What is a Data Classification Policy? The Complete Guide

2023-03-15 19:38:08
Posted by Steve Soper on Mar 15, 2023 12:38:08 PM

A data classification policy identifies and aims to protect a company’s sensitive data by defining the data’s potential risk and creating a framework on how each type of data should be handled.

Simply put, companies should strive to create a data classification policy that defines:

  • Who gets to see specific data
  • Which devices can be used to access the data
  • How long the access is allowed
  • If the data should be encrypted

Four Steps of Data Classification

Within the data classification policy, companies identify the data types, define classification levels, develop security controls, and the data handling procedures. In this post, we’ll explore each of these steps and cover best practices your company can use when implementing the policy.

Step 1: Identify the Data Types

The first step in creating a data classification policy is to identify the different types of data that the organization handles. This includes sensitive data such as personal information, financial information, health records, and intellectual property. Once the data types have been identified, they should be classified based on their sensitivity and importance.

Step 2: Define Classification Levels

Next, the organization needs to define the classification levels that will be used to categorize the data.  Data classification levels set the parameters for how all data will be handled and who will have access to them. A data classification tool like Microsoft Purview, will allow administrators to automate a significant portion of the discovery, classification and monitoring of their data. 

Typically, a company will create three to five classification levels, offering an example of that kind of data in the policy. Levels vary from least to most sensitive data, such as:

  • Public
  • Internal
  • Confidential
  • Highly Confidential
  • Restricted
  • Unrestricted
  • Consumer Protected

These names should be descriptive so that users can quickly learn and identify the necessary label. For regulated companies, such as the healthcare and financial industries, there may be regulatory-specific classifications, such as protected health information (PHI).

Step 3: Develop Security Controls

Once the data has been classified, the organization needs to develop appropriate security controls to protect it. This includes implementing access controls to limit who can view and modify the data, as well as encryption and other measures to prevent unauthorized access.

Step 4: Develop Data Handling Procedures

The organization also needs to develop procedures for handling the data based on its classification. This includes defining how the data should be stored, who can access it, and how it should be transmitted. For example, confidential data might need to be stored on encrypted drives and only accessible by a limited number of authorized personnel.

How to Implement Your Data Classification Policy

Microsoft 365 helps organizations automate the data classification process to lighten the extensive workload this can put on employees. However this does not fully eliminate the need for human interaction. Here are some best practices we recommend to ensure compliance and efficiency.

Develop an Advanced Data Team

When data must be manually classified, having a team or people with advanced training to help a set of employees when manual data tagging is required. By having them available, it provides employees with an easy path for ensuring compliance and helps ensure the right classification will be made.

Invest in Training

Taking the time to adequately train users helps increase adoption and quality. It also helps ensure buy-in, since employees understand both how to classify data, but also why it is important.

Compliance Starts at the Top

Leadership and internal communications should work hand-in-hand to make sure the company is conveying a simple, cohesive message about the importance of data classification and risk management initiatives. If there are conflicting messages, or a lack of communication, employees are less likely to conduct data classification correctly–if at all.

How AdaptivEdge Can Help

Whether you have staff in place to create your data classification policy or need a team to support you, AdaptivEdge is here to provide guidance and manpower for creating your data classification policy. This includes compliance assessments, implementation services, and ongoing monitoring and support. 

We are a Microsoft partner and have extensive knowledge of Microsoft licensing and features. We often assist companies in their search for the right solution, whether it’s using the tools they have or advising on more advanced information protection solutions. AdaptivEdge is here to simplify the process and ensure creating your data classification policy goes smoothly and efficiently. Request a security assessment today

2023 Microsoft 365 Information Protection Guide

Tags: Adaptive Edge, O365, Azure, Office 365, cybersecurity, data loss prevention, Microsoft, cyberattack, Classification, Safety, Microsoft Dynamics, Secure Score, Compliance

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