Expanded Definition: Data Loss Prevention

According to McAfee, a global leader in antivirus and data loss prevention (DLP), 18.1% of documents uploaded to file-sharing services contain sensitive information. This can include personally identifiable information (PII), protected health information, payment card data, and intellectual property. Managing this data properly means navigating compliance and security concerns that MSPs cannot afford to overlook

What is data loss prevention?

Data loss prevention (DLP) is a category of practices and products that aim to minimize the negative impacts of a network breach. DLP best practices and software platforms focus on monitoring and managing data access for both authorized and unauthorized users.

For example, an employee may attempt to share a document containing private customer data with a third-party contractor. Since the contractor does not have authorized access to this information, a DLP tool could be used to alert the employee of this error or even block them from sharing the information with someone outside the network.

If it’s an absolute necessity for the contractor to receive certain data, DLP software tools can allow for permissions to be set for that particular document. This enables everyone who needs access to easily view the information while safeguarding it from unnecessary eyes and potential threats.

In another scenario, a contractor may have unapproved access to a document containing sensitive information. Without proper data loss prevention tools and practices in place, that contractor may be able to access the document and send it outside the organization, creating a much higher risk of breach exposure. 

DLP solutions protect organizations against insider threats while also ensuring that they remain compliant with data privacy regulations. The average cost of a data breach reached $4.24 million in 2021. This astronomical price tag and other factors – such as cloud app sprawl and the increased reliance on a work-from-anywhere workforce – have only heightened security concerns.

The trend toward businesses abandoning the traditional brick-and-mortar office model has increased the number of endpoints and third-party applications within organizations’ networks, forcing DLP tools to cover more ground. Add to that the ever-increasing number of cybersecurity threats, and it’s easy to see why MSPs need to consider leveraging data loss prevention software to protect valuable client information.

Common causes of data loss

Prevention is the best cure for data loss. MSPs should take the time necessary to educate their clients on what can be done internally toward data loss prevention. Part of that education means understanding the common causes of data loss.

The most common causes of data loss or security breach are:

  • Hardware destruction
  • Theft
  • Computer viruses
  • Human failure or error
  • Software corruption

In addition to mitigating these common sources of data loss, MSPs should consider providing their clients with resources to further educate their staff and customers. Our eBook: 5 exclusive ways to skyrocket data loss protection is a great source of information for clients and their customers looking to prevent catastrophic security breaches. If you’re looking for other recommendations on how to train your team, your clients, or their customers on DLP best practices, contact us at any time. 

The MSP role in data loss prevention

With many customers’ network security under their purview, managed service providers (MSPs) rely upon DLP solutions to help catalog and monitor data while preventing and detecting any data loss. Traditionally, these solutions require heavy lifting in the setup and deployment phases, but advancements in machine learning for content and context awareness are beginning to make enterprise DLP solutions a better fit for MSPs.

Additionally, data visibility is critical to MSPs. Innovations in the monitoring and response technologies used within DLP solutions are making more agile, granular views into the status of network data and the root causes of endpoint device threats possible. To reduce overhead and alert fatigue, the DLP alerts may be sent to a SIEM cybersecurity center and then added to the rest of the data security events.

As most DLP solutions offer policy protections for common data compliance standards like HIPAA, GPR, CCPA, and more, these tools also improve your clients’ security posture in the face of ongoing regulations. As laws around data management continue to tighten, MSPs may want to consult our cybersecurity glossary to ensure they are up to date on the latest in cybersecurity and IT legislation.

Maintaining a data inventory

Knowing where organizations’ sensitive data is stored and processed is the first step in stopping digital threat actors, minimizing the impact of employee mistakes, or preventing catastrophic data loss. This data inventory must include a wide variety of sources such as:

  • Servers
  • Network Devices
  • End-user Devices
  • Storage Area Networks
  • Backup Arrays
  • File Shares
  • Third-Party Applications and Cloud Applications

While data discovery is the first step of the inventory, a DLP solution must also be able to classify the data in order to protect it. For example, you must ensure that your chosen data loss prevention tool handles different document classes (i.e., protected health information (PHI) and board meeting notes) appropriately.

Once the information has been inventoried, it can then be classified within a DLP management framework. Generally, there are three types of data:

  1. Data in Use: Stored in RAM or actively being processed by a CPU
  2. Data in Motion: Being sent between devices both inside and outside of a network
  3. Data at Rest: Not actively being sent between devices and stored physically in computer data storage

Various DLP techniques are then used to protect sensitive data from exfiltration. Content and context awareness are also used to monitor the proper management of the data by authorized users.

Providing data backup and recovery

While DLP solutions help prevent data breaches, they aren't entirely unavoidable. Having a backup plan ready for when incidents do occur helps MSPs reduce the impact of data breaches on clients and their customers.

In the immediate aftermath of a security incident, every second counts. Establishing a data backup and recovery plan allows MSPs to provide both peace of mind and fast responses in the face of disaster.


Data loss prevention defines the practices and tools IT professionals use to protect sensitive network data for their clients. In practice, MSPs use data loss prevention measures to minimize the potential for a data or security breach by monitoring how a client’s employees handle sensitive data. The main goal is to prevent sensitive company data from being shared outside the network and limit exposure to digital threat actors.

An email DLP system can be configured to block incoming or outgoing data that may pose a problem for the client network. For example, if quarterly financial reports shouldn’t be shared outside the company, an email DLP can filter through messages for the subject “quarterly financial report.” Any outgoing emails containing that phrase, or other popular phrases within the document, can be blocked.

Companies can take the best steps toward data loss prevention through their internal processes. Some quick tips to implement to minimize data loss are:

  1. Have an equipment or device security policy
  2. Use encryption on sensitive files and data
  3. Implement a “No food or drink” policy when using hardware
  4. Back up company data routinely
  5. Use antivirus and antimalware software in addition to DLP tools
  6. Supply your team/your client’s team with ample DLP training and resources
  7. Implement a strict password policy
  8. Update equipment often

DLP protects data by monitoring and managing its access for both authorized and unauthorized users. Permissions may be set on mission-critical documents to allow for third-party contractor or vendor access, while still maintaining a high level of security. Messages or emails with certain keywords or phrases can also be filtered and blocked to prevent any unauthorized sharing of sensitive data. Ultimately, the people who need access to data get it and the document still remains protected from prying eyes and unwanted threat actors.

Did you know?

18.1% of documents uploaded to file-sharing services contain sensitive information, such as personally identifiable information , protected health information, payment card data, or intellectual property, thus creating compliance concerns.

- McAfee

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