By Mohammed Imran K R
On August 11th 2023, the Digital Personal Data Protection Act 2023 was published in the official gazette, following the approval of the President. This development marks a pivotal moment in the ongoing efforts by the Indian government to safeguard individuals’ personal data.
In the age of AI, the importance of this act cannot be understated. Companies are increasingly looking to leverage powerful AI models in order to increase efficiency and provide better customer experience. To improve the quality of their models, they need to fine-tune and adapt their model according to their customer preferences and data. The new act ensures that customers have control over their data, and that they have given explicit consent for their data to be used.
This act brings to light the focal point for every business leveraging cloud computing and AI: the strategy, the technologies, and the policies they have in place to handle and secure customer data. Right strategy and approach is also paramount if they seek to protect sensitive customer information from potential threats and breaches, and mitigate business risks that come along with.
Customer Data and Cloud Computing
Safeguarding customer data in the age of AI and cloud computing involves a combination of encryption technologies, access control and policies, and right approaches to monitoring in case of any breaches. Modern Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) follow a shared responsibility model, where the cloud providers are responsible for the physical security of the infrastructure and the customers are responsible for ensuring protection of their data.
The CSPs may employ the best practices, but it is eventually the responsibility of the businesses and their developers to ensure that they have implemented the right encryption technologies, policies and monitoring tactics to ensure security of customer data.Outlined below are some of the key factors that businesses need to consider when handling customer data.
Technologies That Help Secure Customer Data
Customer data grows in tandem as customer information progresses, from its initial collection to its eventual disposal or archival. In any cloud application, this may involve the steps of gathering, processing, usage, and eventual removal of customer data while adhering to data protection regulations and privacy best practices. Technically speaking, customer data, or any form of data for that matter, has three states in which it exists: data at rest, data in transit, and data being processed.
In order to ensure complete control on data, organizations and their developers need to think about ways in which they can protect data in all the aforementioned states. Threats and breaches can happen in any of these states, and increasingly sophisticated encryption and data protection technologies are emerging to help businesses protect data.
A key strategy that businesses can use to protect data in the cloud is through a suite of encryption technologies that ensures data remains secure both during transmission and storage. TLS or SSL, for instance, are two popular encryption technologies that help protect data during transmission, and are widely used in cloud deployments. Businesses can further choose to leverage file encryption or database encryption technologies to secure data at rest. Various other encryption technologies are often employed, such as API encryption, or web application firewalls and others.
An emerging technology, known as Confidential Cloud Computing, can help protect data even during processing. These employ algorithmic techniques like Homomorphic Encryption or hardware technologies like Trusted Execution Environments, in order to ensure that data remains encrypted and secure even while being processed.
Access Control and Policies
No matter the technologies in place, if the organization doesn’t put in the right set of access control mechanisms, data security cannot be ascertained. Strict access controls, authorization strategies and multi-factor authentication (MFA) mechanisms within the application stack ensure that only authorized personnel can access customer data. This reduces the risk of data breaches resulting from compromised credentials.
Organizations also need to provide comprehensive training to employees regarding data security best practices and should also put safeguards and policies in place when sharing data with third parties (e.g., vendors, partners). Organisations should obtain explicit consent from customers before collecting their data, clearly explaining the purpose and scope of data usage. Furthermore, they should also ensure that data deletion is done in a secure way upon customer request. Ultimately, technology solutions can only go so far in protecting data. Right policies ensure that breaches don’t take place due to human error.
Customer Data in the era of AI
Securing customer data in the age of AI presents a unique new set of challenges and opportunities. First and foremost, businesses should clearly communicate to customers how their data will be used for AI applications. They should obtain explicit consent for data usage, and provide options for customers to opt in or out of data processing activities.
Assuming a customer gives consent, there are strategies they should employ for securing their data and ensuring privacy. For instance, they should limit the amount of customer data collected and processed to only what is necessary for AI-driven initiatives. Furthermore, they should Implement data protection mechanisms, such as anonymization and pseudonymization, to ensure that customer data is used in a way that minimizes risks to privacy. They should ensure that AI models and algorithms themselves are protected from unauthorized access or tampering. The key to building any AI system that protects customers is to build it with ‘privacy by design’ as a principle.
As we step into a future where customer data becomes a key leverage for businesses, it is of paramount importance that businesses treat customer data as sacrosanct in order to mitigate business risks, and ensure regulatory compliance. Powerful encryption technologies are already available, and when employed along with the right organizational strategy and policies in place, can give the peace of mind that businesses need in order to be compliant and forward thinking in their data strategy.
The author is CTO, E2E Networks Ltd, a cloud computing platform
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