Home » How to Use Data Masking to Protect Your Customer Data From Cyberattacks: A Step-By-Step Tutorial for IT Professionals

How to Use Data Masking to Protect Your Customer Data From Cyberattacks: A Step-By-Step Tutorial for IT Professionals

by Gulam Moin

Cyberattacks and data breaches are rising threats. Much of this stolen data involves sensitive customer information like names, addresses, IDs, and financial details. Failures to protect data can damage reputations and bottom lines.

Data masking limits risks by hiding real customer data with fakes. This prevents exposure while maintaining useful data formats. Follow this tutorial to implement masking that fortifies your data protection.

What Is Customer Data Masking?

Masking hides sensitive fields in datasets by replacing real values with fake ones. For example:

  • Swapping real emails with fake emails.
  • Generating fake phone numbers that mimic real formats
  • Creating realistic but fake customer names, addresses, and credit cards

Masking does not impact real data in production systems. It occurs in copies used for testing or analytics.

Well-masked data looks real but does not expose actual people. This protects privacy if data sets are stolen.

Why Mask Customer Data?

Have you ever wondered why companies hide or “mask” your personal information? Well, there are some important reasons for it. Think of it like a superhero cape for your data!

First, dynamic data masking keeps your information safe from bad people who want to steal it. When companies use masking, they make sure that only a little bit of your information is out there in the open. So there’s less for hackers to grab.

Second, if, by any chance, your masked data gets stolen, it’s not a big deal because the bad guys can’t use it. They see fake values instead of your real information.

Masking also helps with something called “analytics.” That’s like using data to make better decisions. When companies use your data for this, they don’t need to show your real name or personal stuff. They use the masked information to make things work better.

By using masking, companies show that they take your privacy seriously. This helps build trust, and you know you can rely on them.

So, masking acts like a special shield for your data. It makes it harder for the hackers to get it. Keeps your data safe, and shows that companies are doing their best to look after your information.

Step 1 – Identify Sensitive Data Requiring Masking

The first step is mapping where sensitive customer data resides so you know what must be masked. Methods include:

  • Data discovery – Scan systems to inventory where customer data lives. Document formats and uses.
  • Data classification – Tag data by sensitivity level (public, confidential, restricted).
  • Understanding data flows – Diagram how data moves between environments to reveal high-risk areas.
  • Knowing regulations – Identify data types requiring protection under laws like HIPAA or GDPR.

Determining sensitive fields needing masking across systems and databases is crucial for complete protection.

Step 2 – Determine Appropriate Masking Techniques

With target data identified, decide which masking techniques to apply:

Substitution – Replace real data with fictional but realistic-looking values.

  • Ex. Masking bob@company.com as mark@company.com

Shuffling – Mix up data by switching parts. Retains formats.

  • Ex. Turning Alice Smith into Sara Jones

Number variance – Alter numbers slightly within a small range.

  • Ex. Changing salary from $60,000 to $59,823

Encryption – Encode data into unreadable format. Only authorized parties can decrypt it.

Deletion – Permanently remove certain data irrevocably.

  • Ex. Deleting entire credit card numbers

Format preserving – Keep original formats but mask content.

  • Ex. Masking 456-789-0123 to look like 456-789-0000

Combine techniques like substitution + encryption based on data types and uses.

Step 3 – Implement Masking Without Disrupting Operations

Masking should not alter production systems or data flows. Recommended approaches:

  • Limit scope – Only mask copies of data used for non-production purposes like testing and analytics. Avoid production systems.
  • Deploy incrementally – Phase rollout. Start with one application or database, learn, and then expand masking.
  • Test exhaustively – Rigorously test masked data to validate usability for intended purposes before deploying to production apps.
  • Automate ongoing masking – Configure centralized rules to auto-mask sensitive fields in real-time. Schedule periodic batch jobs.
  • Monitor operations – Watch for processing delays, downtime, or anomalies that could indicate issues.
  • Refine rules over time – Tweak masking recipes as data changes to maintain privacy and usefulness.

Careful, incremental deployment prevents disruption while maximizing benefits.

Step 4 – Expand Masking Across Your Data Environment

Once implemented for one use case, expand masking systematically:

  • Mask testing data – Mask customer info in test, QA, and development systems. Mask wider data over time.
  • Enable analytics – Anonymize production data for safe but useful analytics input.
  • Secure reports – Mask sensitive fields before distributing reports.
  • Transfer data securely – Mask data going to outside partners to prevent exposure.
  • Manage consent – Associate masked data with consent markers to filter based on consumer preferences.
  • Guide outsourcing – Mandate partners mask the data they handle to ensure controls extend beyond your systems.

Step 5 – Oversee Masking Centrally

Managing masking makes ongoing governance and compliance easier:

  • Consolidate tools – Use solutions that mask across all databases and environments. This centralizes control.
  • Automate documentation – Leverage features that auto-generate reports showing what data is masked and where. This eases auditing.
  • Track dashboards – Use dashboards to track masking operations, track rule performance, and show compliance.
  • Assign roles – Appoint specific teams to oversee data masking practices based on expertise.
  • Update processes – Add masking checkpoints into workflows like release management and change control.
  • Educate employees – Train staff on masking best practices through resources like videos and cheat sheets.

A centralized approach ensures masking stays consistent, compliant, and optimized across systems.


Does masking guarantee full data protection?

No. Masking is one useful tool but must be part of a defense-in-depth strategy including firewalls, access controls, encryption, and other measures.

When should masking occur?

Mask data as close to the point of entry as possible. Mask inbound data feeds before populating databases. For analytics, mask data is extracted right before inputting to models.

Can masked data be reversed to original values?

Properly implemented irreversible masking using cryptographic methods de-identifies data forever. Reversibility depends on the masking technique used.

Does masking remove the need for consent?

No. You still must gain consent from customers to collect and use personal data in any form, including masked.

Start Protecting Your Customer’s  Data

Cyberattacks aimed at stealing customer data sophisticated and frequent. Preventing exposure is vital for security, trust, and regulatory compliance.

Data masking adds a proven layer of protection by transforming sensitive customer data into privacy-safe fake data formats. Combined with strong foundational measures, masking reduces risks and impacts when breaches do occur.

Talk to our experts to assess your needs and implement the right enterprise-grade masking solution tailored to your environment. Let’s build ongoing data protection together.

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