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IT Security: Data Masking, What It Is and How It Can Help Your Customers

What is data masking, and what type of impact can it have on your organization? Here's everything you need to know about this security technique.

Dan Kobialka

February 5, 2015

3 Min Read
IT Security: Data Masking, What It Is and How It Can Help Your Customers

Data security has become an even bigger topic in the last year following several high-profile data breaches at consumer companies. And much of the focus been protecting against the breaches themselves. But are there other ways to protect data? MSPmentor recently took a deeper look at a technology called data masking. Here’s what we found.

Many banks, government agencies, hospitals, insurance companies and other organizations that manage highly sensitive information are using a technique to hide their data from cybercriminals – data masking. The technique camouflages the real data that you want to protect by interspersing other characters and/or data with it. So the data hides in plain site, but it cannot be seen or discovered.

So why should MSPs investigate offering data masking to customers as a way to help protect their data?

With data masking, organizations can protect original information from workers who do not need it to perform their daily tasks, Ted Girard, a vice president at data management systems company Delphix, told NextGov.

Girard noted that data masking transforms your organization’s data, creating “dummy data” that application developers, testers and others can use to complete their daily tasks. 

Meanwhile, data masking ensures that your organization won’t have to worry about putting its customers’ or employees’ personally identifiable information (PII) at risk, either.

How are data masking and data encryption different?

At first glance, data masking and data encryption might seem similar, but they are two very different things.

Jeff Simpson, a software engineer at market research company IRI, recently described the differences between data masking and data encryption in a blog post:

“Data masking obfuscates sensitive data by replacing it with other data – typically characters that will meet the requirements of a system designed to test or still work with the masked results. Masking ensures vital parts of personally identifying information – like the first 5 digits of a social security number – are obscured or otherwise de-identified. Data encryption involves converting and transforming data into scrambled, often unreadable, cipher-text using non-readable mathematical calculations and algorithms. Restoring the message requires a corresponding decryption algorithm and the original encryption key.”

So which is better, data masking or data encryption? According to Girard, a combination of both could prove to be valuable for organizations of all sizes: “To gain the most advantage from big data, agencies should understand three key data attributes – security and privacy, quality and agility.”

Who wants data masking solutions?

Joseph Feiman, Gartner‘s lead analyst in data application and security, told TheStreet that financial services companies, government agencies and healthcare providers are among the organizations that are driving the demand for data masking technologies. 

He also pointed out that there is rising demand for data masking technologies among organizations in the United States, Canada and Europe.

Managed service providers looking to make inroads in those verticals or geographies could gain by adding data masking to their portfolios of services as a differentiator. Do your competitors offer data masking to your their prospects? If not, offering data masking services could give you a foot in the door.

Share your thoughts about this story in the Comments section below, via Twitter @dkobialka or email me at [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Dan Kobialka

Contributing writer, Penton Technology

Dan Kobialka is a contributing writer for MSPmentor and Talkin' Cloud. In the past, he has produced content for numerous print and online publications, including the Boston Business Journal, Boston Herald and Patch.com. Dan holds a M.A. in Print and Multimedia Journalism from Emerson College and a B.A. in English from Bridgewater State College (now Bridgewater State University). In his free time, Kobialka enjoys jogging, traveling, playing sports, touring breweries and watching football (Go Patriots!).  

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