COVID-19 made us wear a mask to protect ourselves in public. At the same junction, data obfuscation is a process of hiding or concealing private or confidential data to maintain the data’s secrecy.

Data obfuscation is also known as data masking, data anonymization, or pseudonymization. The method includes replacing the original data with some other form of operational data such as characters or different symbolic data types. It turns more fruitful in the situation where third-party data sharing is involved.

Data obfuscation or data masking plays a vital role in production environments. It is essential to secure the real data and shield over confidential information, including social security numbers, credit card numbers, and personal identification details. In networks like a cloud production environment, the goal is to obstruct attackers’ entry from accessing any of this personal information.

Data obfuscation techniques

  • Substitution

Substitution includes replacing the original data with equivalent or similar forms of fake data with an identical format and business logic. In such cases, even if the data is stolen or leaked, the attacker will only catch hold of fake imaginary information that will be of no use for him.

Thus, the substitution technique can successfully create a lure or bait that makes an attacker think that he has successfully hijacked the data, but in actual it is nothing but just the fake data.

  • Shuffling

Working of the shuffling method is similar to substitution. Organizations substitute original data with some other authentic data but will shuffle the order of the data in which it is entered.

  • Masking out

To mask any information is to cover the original information with false data to keep the data private. Masking out any data is an effective means of hiding sensitive information as the fake data is made to look so realistic. It can be best used in testing, application, development, or any other personal training data to present the data set without revealing confidential data.

The mask-out technique makes more sense when sensitive information needs to be printed on paper or displayed on a screen. One of the best examples is to mask a credit card number like 4929750040105421 into 49XX-XXXX-XXXX-5421.

Masking out the credit card number will make the data appear unrecognizable for attackers. As the credit card owner holds the account details, he can easily map the masked data to the actual credit card number.

  • Encryption

Encrypting any form of data can help it to store or transfer it securely. While the information is in an encrypted state, it restricts the user from making any changes or analyzing it.

Data obfuscation through encryption typically makes use of cryptography, where users portray the information with additional code. Only an authorized recipient can separate the hidden or evaluate the information. This is why the term ‘crypt’ is used, and the decoding of the data is performed using another code called a cryptographic key.

  • Tokenization

Substituting some data with a value that holds no meaning is called tokenization. Only those users who have the right token (or key) can access the data and transform the value back to its original form and retain the information back to its original state. Credit card payment processors often use this method to mask customers’ credit card numbers.

Need for data obfuscation

Following are some of the key reasons why organizations need to adapt data obfuscation methods:

  • Third-party intervention – Sharing personal information, payment card information, or even health details to any third party can be dangerous. It involves double risk – exposing important data of organizations to violations of regulations and standards. The other is an increase in the number of people who can access the data without acknowledging the organization.
  • The authenticity of the data – Operating personal accounts on organization devices may expose the user data to employees, employers, or others. Various business processes such as testing, development, analytics, and reporting need not necessarily process real or personal data. Obfuscating data at this point can help organizations maintain the business process and eliminate the risks.
  • Maintaining compliance – Data obfuscation helps various organizations maintain regulatory requirements, such as the General Data Protection Regulation(GDPR). It also helps larger bodies to stay away from paying a hefty amount for data breaches.
    Data obfuscation can also benefit regulated industries that protect personally identifiable information (PII) from exposure. It draws a line on revealing only the required information to specific users, thus handling failure to comply with standards.

Wrapping up

Automating data obfuscation with third-party tools can help organizations easily execute the activity. Some of the readily available tools include Data Masking and Subsetting, Microsoft SQL Server Data Masking, and IBM InfoSphere Optim Data Privacy. It can turn beneficial, especially for those corporate bodies who do not have a team dedicatedly working for security issues.

Implementing data obfuscation can be challenging while taking into account security and compliance benefits. Moreover, users need to ensure that the changed data remains integral that demands careful processing. Reverting the data to its original form also requires defined particular steps with reverse-engineering knowledge.

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