions of dollars. Luckily, there are some advanced methods and strategies that companies can apply in order to protect their valuable data from being exposed, such as data masking and data obfuscation.

In this article, we will talk about:

What is Data Obfuscation?

Data obfuscation is the process of concealing valuable data with something that looks like sensitive information, but is completely useless and futile for people with malicious intent. This type of technique is usually employed by development teams during the testing and development phases, as they need data to test their software but don’t need to access the actual data.

Data obfuscation acts like an extra layer of security on top of the data, so that if a data breach or hacking attempt occurs, the cyber attackers are unable to access the real data. This way, the organization will be able to protect its critical information and also prevent its workflows and systems from being compromised.

Data Obfuscation vs. Data Masking

As you may have noticed, we mentioned two different methods in the introduction: data masking and data obfuscation. This is because they are quite similar and interchangeable. Both of them are used to conceal sensitive data, and belong to a class of methods called data anonymization.

These methods are highly important for any organization, as they help in protecting sensitive information from being revealed. Therefore, it won’t be wrong to say that data obfuscation is similar to data masking.

Why is Data Obfuscation Important?

Here are some of the reasons why organizations should consider data obfuscation as a method to conceal their sensitive information and prevent any data leakage.

Lack of Trust in Third Parties

You might think that entrusting a third-party data security provider is a better option than implementing your own protocols, but it can be equally risky. This is because you have to send your sensitive information to them over the internet, including customers’ personal data, credit card numbers, financial information, health information, and other types of crucial data. It opens up data access to more people, and can also pave the way for violations of regulations.

Real Data Isn’t Needed for Business Operations

Most organizations make use of masked or obfuscated data in the testing and development process. Similarly, there are several business operations in which there is no need to use real data, and by implementing data obfuscation methods, organizations will be able to limit the access to sensitive information and also prevent it from falling into the wrong hands or reduce the risk of exposing it to data thieves.

Compliance Requirements

There are several international standards and regulations that require database obfuscation, according to certain conditions. For instance, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) states that sensitive data regarding EU citizens have to be masked using data obfuscation techniques.

Security Reasons

From a security perspective, the less sensitive data you expose, the lower the data security risk is. In this sense, obfuscating the data reduces your security risk.

Data Obfuscation Methods

By now, you have a clearer understanding of the data obfuscation meaning, as well as the importance of data obfuscation. It is time to see how data is masked, i.e. the data obfuscation techniques employed by organizations.

Encryption

Encryption is the most effective method for data obfuscation, and it involves the use of an encryption algorithm that masks data and generates an encryption key that is used to decrypt it. This data obfuscation technique is particularly used for data that has to be restored to its actual state, but its safety is contingent upon the encryption key staying in the hands of authorized users. Therefore, it has to be kept safe.

Scrambling

Another popular data obfuscation method is known as scrambling, and it tangles up characters and numbers in the data randomly, thus making it useless for anyone who infringes upon it. Scrambling is a basic and simple technique. It can only be applied to a few types of data, and it isn’t completely effective in securing data. For instance, if you jumble up an employee ID by mixing up the numbers, someone who knows the actual ID can still access the system.

Nulling Out

A more basic data obfuscation method is nulling out, which places a null value on a data column in order to prevent unauthorized users from accessing the original data. However, this method comes with its own set of problems, such as compromised data integrity and complex testing and development procedures.

Substitution

As the name suggests, substitution is one of the data masking methods that involve replacing the data with another value. It is considered to be one of the best data masking techniques, and it helps preserve the actual integrity and appearance of the data. Moreover, it can be applied to different types of data, and it proves to be highly effective in protecting organizations from data breaches.

Shuffling

Shuffling is similar to substitution, and it also masks data inside a column. However, it does so in a randomized order, so that the data becomes masked more effectively. This can be applied to employee records, in which employee names can be spread out across various columns. This causes the output data to look like the real one, but also keeps any personal information from being leaked. However, there is a chance of reverse engineering in order to unshuffle the data.

Summary

This concludes our guide on data obfuscation and its importance in safeguarding sensitive data. As companies continue to expand their operations and bring more customers into their fold, data will only continue to increase in magnitude. This is why it is crucial for organizations to employ data obfuscation techniques and prevent their valuable data from being compromised.

Using Satori For Data Obfuscation

Satori allows organisations to dynamically mask data, without spending enormous data engineering resources. In addition, Satori offers the following capabilities: