What is Data at rest? Examples and security measures

What is Data at rest? Examples and security measures

Data at rest is the vulnerable borderland that every organization must secure. With prevalent data breaches happening everywhere, keeping an organization’s data secure has never been more demanding.

We’re talking about those vast digital stores of sensitive customer information, financial records, intellectual property, and more sitting idle, vulnerable to attack.

If you’re losing sleep over those confidential files falling into the wrong hands, you’re not alone. In the first quarter of 2023, global breaches caused a staggering 6.4 million data leaks, affecting millions of people.

What is data at rest? 

Data at rest refers to inactive data stored across devices, such as hard drives, SSDs, or cloud storage. It involves all data objects not currently being processed or transmitted, regardless of their storage location or medium. This includes structured data, such as databases or spreadsheets, and unstructured data, such as text files, documents, or media files.

Examples of data at rest

Data at rest can be stored locally or in the cloud and third-party infrastructure.

Databases

This is data stored in a database system, including customer information, transaction records, and product catalogs.

File storage

Documents, media files, and other data are stored on local drives, server storage, or removable media like flash drives and SD cards.

Backups and archive file

These are data stored in backup systems, tapes, or offline storage for recovery or archival purposes. Backup data is updated continuously, while archive data isn’t updated.

Email repositories

Email messages, drafts, and attachments are stored on email servers or user devices. Each email account has a dedicated storage space.

Desktop/laptop data

This refers to data at rest stored on local hard drives or SSDs of desktop and laptop computers.

Cloud storage

These include object storage, file systems, and Google Cloud databases, often protected by encryption.

Difference between data at rest vs data in transit vs data in use

  • Data at rest is dormant in a storage or mobile device. It’s usually well-structured data containing meaningful information.
  • Data in transit is moving across networks to different mediums — email or web browsers. Since it moves through public or unsecured private networks, it’s usually at risk of interception by third parties.
  • Data in use is actively being processed or accessed by an application or system. Such data becomes vulnerable when unsecured because almost any entity can access it.

What is the importance of protecting data at rest?

As we discussed earlier, data at rest, such as classified government documents and client information, is stored over a long period and infrequently accessed due to its sensitivity and importance. It is essential that you protect this data against malicious use.

Exposed data at rest severely damages an organization’s reputation. It erodes customer trust and affects your business’s bottom line.

Also, data-at-rest breaches might lead to legal actions. For example, the $148 million legal settlement paid by Uber in 2022 was the result of data breach of 57 million people. To prevent this, companies should invest in data protection systems.

What are the security concerns for data at rest? 

Data at rest faces internal and external threats — both malicious and accidental. The following are examples of security concerns.

Malware and ransomware attacks

Malicious software, such as ransomware, encrypts or deletes data at rest, making it inaccessible for business operations. The attacker holds the data hostage until a ransom is paid. In 2023, this cost businesses an average of $1.54 million.

Malicious insider threats

When an employee exposes sensitive data to unauthorized users, intentionally or by mistake, this exposure poses a threat and can harm the organization. For example, an employee unknowingly shares a password on the internet. Anyone who sees the password can access the employee’s computer and attack work data.

Accidental data loss or corruption

Human error, system failures, or natural disasters can lead to the loss or corruption of data at rest.

Theft or loss of storage devices

The physical theft or loss of storage media, such as hard drives, backup tapes, or laptops, can expose sensitive data to unauthorized individuals.

What is data at rest encryption?

Data at rest encryption helps prevent unauthorized access to data and is critical for cloud-based data at rest in the following ways.

  • Encryption makes data unreadable: Data at rest encryption converts the data into scrambled ciphertext. The ciphertext is gibberish without the decryption key. The data remains secure even if malicious users gain physical access.
  • Ensures data security in the cloud: Data at rest in the cloud is vulnerable because it resides on shared infrastructure. Encryption ensures the data remains secure and unreadable without the proper decryption keys.
  • Compliance with regulations: Many data protection rules, like GDPR, HIPAA, and PCI DSS encourage organizations to use strong encryption.

Best practices for securing data at rest

Effective data at rest security combines people, processes, and technology. The following are recommended best practices.

Data classification

Data is stored in different forms for various purposes. Classifying data at rest into types and sensitivity levels allows you to prioritize. You can implement the appropriate security controls that fit each data category’s risk profile and compliance regulation.

Data encryption

In 2022, 44 percent of organizations used a cryptographic encryption key to protect their cloud-based data at rest, adding an extra layer of security. This makes the data unreadable without the right key. Most malicious actors cannot afford the computational power to break modern encryption.

Data federation

This involves unifying your data querying methods into one single querying format. This removes the need for multiple sources and improves your data at rest security by allowing access through only one virtual source.

Data tokenization

A form of data protection that involves masking the data at rest with a token of numbers and alphabets. These tokens represent the instances of original data while concealing the real values of the data at rest.

Thorough audits and logging

Thorough security audits and consistent logging enable you to check for breaches. This helps to detect malicious actors in the data activity earlier.

Layered password protection

It provides robust data protection with multifactor authentication. Only authorized users with set-up multifactor authentication can access the data. They must provide a password, token, or biometrics.

FAQs about data at rest

We know you may have questions about data at rest. Here are a few frequently asked questions and their answers.

Is data at rest secure?

Yes, the owner’s security architecture protects data at rest. However, due to its value, insiders or attackers may target it. So add an extra layer of enterprise data security to your data at rest.

What is data at rest in the cloud?

Data at rest in the cloud are stored on cloud service and protected by the cloud service provider. This storage includes cloud databases or virtual machines.

Is RAM data at rest?

RAM is data in use as the computer continuously processes it. It’s updated, deleted, and read in real time.

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