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  • 16 January 2024
  • 7 min read

How does data classification of information enhance cyber security?

Understanding data classification, the different types of classification, the basic steps in formulating data classification and the benefits of data compartmentalisation.
FAQ series How does data classification of information enhance cyber security

Data classification is a critical component in fortifying an organisation's defences against cyber-attacks – simply put, data classification must be a part of your cyber security strategy … it is fundamental.

Many already understand the importance of data classification but let us explore the significance of data classification in enhancing cyber security and in providing valuable insights for decision-makers and employees alike. With cyber security fundamentals like this, we must reiterate, repeat, and ensure our cyber security baseline is consistently rising with each passing year.

Understanding data classification

Data Classification

Data classification is the process of categorising and labelling data based on its sensitivity and importance to the organisation – in a bid to compartmentalise and organise data. This categorisation also enables organisations to prioritise their data protection efforts, allocating resources where they are needed most, whilst avoiding unnecessary costs and time wasting. Typically, data can be classified into categories such as public use, internal use, confidential, or restricted. Some organisations opt for classifying data depending on the type of data it is, but the form classification takes is heavily dependent on the industry said organisations operate in.

Many organisations will use data classification to manage and protect sensitive information like Personally Identifiable Information (PII) whilst healthcare organisations will use data classification regarding Protected Health Information (PHI).

The different types of data classification

Data classification is commonly understood to take three forms. Let us run through them:

  1. User-based: This both refers to classifying data based on who has permission to access it and refers to handing over data classification duties to the end-user, thus handing over ownership and responsibility.
  2. Content-based: As the label suggests, the content of each file serves as the reason behind the categorisation. A deep study of the information in all files must be conducted before content-based data classification.
  3. Context-based: Context-based classification considers who created the data, where the data is located and the purpose of said data.

What are the basic steps of data classification?

5 steps to data classification

The data classification process can be boiled down to:

  1. Survey data: Run an extensive top-down survey of your data, eradicating useless files and data, whilst assessing what the current data structure looks like.
  2. Assess data: Once data has been surveyed, create the categories, and labels you want to separate them into. Keep in mind that these categories should be influenced by regulatory compliance rules and your organisation’s objectives.
  3. Classify data: Use the categories and labels you have created to assign classifications to your files. Make sure a set pf protocols and policies have been created around this and is easily accessible to your employees, always.
  4. Enforce protocols: Make sure all employees have read, understood, and have access to your protocols, with regular check-ups, assessments, and tests to ensure your protocols are being respected.
  5. Review, review, review: Run regular assessments to ensure your classification policies are absent of security gaps and that there are no weak links in your security chain.

The benefits of data classification

  • Risk mitigation: Data classification allows organisations to identify and prioritise their most sensitive information. By focusing on protecting high-value assets, companies can effectively mitigate risks associated with data breaches and unauthorised access.
  • Swift data recall: When organisations classify their data, they create a network that can easily be parsed, accessed, and utilised. Questions such as ‘what do we have?,’ ‘Where is our private data?,’ ‘who has access to said data?’ and so much more, can easily be addressed – which is a massive benefit to have in the face of regulatory compliance.
  • Regulatory compliance: Many industries are subject to strict regulatory requirements regarding data protection. Data classification helps organisations align with these regulations by ensuring that sensitive data is handled in accordance with legal requirements, avoiding potential fines and legal consequences. Data classification allows security professionals to take these complex decisions away from employees by creating a standard and protocol employees can rely on. Relevant regulations are the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO 27001) and more.
  • Customised security measures: Not all data is created equal and not all data requires the same level of protection. With data classification, organisations can tailor security measures to the specific needs of each data category. This ensures a more efficient use of resources and a more robust defence against cyber threats.
  • Insider threat prevention: Insiders pose a significant risk to cyber security, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Data classification helps organisations monitor and control internal access, preventing unauthorised employees from accessing sensitive information and reducing the risk of data leaks.
  • Incident response and recovery: In the unfortunate event of a cyber-attack, data classification facilitates a swift and targeted response. By knowing which data is most critical, organisations can prioritise recovery efforts, minimising downtime, and potential losses. Data classification often comes together with data compartmentalisation, which also means that, in the case of a cyber breach, your data is siloed and protected against a domino effect of breaches.
  • Increased awareness: When organisations and employees practice data classification, they naturally become more aware of all the different types of data they handle and how to handle them. Employees are subconsciously learning their obligations and how they are supposed to operate. Furthermore, by classifying your data, you understand where you need to assign and prioritise your budget, which can lead to budget optimisation if done correctly.

The role of training and awareness

Cyber security training and awareness

While implementing data classification is a crucial step in enhancing cyber security, it is equally important to support these protocols by relaying to employees the significance of their roles in maintaining a secure environment. Adjacent training programs should focus on:

Recognising phishing attacks: Employees should be educated on how to identify and avoid phishing attempts, which often serve as entry points for cybercriminals in their bid to infiltrate your network and grab your data.

Secure data handling: Training should emphasise the proper handling of classified data, including guidelines for storage, transmission, and disposal, reducing the risk of inadvertent data exposure.

Device security: Employees should understand the importance of securing their devices and practicing good cyber security hygiene, such as using strong passwords and enabling multi-factor authentication.


By implementing a robust data classification framework and accompanying it with comprehensive training and awareness programs, cyber security leaders, information security professionals and employees can collectively strengthen their defence against evolving cyber threats.

In 2024, data classification and cyber security education remain integral to maintaining a resilient and secure organisational environment.

Working with the right partner

Partnering with a trusted cyber security training and awareness company, such as The Security Company Ltd. (TSC), is crucial. With 25 years of experience, TSC specialises in enhancing security behaviours, fostering a robust security culture, and raising awareness of threats and risks across global organisations.

The dynamic nature of cyber threats necessitates a comprehensive and adaptive cyber security strategy for UK law firms. By understanding the evolving threat landscape and investing in robust training and awareness initiatives, decision-makers can fortify their organisations against potential risks and cyberattacks.

At The Security Company, we specialise in boosting cyber awareness, targeted training, customised projects and role-based solutions. Through our tailored subscription services, targeted and customised eLearning and awareness materials and our behavioural assessments, we're committed to helping organisations like yours instil long-term, security-conscious behaviours.

Our method is distinct. We begin by diving deep into your team's current mindset, pinpointing lax behaviours, security gaps and departments in need of focus and attention. From there, we craft tailored solutions that encourage better cyber practices from your employees. With comprehensive training and seamless integration into your current systems, we're here to fortify your team against modern cyber threats and be your trusted cyber security and awareness partner.

Ready to take the next step?

We can help you to formulate an effective and comprehensive cyber security training and awareness program for your organisation year-round and be your dedicated partner for employee behaviour change and, ultimately, security culture change.

Do not hesitate to contact us for further information.

Written by
Nas Ali
Cyber security and awareness content creator focused on emerging threats and the next wave of cyber security risks like AI, deepfakes and tech 4.0 initiatives in order to build towards a more secure organisational culture.
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