What Are the Different Types of Sensitive Data?


Companies store a lot of information about customers, partners, and internal operations. But some businesses don’t do a great job of securing that data. According to a recent poll, 35% of customers don’t believe companies do a good enough job of protecting their sensitive data, and 45% said they won’t do business with a company that has had a cyberattack or data breach. 

Without the ability to accurately complete sensitive data discovery, there might be data that you don’t realize  are insecure and vulnerable. With a sensitive data discovery tool, you can discover, migrate, and govern unstructured data within your organization.

In this blog we discuss sensitive data in detail and answer some questions, like:

  • Is your name and address sensitive data
  • What about other identifying customer information? 
  • How do businesses secure sensitive data? 

Let’s start with the basics.

What Is Sensitive Data?

Sensitive data is confidential information stored by a business that should only be accessed by authorized employees. Sensitive information may occasionally be linked to specific people, such as through payment details or dates of birth. In other situations, sensitive data may contain confidential business information. 

Sensitive and confidential data can be organized in two different ways:

  • Structured data
  • Unstructured data

Data that has been predefined and formatted according to a predetermined structure before being stored is known as structured data. This can include dates, names, addresses, credit card numbers, and other types of quantitative data, and it can be easily stored in a database. While unstructured data is information that is kept in its original form without processing prior to use. This can include email, resumes, social media posts, presentations, chats, IoT sensor data, and other qualitative data.

Most often, customer and business data can be categorized as:

  • High-risk: Data that might be used to damage or steal someone’s identity or intellectual property.
  • Restricted: Data covered by federal and state legislation that prohibits unauthorized disclosure.
  • Confidential: Data determined to be protected by an organization, but not regulated by federal or state legislation. 

In order to prevent data breaches and leaks, access to sensitive information should be controlled by sufficient data security, which includes information security protocols like encryption and password protection.

Now that we understand sensitive data, let’s explore what types of data are sensitive data a business should protect.

What Are Five Types of Sensitive Data?

Businesses manage examples of sensitive data in all aspects of their operations. From customer information to trade secrets, there’s a lot of data that a business is responsible for on a day-to-day basis. Information needs to be secure, but what types of unstructured data are the highest priority? Unstructured data is more difficult to organize and protect and might take an analysis of systems to find it all. The five main types of data that a business should safeguard include:

1. Personal and Private Customer Data

Any data that can be used to identify an individual can be considered personal and private information. To maintain privacy, organizations need to protect any identifiable information regarding a customer. Each of the following types of sensitive data constitute personal and private information that can uniquely identify a customer and should be stored securely by a business:

  • Protected health information (PHI)‍
  • Education records
  • Confidential personal information

Sensitive personal data includes things like race or ethnicity, sexual orientation, genetic and biometric data, and other types of data make someone easily identifiable. Other types of confidential data could lead to targeting from other businesses or possibly identity theft through data breaches, which puts customers at personal and financial risk. Personal and privacy data laws that attempt to prevent this from happening consists of a variety of legislation in the United States:

  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)
  • Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)
  • Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) 
  • Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA)
  • Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA)
  • Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA)
  • Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988 (VPPA)
  • Federal Trade Commission Act (FTC Act)

While the protections don’t cover all information, there are clear violations of these laws that can lead to serious consequences for customers and businesses alike. 

2. Employee Data

Just as with customer data, companies need to keep their employees’ information safe. Employee data can include authentication data, such as usernames, passwords, private/public keys for internal systems, and financial information. It can also contain personal information about the employees, such social media posts, media, and mobile communications. Not only do usernames and passwords give employees access to confidential business information, but it can open up vulnerabilities for customer data as well.

3. Financial Data

Any information about financial transactions at the organizational and personal levels can be considered financial data. Account information, transaction reports, annual audits, and payments can all be included in this data. It’s essential that financial information be void of any vulnerabilities in storage. 

4. Business Data

Private information regarding a business, its clients, investments, and potential portfolio companies are considered business data. Each business has proprietary data that is necessary for carrying out business activities and should be safeguarded from potential breaches of security. Intellectual property, trade secrets, and merger plans are all examples of information that may be harmful to the business if it fell into the wrong hands.

5. Operational Data

Any data used to maintain operations at a business would be operational data. Things like product specifications, market research, contracts with other suppliers, third parties, and product inventories are just a few examples of sensitive operational data. As with other types of data, a breach in security can affect more than just the business. It can have consequences for customers and business partners as well.

What Categories of Information Need to Be Protected at All Times?

Most information regarding business operations and customers should be protected in case of a security breach. However, because the effects of a personal data breach are more severe for individuals, sensitive and special categories of personal data require additional security. Unstructured data needs to be protected because many companies have unstructured data items on their desktops or in other unsecure locations. This means protection of personal and private data should be one of the highest priorities for a business. That will not only help customers trust businesses more, but will also provide them with the privacy protection they deserve.

Protect Your Sensitive Data

DryvIQ secures your sensitive information with best-in-class accuracy and speed. By finding unstructured data and identifying hidden risks and vulnerabilities, DryvIQ can prevent damage to your corporate image, the breaking of customer trust, and unexpected costs. With data discovery, file migration, and policy automation, you can be sure your information will gain a higher level of safety. Visit our website today to try a demo!

Icon D DryvIQ logo