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How to Keep Information Confidential in the Workplace

Employee sitting at desk with laptop while reviewing paper documents

Keeping information confidential is critical for any organization. The consequences of a breach can be severe, leading to financial losses, lawsuits, and a damaged reputation. For many companies, the leaking of proprietary information, such as a secret recipe or patented technology, could destroy their competitive advantage. Even organizations without such trade secrets must still safeguard sensitive data, such as payment details, employee information, health data, and more. Something as simple as one employee revealing the details of a performance review to another could have serious ramifications.

However, in a digital world, multiple copies of sensitive information can be stored on a range of mediums and transmitted to anywhere in the world at the speed of light. So, how can you ensure everyone in your business understands how to keep information confidential in the workplace? Read on to discover the best practices for protecting your data. 

What Is Confidential Information?

The term “confidential” doesn’t just apply to state secrets or medical notes. It covers any sensitive data that must be protected from unauthorized access, use, or disclosure. This can range from the seemingly innocuous, such as a candidate’s phone number, to something as vital as the master password to company bank accounts. Whatever form confidential information takes, your organization must ensure it is safeguarded.

Let’s take a look at the main categories of confidential workplace information and some examples:

Employee information

  • Salary and compensation details
  • Performance reviews and disciplinary records
  • Personal identification numbers and banking information

Candidate information

Management information

  • Strategic plans and budgets
  • Board meeting minutes and executive communications
  • Merger and acquisition details

Organizational/company information and trade secrets

  • Financial statements and projections
  • Proprietary software code and algorithms
  • Manufacturing processes and formulas

Customer/client information

  • Contact details and preferences
  • Purchase history and credit card information
  • Contracts and service agreements

Professional information

Why Is Safeguarding Confidential Information Important?

Publicly disclosing confidential information could damage your business. Data leaks can expose employees or customers to identity theft or leave your company vulnerable to cyberattacks. Mishandling confidential information could also violate privacy laws, leading to legal penalties or hefty fines. 

If you improperly manage data that’s protected by regulations like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) or the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), you risk being prosecuted, sued, or fined. In 2023, Google was forced to pay $93 million and accept a series of terms after it was accused of breaching California consumer protection laws. A year later, DoorDash was forced to pay $375,000 for violating the CCPA when it was found to have sold the personal information of its customers. 

For organizations in the healthcare space, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) enforces standards for the protection and confidential handling of protected health information. Failing to do so could result in an organization paying out major sums. To date, companies have had to pay a total of over $142 million in settlements and fines for violating HIPAA

Clearly, effectively protecting confidential data is of the utmost importance to achieve legal compliance.

In addition to incurring legal liability, an information incident can tarnish your company’s reputation, causing you to lose the confidence of employees, clients, and stakeholders. This can result in a loss of business and add to the financial costs of the breach. What’s more, if proprietary information is compromised, your organization could be left at a competitive disadvantage. 

Which departments and industries carry the most risk?

While every team in every organization handles various categories of information that must be kept confidential, the risk is heightened in certain areas, such as:

  • HR departments: The regular processing of personally identifiable information (PII) of both employees and candidates means HR teams must know how to keep information confidential in the workplace on a daily basis. 

  • Legal departments and organizations: Information that falls under attorney-client privilege and confidential case details are highly sensitive and could spell disaster if released. 

  • Government departments and organizations often handle the highest levels of top-secret, secret, and Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) that, if breached, could put national security at risk. 

9 Best Practices for Protecting Confidential Information in the Workplace

To minimize the risk of an information leak, organizations must implement a comprehensive set of measures to safeguard the confidentiality of sensitive data they handle. These measures should be designed to protect information at every stage, from collection and storage to sharing and disposal. By adopting the following industry-standard best practices, businesses can effectively secure private information, maintain compliance, and build trust among stakeholders.

1. Develop a comprehensive confidentiality policy:

Organizations must create clear guidelines for handling sensitive data and develop a formal, written information security policy. Far too many businesses rely on patched-together processes they’ve collected over the years, and each department might follow a different approach. That method doesn’t protect your data or your business. Instead, there needs to be a central source of truth that defines the responsibilities of all employees and the consequences of breaches. The policy should also require employee confidentiality agreements to ensure that your employees maintain the security of any information they access. Finally, be sure to regularly review and update your policy to maintain compliance with the latest regulations. 

2. Implement access controls and permissions:

Once you have a policy, you need a process. Protect confidential data by restricting access on a need-to-know basis. Only permit employees access to information they need to do their jobs. Use role-based access controls (RBAC) to manage permissions. Be sure to regularly review and update access rights, especially when roles change.

3. Encrypt sensitive data:

Use technology to protect sensitive data through encryption. Encryption scrambles information both at rest and in transit, ensuring that only authorized persons can access it. Encryption should secure your organization's channels of communication and ensure that your employees only use these encrypted channels to share or transmit confidential information. 

4. Secure physical documents and devices:

Although we currently live in the digital age, sensitive data can still often be found in paper form. Be sure to store sensitive paper documents in locked cabinets or rooms with controlled access. Create and implement clean desk policies to prevent inadvertent disclosure. Electronic devices should be protected with strong passwords and encryption to prevent a breach, even in the case of theft. 

5. Use secure file sharing and collaboration tools:

Cutting corners is what bad actors count on. It's essential that you and your team avoid using personal email addresses or unsecured cloud storage for the distribution of sensitive information. Invest in secure, enterprise-grade file-sharing and collaboration platforms to protect confidential data. 

6. Provide regular employee training:

Ultimately, your own employees could pose a far greater risk than external cyberattacks. It’s vital to educate your staff on the importance of data confidentiality and their role in protecting it. Train your staff on best practices for handling sensitive information and identifying potential risks. Be sure to conduct periodic refresher courses to reinforce security awareness. 

7. Monitor and audit data access:

An audit trail can help you identify an information breach before it has a chance to do real harm. Regularly review logs and audit trails to detect unauthorized access or suspicious activity. Investigate potential breaches or policy violations promptly to catch issues before they have a chance to become catastrophes. One way to make this easier is to use automated monitoring tools to identify anomalies and alert security teams. 

8. Implement secure data destruction processes:

Sensitive data that is no longer needed should be quickly destroyed to mitigate the risk of a breach. Establish policies for securely disposing of confidential documents and data when no longer needed. Use shredders or professional document destruction services for physical documents and ensure proper secure deletion of electronic data to prevent recoverability. 

9. Redact sensitive information before sharing:

A very practical way to keep the information confidential in your workplace is to redact sensitive details before distributing documents. Not only does this maintain the secrecy of confidential information, but it also ensures that your employees only have access to the information they need to do their jobs. But what’s the best way to redact confidential information?

What Are the Limitations of Traditional Redaction Methods?

Traditional manual redaction methods that use scissors, markers, tape, or other physical means have several limitations that can hinder the effective protection of sensitive information. Manual redaction is fine for handling one or two pages, but for higher volumes, it becomes an extremely time-consuming and labor-intensive process. Redacting information by hand can be a tedious task that requires meticulous attention to detail, especially when dealing with lengthy documents or large datasets.

Additionally, manual redaction is prone to human error and inconsistencies. Even the most diligent individuals can become tired or distracted and accidentally overlook sensitive information or apply redactions inconsistently across multiple documents. These mistakes can lead to incomplete protection of sensitive data, potentially exposing it to unauthorized parties. 

Another significant limitation of traditional methods is the lack of scalability. As the volume of documents or data requiring redaction grows, so do the time and resources needed to complete the task manually. This can result in delays, increased costs, and reduced efficiency. In today's digital age, where organizations often deal with vast amounts of data, relying on manual redaction methods is simply not practical or necessary.

What Are the Benefits of Automated Redaction Solutions?

Automated, cloud-based redaction services, like Redactable, offer a more efficient, accurate, and scalable solution. Instead of asking staff to read through and redact hundreds of documents over many hours or days, Redactable’s automated software leverages AI to find and redact huge amounts of data instantly. This is a cost-effective approach to consistently redacting every occurrence of sensitive information across all types of documents. Redactable also provides a full audit trail, enabling you to demonstrate compliance with ease. 

Protecting Confidential Information is Critical

Failing to secure sensitive information can have severe legal, financial, and reputational consequences for your business. Effective data protection is essential for maintaining the trust of your employees, clients, and stakeholders. 

Implement comprehensive security policies and strict access controls. Encrypt sensitive data both at rest and in transit. Use secure file-sharing tools rather than email for confidential documents. Provide thorough employee training on security practices. Actively monitor systems for suspicious activity. Securely destroy data when no longer needed through shredding and always redact sensitive information before sharing.

You can make data security a priority by deleting or obscuring sensitive data in documents using an automated redaction solution like Redactable. Consider trying Redactable out for free to see how implementing advanced redaction solutions can ensure the highest level of protection for your organization’s sensitive information.

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