1st Mar 2019

What is Data Masking?

Your business handles a lot of sensitive data on a daily basis, ranging from addresses to bank account details. This carries a high level of risk. What would happen if that data fell into the wrong hands? More and more companies are turning to data masking to keep all the information they handle more secure than a swiss bank vault. Why?

To answer this question, we need to ask: what is data masking and how is it used to protect sensitive data such as payroll information? Find the answers in this AccessPay blog post below…

Rights and obligations

There are lots of rights and obligations attached to running a business – especially when it comes to data. Take payroll as an example. For the purpose of payroll, government guidelines state that you can ask employees for information such as their National Insurance Number and tax code. The thing is that if shady characters get a hold of this info, they can use it to steal someone’s identity.

The consequences of identity theft are disastrous. Just think. What if a criminal uses your customer’s identity to take money from their bank account? You may have to pay compensation, potentially costing millions. There are figures to show that identity fraud reached record levels in the UK during 2017, painting a bleak picture of just how widespread this issue has now become.

There’s the reputational angle to consider too. What does it say about you, if people can’t trust you to secure their data? Nothing good. There are metrics which show that UK consumers’ trust in the data handling processes of businesses are among the lowest in the world, so you can’t afford to fritter away any trust you have. Then there’s the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This EU law requires you to keep customer data secure, with the promise serious ramifications if you don’t.

Let’s talk data masking

That’s where data masking comes in; it serves as a barrier to these risks. This is a data protection tool that hides sensitive information from those who aren’t authorised to see it. So how does this work?

It uses algorithms to substitute real data with random characters, concealing this data from those who don’t have permission to see it. Say your team is handling a payment file for Payroll – a function data masking is useful for, as there is sensitivity regarding salary details. They would be able to see any values listed e.g. monthly salary, but the beneficiary’s details such as names and addresses will be masked for those without the relevant access level, making sure internal controls are adhered to.

Crucial for GDPR compliance

This makes data masking a must-have tool when it comes to GDPR compliance. That’s because this regulation places a huge emphasis on protecting someone’s personal data; something which data masking is ideally suited for. It also requires you to only share data with those necessary. If you breach GDPR regulations, you can be fined €20 million or up to 4% of your annual turnover (whichever is higher) so data masking could save you millions.

The Essential GDPR guide for Finance Directors – CEO & Marketing Director from AccessPay sat down with data experts from Manchester-based solicitors Turner Parkinson, to discuss the implication GDPR will have on finance professionals.

How secure is data masking?

We’ve spent all this time talking about data masking as a security tool. But how secure is it really? The issue of data security is on the minds of a lot of business leaders right now. The 2018 Thales Data Threat report offers us valuable insight here. 94% of firms are using online storage solutions, like the cloud, to hold sensitive data according to this report. Yet 44% of those businesses polled feel ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ vulnerable to data threats. There’s clearly a need for data protection tools.

Data masking could fill this void. Obviously, it isn’t flawless – nothing is – but it is pretty damn secure. Data masking tech employs techniques like encryption (where the user needs a private key to access data) and character substitution to shield information.

Masking highly sensitive data

There’s an added bonus; you can mask highly sensitive data too. The classic example here is manager salaries. Imagine if employees found out just how much more their managers make than they do. Pandemonium would ensue, and conflict in the workplace isn’t good for business.

Confederation of British Industry figures shows that conflict costs UK businesses £33 billion each year in expenses like lost leadership time, so you really want to avoid it at all costs. Data masking makes this problem a thing of the past. You could hide manager salary details from all but the relevant members of your Payroll team, so there’s no resentment among staff over pay.

Always follow best practice

There it is. Data masking is now the data protection tool for corporates. To use it to the greatest effect though, you have to follow best practice. It’s wise, for instance, to employ quality control checks for the algorithms you’re using for data masking, to make sure they’re working properly. One good strategy is to make sure any partners you work with have the technical expertise and resources to offer top-grade data masking tech as well.

This is where AccessPay can lend a helping hand. Our highly experienced team, each with their own unique specialisms and skill sets, can provide you with best-in-class data masking solutions. We also combine this tech with other effective security tools such as PGP encryption (which makes files tamper-proof), wrapping your data up in enough layers of security to make it impenetrable.

Get in touch now to learn more about data masking here at AccessPay.