Building the foundation and establishing data protection policies

A Comprehensive Guide to Building Data Protection Programs: Part 1


Establishing a robust data protection program for any organization isn’t just a necessity; it’s a strategic imperative. In addition to ensuring trust and compliance, these programs help to prevent costly data breaches. For most organizations, data is its most valuable asset, thus building such a program involves a complex approach encompassing various aspects of the organization beyond typical data security.

Data security primarily involves the technical measures implemented to safeguard organizational data from unauthorized access, breaches, or alterations, while focusing on tools like encryption, firewalls, and access controls. On the other hand, data protection encompasses both the technical aspects and the policies, procedures, and rules of handling data throughout its lifecycle. This includes legal compliance and risk management, while emphasizing the lawful and ethical treatment of data, respecting individuals’ privacy rights, and ensuring responsible data governance.

Here’s a comprehensive guide, using a phased approach, to successfully building and implementing a data protection program for your enterprise. In this first post, we’ll focus on phase one through three as you build the foundation and establish policies. In a subsequent post, we’ll dive into phases four through seven and start to implement the technologies, policies, and monitoring necessary to mature your data protection program.

Phase 1 – Building the Foundation and Team

Large organizations possess intricate data ecosystems, making it imperative to start with a solid foundation and clear understanding of the data landscape. The first step is to define the organizational objectives, including the goals for the data protection program. Then the organization needs to identify the distinct types of sensitive data that require safeguarding, while involving stakeholders from various departments. Prioritize efforts and resources to protect the most sensitive and critical data first, by aligning these tasks with the organization’s overall data protection objectives.

Next, you need to create a dedicated team responsible for data protection, including a mix of expertise in data security, legal and compliance issues, project management, and communication to lead the initiative. This team provides insight into the organization’s data usage, dependencies, and specific business requirements, as well maintain transparent communication across the organization about the data protection program’s objectives, progress, and challenges. Once the team has been established, it’s important to also secure executive sponsorship to ensure the allocation of necessary resources and emphasize the importance of data protection across the organization.

The third step is for the team leading the initiative to develop a comprehensive communication plan to keep stakeholders informed of the data protection program’s goals, policies, and procedures. This helps to clarify roles and responsibilities throughout the process. In this plan, you can also start to address potential resistance to new policies and procedures by emphasizing executive support and the significance of data protection efforts on the organization’s overall security posture.

Phase 2 – Identify and Classify Data

Once the team and foundation for the data protection program is established, it is time to perform complete comprehensive data discovery. Utilize sophisticated scanning tools to meticulously search through databases, file servers, cloud storage, and endpoint devices across the organization to locate sensitive and/or critical data. You should also implement regular scanning schedules to ensure new or previously unidentified data is also captured. This helps to create a complete inventory of all critical data.

Once collected, develop a detailed classification scheme that categorizes data based on its level of sensitivity and the impact on the organization if it were to be disclosed, altered, or destroyed. During this step, use automated classification tools where possible. Also ensure that data owners review and validate the classification, especially for complex data sets or critical information.

After all the data is collected and classified, designate specific individuals within the organization to be responsible for the security and management of classified data. Ensure these data owners are trained to understand their responsibilities, including approval of access requests and the review of classification levels.

Phase 3 – Define Data Protection Policies and Rules

Once the foundation for a data protection program has been put in place and the data mapping, inventory, classification, and ownership is completed, it’s time to develop the policies and procedures to maintain data protection and configure appropriate rules. Through collaboration with legal, compliance and business units, comprehensive data protection policies should be created that address regulatory requirements and protect sensitive information. These policies should clearly outline acceptable use of data, data handling instructions for different data types, and the consequences associated with policy violations.

The policies should then be translated into technical rules that can be enforced by data loss prevention (DLP) solutions. This might include specifying which data identifies should trigger alerts and/or blocks. In addition, it’s important to configure rules not only to prevent data exfiltration but also to monitor and control data movement within the organization to minimize insider threats.


As we’ve outlined in this comprehensive guide, the journey towards building and implementing such a program involves a phased approach that begins with laying a strong foundation and assembling a dedicated team. By identifying and classifying data and defining comprehensive protection policies and rules, organizations can fortify their defenses against a myriad of threats, both internal and external. In part one of this series, we’ve delved into the crucial initial phases, setting the stage for the subsequent steps where we’ll explore the implementation of technologies essential for maturing your data protection program. In part 2 of this blog series, we continue this journey towards safeguarding your organization’s data.