SQL Data Discovery and Classification

APPLIES TO: yesSQL Server noAzure SQL Database noAzure SQL Data Warehouse noParallel Data Warehouse

Data Discovery & Classification introduces a new tool built into SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) for discovering, classifying, labeling & reporting the sensitive data in your databases. Discovering and classifying your most sensitive data (business, financial, healthcare, etc.) can play a pivotal role in your organizational information protection stature. It can serve as infrastructure for:

  • Helping meet data privacy standards.
  • Controlling access to and hardening the security of databases/columns containing highly sensitive data.


Data Discovery & Classification is supported for SQL Server 2008 and later, and can be used with SSMS 17.5 or later. For Azure SQL Database, see Azure SQL Database Data Discovery & Classification.


Data Discovery & Classification introduces a set of advanced services, forming a new SQL Information Protection paradigm aimed at protecting the data, not just the database:

  • Discovery & recommendations - The classification engine scans your database and identifies columns containing potentially sensitive data. It then provides you an easy way to review and apply the appropriate classification recommendations, as well as to manually classify columns.
  • Labeling - Sensitivity classification labels can be persistently tagged on columns.
  • Visibility - The database classification state can be viewed in a detailed report that can be printed/exported to be used for compliance & auditing purposes, as well as other needs.

Discovering, classifying & labeling sensitive columns

The following section describes the steps for discovering, classifying, and labeling columns containing sensitive data in your database, as well as viewing the current classification state of your database and exporting reports.

The classification includes two metadata attributes:

  • Labels - The main classification attributes, used to define the sensitivity level of the data stored in the column.
  • Information Types - Provide additional granularity into the type of data stored in the column.

To classify your SQL Server database:

  1. In SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) connect to the SQL Server.

  2. In the SSMS Object Explorer, right click on the database that you would like to classify and choose Tasks > Classify Data....

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  3. The classification engine scans your database for columns containing potentially sensitive data and provides a list of recommended column classifications:

    • To view the list of recommended column classifications, click on the recommendations notification box at the top or the recommendations panel at the bottom of the window:

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    • Review the list of recommendations:

      • To accept a recommendation for a specific column, check the checkbox in the left column of the relevant row. You can also mark all recommendations as accepted by checking the checkbox in the recommendations table header.

      • You can also change the recommended Information Type and Sensitivity Label using the drop down boxes.

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    • To apply the selected recommendations, click on the blue Accept selected recommendations button.

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  4. You can also manually classify columns as an alternative, or in addition, to the recommendation-based classification:

    • Click on Add classification in the top menu of the window.

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    • In the context window that opens, select the schema > table > column that you want to classify, and the information type and sensitivity label. Then click on the blue Add classification button at the bottom of the context window.

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  5. To complete your classification and persistently label (tag) the database columns with the new classification metadata, click on Save in the top menu of the window.

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  6. To generate a report with a full summary of the database classification state, click on View Report in the top menu of the window.

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Accessing the classification metadata

The classification metadata for Information Types and Sensitivity Labels is stored in the following Extended Properties:

  • sys_information_type_name
  • sys_sensitivity_label_name

The metadata can be accessed using the Extended Properties catalog view sys.extended_properties.

The following code example returns all classified columns with their corresponding classifications:

    schema_name(O.schema_id) AS schema_name,
    O.NAME AS table_name,
    C.NAME AS column_name,
                value AS information_type 
            FROM sys.extended_properties 
            WHERE NAME = 'sys_information_type_name'
        ) IT 
                value AS sensitivity_label 
            FROM sys.extended_properties 
            WHERE NAME = 'sys_sensitivity_label_name'
        ) L 
        ON IT.major_id = L.major_id AND IT.minor_id = L.minor_id
    ) EP
    JOIN sys.objects O
    ON  EP.major_id = O.object_id 
    JOIN sys.columns C 
    ON  EP.major_id = C.object_id AND EP.minor_id = C.column_id

Next steps

For Azure SQL Database, see Azure SQL Database Data Discovery & Classification.

Consider protecting your sensitive columns by applying column level security mechanisms: