Synthetic Data vs Data Masking: Benefits & Challenges in 2023

In recent years, data privacy and security have become very important. This is especially since businesses collect and store large amounts of data. Apart from focusing on content marketing ideas, collecting and organizing data is also equally important for any business. Two popular methods for protecting data privacy are synthetic data and data masking.

Synthetic data is artificially-generated data. It mimics real data while protecting the privacy of individuals. Data masking, on the other hand, involves altering real data. This is meant to hide sensitive information while maintaining its usefulness.

Both methods have their benefits and drawbacks. Choosing the right one can depend on various factors such as the nature of the data and the level of privacy needed.

In our article, we will explore the pros and cons of synthetic data and data masking in 2023. This includes their benefits for data privacy and security. We will also talk about the challenges that organizations may face when using these methods. Let’s dive in.

Data Masking: Benefits and Challenges

Benefits of Data Masking

  • 1. Increased Security

Data masking methods are a security measure that helps protect sensitive data from unauthorized access. There are different ways to mask data such as redaction, shuffling, and randomization.

  • Redaction removes sensitive information from a document.
  • Shuffling rearranges the values in a dataset.
  • Randomization replaces sensitive data with random values.

Data masking companies can prevent attackers from identifying and accessing sensitive data.

  • 2. Compliance with Regulations

Regulatory bodies like the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard require businesses to protect sensitive data. Data masking can help companies comply with these regulations and avoid penalties. For instance, the PCI DSS requires businesses to mask credit card numbers, especially when they are not in use.

  • 3. Improved Data Quality

Implementing highly relevant and beneficial data masking techniques can improve the quality of your data by removing errors and inconsistencies. This leads to better decision-making and improved business performance. For example, data masking techniques can help remove duplicate records and correct typos. This will improve your data’s accuracy.

  • 4. Reduced Costs

Masking sensitive data reduces the costs of data breaches and other security incidents. Preventing unauthorized access to sensitive data helps to avoid the costs of data recovery. It will also help avoid legal fees and reputational damage.

  • 5. Increased Flexibility

Data masking software enables businesses to remain more flexible in their use of data. By masking sensitive data, it can be available for use in different applications without compromising security.

For instance, a business can mask credit card numbers before sharing them with a third-party vendor. This enables collaboration without compromising data security.

Challenges of Data Masking

  • 1. Data Volume

Masking large datasets can be time-consuming, costly, and resource-intensive. This is because it can be difficult to mask large amounts of data without errors or inconsistencies. Specialized tools and resources may be required to mask large datasets effectively.

  • 2. Data Complexity

Masking sensitive data can be challenging. This is especially for complex data sets that contain structured and unstructured data. Structured data is typically easier to mask than unstructured data. 

Unstructured data are texts and images. It can be difficult to identify sensitive values in unstructured data. This makes it more challenging to mask.

  • 3. Data Accuracy

It is essential to ensure that masked data is accurate and does not affect the original data’s integrity. Inaccurate masked data can result in incorrect results and influence decision-making quality. Inaccurate masked data can also compromise individual privacy.

  • 4. Data Security

Masked data must be secure and protected against unauthorized decryption. Masked data can still be valuable to attackers, even if it does not contain sensitive values. It can also be used to gain access to sensitive systems and applications. So, the necessary tools are crucial for guaranteed data security.

  • 5. Data Compliance

Data compliance can be demanding. But, remember that it’s for your ultimate benefit. Masking sensitive data must comply with applicable regulations, such as the GDPR. They require businesses to protect personal data, including masked data.

Businesses must notify individuals if their personal data has been compromised. This is essential even if the data has been masked.

Synthetic Data: Benefits and Challenges

Benefits of Synthetic Data

  • 1. Cost-effective

Synthetic data is much cheaper to generate than real-world data. This is because it doesn’t require the same level of human effort and resources to collect, clean, and label.

This makes it a cost-effective way to train machine learning models. It is especially advantageous for businesses that deal with large datasets.

  • 2. Speed

Generating synthetic data is much faster than collecting and preparing real-world data. It’s because it doesn’t require the same amount of time and resources. This makes it a time-saving strategy, particularly for businesses that need to train models quickly.

  • 3. Privacy

Synthetic data is an excellent option for protecting the privacy of individuals mainly because it doesn’t contain personally identifiable information (PII).

Therefore, synthetic data can be a privacy-preserving way for machine learning models. It’s especially ideal for businesses that work with sensitive data.

  • 4. Flexibility

Synthetic data can be customized to fit the specific needs of your business. It will reflect the unique characteristics of its data. This makes it a flexible way to train machine learning models, specifically for businesses that need to work with a variety of data.

  • 5. Ethics

Synthetic data can be used to train ethical machine-learning models. This happens without compromising the ethics of data collection and use. It’s because synthetic data doesn’t contain PII.

This is also because data can be generated to be more representative of the real world. It’s a valuable tool for businesses that need to train ethical machine-learning models.

Challenges of Synthetic Data

  • 1. Accuracy

The accuracy of synthetic data depends on several factors. Such factors include the quality of the original data and the method used to generate the synthetic data. It also includes the parameters used for generating it. 

It is important to test the accuracy of synthetic data before using it to avoid potential errors.

  • 2. Biases

Synthetic data can be biased in many ways. It can be through the original data bias or the method of generating the synthetic data introducing biases. It is important to be aware of these biases and take necessary steps to reduce their impact on the data.

  • 3. Re-identification

Although synthetic data does not contain personally identifiable information (PII), it is still possible to re-identify individuals from it. This is because synthetic data can be generated to appear similar to real-world data.

This makes it possible to identify individuals using various methods. To prevent re-identification when using synthetic data, it is important to take appropriate measures.

  • 4. Compliance

The use of synthetic data can be subject to regulation, such as the GDPR in the European Union. Compliance with these regulations is essential when using synthetic data, yet some may be complex. Businesses must ensure they comply with the relevant regulations.

  • 5. Cost

The cost of generating synthetic data may vary depending on the size of the dataset. It also depends on the method used for generating the data, and the parameters used. It is important to consider the cost of synthetic data generation before deciding to use it.

Conclusion

The exploration of synthetic data and data masking for data privacy and security in 2023 reveals a range of benefits and challenges. Synthetic data offers cost-effectiveness, speed, privacy protection, flexibility, and ethical advantages. However, concerns arise regarding accuracy, biases, re-identification risks, compliance, and associated costs.

On the other hand, data masking methods provide increased security and regulatory compliance. It also provides improved data quality, reduced costs, and enhanced flexibility. Challenges include data volume, complexity, accuracy, security, and compliance with regulations. Thankfully, you can overcome these challenges with the appropriate measures in place such as embracing the relevant data masking techniques.

Understanding the pros and cons of synthetic data and data masking becomes crucial in making informed decisions. This is to safeguard data and uphold privacy standards. This is important for organizations to navigate the complex landscape of data privacy and security.