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What’s the best way to store sensitive data?

What’s the best way to store sensitive data? And why is it important to store them securely in the first place?
In this post, we explain why you must be careful when handling sensitive data and explain how you can reduce risk beforehand.

Best way to store sensitive data

Why is it important to store sensitive data safely?

Sensitive data under data privacy laws like the GDPR, generally refers to a special category of personal data that requires higher levels of security and discretion. This information typically includes things like:

  • info related to race or ethnic origin;
  • political affiliation;
  • sexual orientation;
  • religious or philosophical beliefs;
  • health data; or
  • biometric data, etc.

Because this data can greatly affect the well-being of an individual, and can even be used to discriminate against a person, it’s of the utmost importance that they’re stored securely.

Processing this type of data also means a higher responsibility falls on you, the data controller.

For this reason, it’s often prudent to assess whether or not you truly need to process sensitive or special category data. This is where the principle of data minimization becomes very relevant: you should collect only the data you truly need for the fulfillment of your purpose – and at the minimum amount possible.

However, if you do need to collect and process sensitive or special category data, then make sure you’re able to provide the higher levels of security legally required.

More on data protection

This article is a part of our series on data protection. Read also:

👉 What’s the meaning of DPO?

Best way to store sensitive data

There isn’t just one way to store sensitive data securely, but there are some basic security measures you should consider implementing.

1. Understand your processing activities

The first thing you need to do, before you start collecting sensitive data, is to have a precise idea and understanding of your processing activities. This step is useful because it clarifies exactly how you’re going to use those data. That’s why it’s critical that you keep accurate records of your processing activities: you can go back to them whenever you need to.

After going through your records, you will know the amount of data you need to collect to fulfill your purposes, and how long you’ll need to store them. As mentioned above, particularly with sensitive data, it’s important to practice data minimalization.

2. Invest in your security system and train your staff

Second, though it may sound clichéd, you should invest in your business’s security system and train your staff appropriately. Everyone involved in the process should know how to handle sensitive data: you don’t want a security breach because of somebody’s lack of knowledge or carelessness.

3. Encrypt your data

Another step you may want to take is to encrypt your data. Encrypted data is very difficult to decipher without the proper key. In this way, if a data breach were to happen, it would be difficult to understand what the data are about.

Moreover, it’s always best practice to keep your encrypted data and their encryption keys stored in different places.
You wouldn’t lock your house and then leave the key on the door, right? Well, this is the same principle: if you encrypt the sensitive data you’ve collected, but you store them in the same place as your keys, then encryption is useless.

4. Be careful when using external storage platforms

One more thing you need to take care of, especially if you use external storage platforms like Google Drive or Dropbox, is to add extra layers of security to your files before uploading them. As experts often say, online storage platforms are just someone else’s computer and, though they’re generally safe, they’re also easier to access. That’s why it’s safer to take further security steps, particularly when your users’ sensitive data are involved.

With that said, always consider hiring a security expert, especially if performing large-scale processing of sensitive data. Also, note that this type of processing may come with additional requirements.

Let’s recap

To recap, here are the basic steps to consider when storing sensitive data:

  • understand your processing activities fully and keep accurate records
  • minimize the amount of sensitive data you process to only what is needed (and for the time that it’s needed)
  • invest in security and train your staff
  • encrypt the data
  • if you use an online drive, add layers of security
  • if needed, perform DPIA before processing

It goes without saying that you should implement these measures before you start collecting and processing sensitive data.

The stakes are high: if a data breach were to happen, and your users’ sensitive information to leak, this could cause damage to them as well as to you, as a business. You would lose credibility and reliability, and your reputation could be significantly compromised. Furthermore, many privacy laws allow users to bring suit or seek compensation for damages where their privacy rights have been violated.

How iubenda can help

Processing sensitive data? You may need reliable tools to ensure you’re doing everything by the rule.
Here’s how iubenda’s solutions can help:

  • Our Internal Privacy Management Solution also helps you to keep track of your processing activities and the purposes and legal bases attached to them, as legally required. This makes it easier for you to assess your processing system and plan your security accordingly.
  • Our Privacy and Cookie Generator makes it easy to add legally required disclosures and add information related to your assigned Data Protection Officer, purposes of processing and much more.
  • Performing a DPIA? Use this free template.

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