Learn about your data through discovery and inspection

This page describes and compares two Sensitive Data Protection services that help you understand your data and enable data governance workflows: the discovery service and the inspection service.

Sensitive data discovery

The discovery service monitors data assets across your organization. This service runs continuously and automatically discovers, classifies, and profiles data assets. Discovery can help you understand the location and nature of the data you're storing, including data assets that you might not be aware of. Unknown data (sometimes called shadow data) typically doesn't undergo the same level of data governance and risk management as known data.

You configure discovery at the organization, folder, or project level. You can set different profiling schedules for different subsets of your data. You can also exclude subsets of data that you don't need to profile.

Discovery scan output: data profiles

The output of a discovery scan is a set of data profiles for each data asset in scope. For example, a discovery scan of BigQuery or Cloud SQL data generates data profiles at the project, table, and column levels.

A data profile contains metrics and insights about the profiled resource. It includes the data classifications (or infoTypes), sensitivity levels, data risk levels, data size, data shape, and other elements that describe the nature of the data and its data security posture (how secure the data is). You can use data profiles to make informed decisions about how to protect your data—for example, by setting access policies on the table.

Consider a BigQuery column called ccn, where each row contains a unique credit card number and there are no null values. The generated column-level data profile will have the following details:

Display name Value
Field ID ccn
Data risk High
Sensitivity High
Policy tags No
Free text score 0
Estimated uniqueness High
Estimated null proportion Very low
Last profile generated DATE_TIME
Predicted infoType CREDIT_CARD_NUMBER

Additionally, this column-level profile is part of a table-level profile, which provides insights like the data location, encryption status, and whether the table is shared publicly. In the Google Cloud console, you can also view the Cloud Logging entries for the table, the IAM principals with roles for the table, and the Dataplex tags attached to the table.

A table-level data profile that shows metrics and insights about the table and
lets you view the table in Logging, IAM, and

For a full list of metrics and insights available in data profiles, see Metrics reference.

When to use discovery

When you plan your data risk management approach, we recommend that you start with discovery. The discovery service helps you get a broad view of your data and enable alerting, reporting, and remediation of issues.

In addition, the discovery service can help you identify the resources where unstructured data might reside. Such resources might warrant an exhaustive inspection. Unstructured data is specified by a high free text score in a scale from 0 to 1.

Sensitive data inspection

The inspection service performs an exhaustive scan of a single resource to locate each individual instance of sensitive data. An inspection produces a finding for each detected instance.

Inspection jobs provide a rich set of configuration options to help you pinpoint the data you want to inspect. For example, you can turn on sampling to limit the data to be inspected to a certain number of rows (for BigQuery data) or certain file types (for Cloud Storage data). You can also target a specific timespan in which the data was created or modified.

Unlike discovery, which continuously monitors your data, an inspection is an on-demand operation. However, you can schedule recurring inspection jobs called job triggers.

Inspection scan output: findings

Each finding includes details like the location of the detected instance, its potential infoType, and the certainty (also called likelihood) that the finding matches the infoType. Depending on your settings, you can also get the actual string that the finding pertains to; this string is called a quote in Sensitive Data Protection.

For a full list of details included in an inspection finding, see Finding.

When to use inspection

An inspection is useful when you need to investigate unstructured data (like user-created comments or reviews) and identify each instance of personally identifiable information (PII). If a discovery scan identifies any resources containing unstructured data, we recommend running an inspection scan on those resources to get details on each individual finding.

When not to use inspection

Inspecting a resource isn't useful if both of the following conditions apply. A discovery scan can help you decide if an inspection scan is needed.

  • You have only structured data in the resource. That is, there are no columns of freeform data, like user comments or reviews.
  • You already know the infoTypes stored in that resource.

For example, suppose that data profiles from a discovery scan indicate that a certain BigQuery table doesn't have columns with unstructured data but has a column of unique credit card numbers. In this case, inspecting for credit card numbers in the table isn't useful. An inspection will produce a finding for each item in the column. If you have 1 million rows and each row contains 1 credit card number, an inspection job will produce 1 million findings for the CREDIT_CARD_NUMBER infoType. In this example, the inspection isn't needed because the discovery scan already indicates that the column contains unique credit card numbers.

Data residency, processing, and storage

Both discovery and inspection support data residency requirements:

  • The discovery service processes your data where it resides and stores the generated data profiles in the same region or multi-region as the profiled data. For more information, see Data residency considerations.
  • When inspecting data within a Google Cloud storage system, the inspection service processes your data in the same region where the data resides and stores the inspection job in that region. When inspecting data through a hybrid job or through a content method, the inspection service lets you specify where it should process your data. For more information, see How data is stored.

Comparison summary: discovery and inspection services

Discovery Inspection
  • Continuous visibility across an organization, folder, or project.
  • Helps identify the resources containing sensitive, high-risk, and unstructured data. For a full list of insights, see Metrics reference.
  • Helps uncover unknown data (or _shadow data_).
  • On-demand inspection of a single resource.
  • Identifies each instance of sensitive data in the inspected resource.
  • Running a cost estimation: Free
  • Consumption mode: US$0.03 per GB or the price of 3 TB, whichever is lower
  • Subscription mode (reserved capacity): US$2,500 per subscription unit

10 TB costs approximately US$300 per month in consumption mode.
  • Up to 1 GB: Free
  • 1 GB to 50 TB: US$1.00 per GB
  • 50 TB to 500 TB: US$0.75 per GB
  • Over 500 TB: US$0.60 per GB

10 TB costs approximately US$10,000 per scan.
Supported data sources BigLake
Cloud Functions environment variables
Cloud SQL
Cloud Storage
Cloud Storage
Hybrid (any source)1
Supported scopes Organization, folder, project A single BigQuery table, Cloud Storage bucket, or Datastore kind.
Built-in inspection templates Yes Yes
Built-in and custom infoTypes Yes Yes
Scan output High-level overview (data profiles) of all supported data in your organization, folder, or project. Concrete findings of sensitive data in the inspected resource.
Save results to BigQuery Yes Yes
Send to Dataplex as tags Yes Yes
Publish results to Security Command Center Yes Yes
Publish findings to Google Security Operations Yes for organization-level and folder-level discovery No
Publish to Pub/Sub Yes Yes
Data residency support Yes Yes

1 Hybrid inspection has a different pricing model. For more information, see Inspection of data from any source .

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