The Risk of Production Data in Test: Harnessing Synthetics

The Vulnerable Link in Data Security

In the world of data security, the age-old adage “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” holds true, especially when it comes to your organization’s data security. This vulnerability is amplified by the fact that your data security is only as robust as your least informed and least cautious employee. Astonishingly, a staggering 74% of data breaches can be attributed to the “human element,” while the financial aftermath of an average data breach rings in at a staggering $4.35 million.

The Risky Practice of Testing with Production Data

Enter the precarious practice of transferring sensitive production data to less secure testing environments. This seemingly needless procedure drastically expands the potential attack surface of your data. The looming question is: why does this practice persist?

The Allure and Peril of Production Data for Testing

The inclination to use production data in testing environments often stems from well-intentioned motives. Developers frequently resort to employing real data to test new features or troubleshoot issues, as it mimics real-world scenarios.

Balancing Testing Needs and Security Imperatives

Despite its apparent benefits for testing, this practice presents a substantial security risk. Organizations can pour significant resources into fortifying production databases and the associated infrastructure, deploying an array of safeguards, firewalls, and scanners. However, once this data migrates to a less secure domain such as a test or development environment, its vulnerability increases significantly.

Consequences of Mishandled Data

Actual production data often houses sensitive customer information, encompassing details like names, addresses, and financial specifics. Mishandling this information can result in breaches that not only tarnish a company’s reputation but also lead to severe legal and financial repercussions.

Lessons from Legal Fines

A poignant reminder is a €1.2 billion fine under the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), accompanied by a staggering tally of 1,700 fines issued since its inception in 2018.

Beyond the Surface Solution

During discussions with vendors at the European InfoSec event, a recurring suggestion for dealing with production data in non-production environments was to eliminate this practice and revoke access.

The Challenge of Realistic Testing

While valid, this response doesn’t address the underlying problem. There are situations where developers or testers require real-world scenarios to simulate specific application conditions. Without a robust solution for provisioning and generating test data, relying on production data becomes the sole option. Consequently, exceptions arise, posing unacceptable risks.

From Masking to Synthetic Data

To tackle these challenges, a modern approach to test data creation is gaining traction: the use of synthetic data. Unlike masked data, synthetic data is artificially generated, eliminating the risk of exposing sensitive information.

The Power of Synthetic Data

Synthetic data is generated using algorithms based on application scenarios and business logic. This approach ensures the creation of a diverse dataset, offering comprehensive coverage for testing and development purposes.

Bridging Privacy and Rigorous Testing

Synthetic data facilitates thorough and realistic testing, mitigating the potential for costly bugs and security vulnerabilities. Furthermore, it can generate accurate data on demand, bypassing the often substantial development time spent sourcing or generating data.

Embracing Secure Testing and Development

By adopting synthetic data, developers and testers can fulfill their roles efficiently without subjecting the organization to the perils associated with using actual production data.

Strengthening Security and Streamlining Development

The strength of your data security strategy pivots on its weakest point. If live production data remains in non-production domains, it serves as a weak link in the chain.

Empowering Data Security

Establishing robust test data management practices strengthens your data against breaches. It is imperative to equip your workforce with the tools and knowledge essential for confidently navigating the intricate domain of data security. The adoption of synthetic test data generation offers a secure solution that streamlines and optimizes testing and development endeavors.