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How does technical debt pose a threat to data security?

When the technical debt collector comes knocking, you don’t want it to be because of a security violation. If shortcuts, a lack of security expertise, or a cloud misconfiguration lead to a data breach, the repercussions — data loss and severe noncompliance fines — will always be far worse than the price of spending extra time and money to enact security measures at the outset.

What is technical debt?

In broadest terms, think of technical debt as companies borrowing resources from other areas or even neglecting certain steps and processes to focus on getting a product, platform, or application out on the market fast. These resources can include funds or time from security and quality assurance departments.

Once the product is out, you’ll likely have accumulated debt in the form of coding errors that need to be reworked or security vulnerabilities that leave sensitive data open to unauthorized access. This latter subset of technical debt is referred to as security debt, and in addition to obstructing future development that could enhance your product, you can also risk paying the ultimate price of losing invaluable data from a breach and incurring hefty fines for noncompliance.

What contributes to technical debt?

Shortcuts

The most common reason for technical and security debt is cutting corners. Shortcuts may be taken at any point in the product’s architectural development stage, with its code quality, during performance or usability testing, and of course, when implementing security processes. There’s no denying that these steps can be time-consuming or costly, but placing them on hold or ignoring them completely to get a product out to the market — and in turn, generating revenue quickly — can lead to a significant loss of time and money later on when issues inevitably arise because of these shortcuts.

Poor security governance

A weak or complete lack of security expertise during the very early stages of a product’s design process can also contribute to debt build-up. This can be considered a shortcut — whether you don’t want to spend the time finding the right person or dedicating the dollars to support a team — you’ll miss out on the opportunity to identify potential vulnerabilities from a product’s beginning stages throughout the entirety of its lifecycle. If a vulnerability were to give way to a data breach, the results could be catastrophic.

Along the same line, having an expert involved but ignoring their recommendations to incorporate security measures at each phase of your product’s lifecycle can be just as harmful. As your product evolves, potential gaps and vulnerabilities can become harder to control. In many cases, it may not even be possible to go back and implement proper security measures without causing a complete disruption.

Cloud misconfigurations

The final perpetrator of technical debt (today especially), can be attributed to cloud misconfigurations, or gaps that leave your cloud environment open to risk. With both private and public cloud services — think: Amazon Web Services (AWS) — becoming more popular as hosts for software products and applications, hackers are targeting them like never before.

What’s more, these cloud services act as repositories for all sorts of data, much of it unstructured, that organizations aren’t even aware they possess. Without knowing what or where this data is, how can it be properly protected? This is how gaps emerge that could lead to a misconfiguration, such as granting users permission to access a certain storage bucket that contains loads more sensitive information than they actually need to fulfill day-to-day work operations. From both a security and compliance standpoint, you certainly don’t want this level of access to be misused or fall into the wrong hands.

While a cloud service provider will protect your cloud environment from outside threats, misconfigurations are often inside jobs – usually resulting from negligence or human error. Thus, your organization needs to secure its sensitive data at the source, and in order to do so, you need to be aware of all the data that exists, not only in the cloud, but on networks and company endpoint devices, like laptops, as well.

How to avoid the consequences of technical debt from a security perspective

In order to protect your organization’s valuable information from shortcuts taken during development, weak security governance, and cloud misconfigurations, you need a data security solution that discovers, classifies, and remediates sensitive data so it can be protected at its source. That way, if the aforementioned shortcomings give way to unauthorized access, an attacker will still face one final and strong line of defense.

Spirion’s Sensitive Data Platform automatically discovers all the sensitive data that exists within your enterprise environment, from networks to laptops to your AWS storage buckets in the cloud. From there, it classifies this data based on criteria such as level of sensitivity and the data privacy regulations it’s subject to, so only essential parties can access it for day-to-day use. Finally, if unusual activity occurs within your data, resulting in it being modified or damaged in any way, it can be remediated — whether that’s restored from a back-up or properly and permanently destroyed — to avoid the most severe consequences of a data breach.

Learn how you can protect your organization from technical debt as it pertains to security with Spirion helping to safeguard sensitive data.