Big data is a concept so large, it’s hard to define in a single sentence.

It refers not only to the sheer amount of data produced and compiled, but also its various sources, speeds, and formats. With that in mind, it’s easy to see how managing and protecting big data is one of the most difficult and complex issues facing information security (IS) professionals today.

Although most companies centralize big data in a single database, it’s impossible for private and public entities to keep an eye on all of their data all of the time, leaving it at risk for security breaches. But while big data obviously brings information security challenges, it also provides opportunities for innovation.


Key Challenges for Big Data Security

  • Cyber Criminals. As it becomes bigger and more difficult to manage, big data consequently becomes more appealing to hackers and cyber criminals. Because big data is a dataset of unprecedented size with centralized access, any exposure is total exposure. These types of breaches make headlines, incite consumers, and may cause major reputational, legal, and financial damage. (Staples is one of many recent casualties.)
  • Resource Capacity. As an organization collects big data across channels at an exponential rate, their storage can grow beyond terabytes. As a result, data encryption and migration can get bottle-necked or leaky. Additionally, the sheer volume of data makes implementation of security control unwieldy. The tools required for monitoring and analyzing big data produce massive amounts of their own security-related data every day, which puts undue pressure on the organization’s capacity to store and analyze it all.
  • Cloud and Remote Access. One answer to the capacity issues of big data is to put it in the cloud. This relieves some of the burden for storage and processing, but creates new challenges for protecting it from criminals. And as more businesses allow for flex-time and mobile offices, employees have access to sensitive company data via smart phones, tablet devices, and home laptops. Protecting personal devices becomes a balancing act between security and productivity.
  • Supply Chain and Partner Security. Organizations rarely operate independently. They rely on supply chain partners and external vendors for many of their business functions. Information flows in and out of each organization to keep these relationships functioning. Coordinating the safety of big data across partners is another layer of complexity to a business’s information security challenges.
  • Privacy. Both private and public organizations face the growing challenge of privacy concerns. Consumers are wary about personal information being collected and stored, and fearful about security breaches. Plus, there are legislative and regulatory requirements to keep in mind.


Key Opportunities for Big Data Security

  • Centralization. A two-sided coin, centralization is both a challenge and an opportunity for big data. On the plus side, centralization stops data sprawl as we know it—putting data where it can be corralled, analyzed, and surveyed. Abandoning the sprawl allows for more concentrated security controls and analyses. And this aggregated dataset is more responsive to locating leaks and fraud attempts.
  • Compliance vs. Risk Assessment. Instead of looking at it in terms of compliance, companies should approach data security by assessing the risk. Information security teams need to ask: What information is really at risk? How does the risk affect the organization and all of our various stakeholders? Figuring out how to manage the real risks and developing customized solutions will not only improve data security, it gives those companies a competitive edge over the ones who are just meeting the required regulations.
  • Big Data Analytics. According to Avivah Litan, vice president and analyst at the Gartner research firm: “Big data analytics enables enterprises to combine and correlate external and internal information to see a bigger picture of threats against their enterprises.” That said, the information pulled by big data analytics software is only as good as the people and systems analyzing the data. Cyber criminals act fast, and the data pointing to suspicious activity quickly becomes irrelevant after the fact. That’s why timely and intelligent data analysis is key to data security.


The People Behind the Data

Just as cyber crime is the end result of real-life hackers sitting in front of their computer screens, good data security is the responsibility of information security professionals who monitor and analyze relevant data. Until big data tools can perform true “intelligent analytics,” highly trained information scientists are needed to interact with the data to identify threats.

Prepare yourself to meet the security challenges of big data—as well as take advantage of the opportunities—through certifications, advanced degree programs, and continuing education.


Capella offers a variety of programs in data analytics and business intelligence including: