Yes, It COULD Happen to You: Keeping Data Secure

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By Anita Campbell - I woke up Christmas morning to find that one of my websites had been hacked! What a present.

In my case the site was purely a content site. The site databases had no customer data, no credit card information, no sensitive company information.

I couldn't help but think how much worse it would have been, had the site contained sensitive information. What if the hackers had managed to reach my most treasured company data? Or my customers' data? What a nightmare THAT would have been.

I was always security conscious. But now I've kicked my security up another notch. (Well, actually, I've gone from "yellow alert" to "paranoid," but that's another story ....)

With that hacking experience fresh under my belt, I thought this would be a good time to share the following 10 tips about data security, online or off. These came into my inbox from a company called Kroll Fraud Solutions. They're a good reminder as we start the new year, to take a look at our processes and procedures. Trust me, if a security breach could happen to me, it could happen to your company.

Top 10 Tips for Businesses: A Guide to Data Breach Prevention and Response

  • 1. Look beyond IT security when assessing your company's data breach risks. To eliminate additional threats, a company must evaluate employee exit strategies (HR), remote project protocol, on- and off-site data storage practices and more – then establish and enforce new policies and procedures and physical safeguards appropriate to the findings.
  • 2. Establish a comprehensive pre-breach response plan that will enable decisive action and prevent operational paralysis when a data breach occurs. Your efforts will demonstrate to consumers and regulators that your organization has taken anticipatory steps to address data security threats. Disseminate this plan throughout the management structure to ensure everyone knows what to do in the event of a breach. In preparation, consider the following:

    a. Who will have a role in reviewing the policies and procedures on a predictable timetable?

    b. What are the physical security elements? When and how will they be tested?

  • 3. Educate employees about appropriate handling and protection of sensitive data. The continuing saga of lost and stolen laptops containing critical information illustrates that corporate policy designed to safeguard portable data only works when employees follow the rules.
  • 4. Thieves can't steal what you don't have. Data minimization is a powerful element of preparedness. The rules are disarmingly simple:

    a. Don't collect information that you don't need.

    b. Reduce the number of places where you retain the data.

    c. Grant employees access to sensitive data only on an "as needed" basis, and keep current records of who has access to the data while it is in your company's possession.

    d. Purge the data responsibly once the need for it has expired.

  • 5. In the event of a merger, all newly acquired systems should go through a thorough data assessment. As the controlling company, it is in your best interest to take inventory of the new data now in your possession. After all, how can you account for information you didn't know you had? This is an area where both internal audit and specialized external resources may be very useful.
  • 6. Beware the Wi-Fi. Use of wireless networks means your data is being transmitted over open airwaves, similar to a radio transmission. If not properly secured, data can easily be picked up by an uninvited party. Many offices, including Kroll's Fraud Solutions headquarters, have disabled Wi-Fi because it cannot be locked down to satisfaction.
  • 7. Retain a third party corporate breach and data security expert to analyze the level of risk and exposure. An evaluation performed by an objective, neutral party leads to a clear and credible picture of what's at stake, without pressuring staff who might otherwise worry that their budgets or careers are in jeopardy if a flaw is revealed.
  • 8. While it is best to encrypt sensitive data, don't rely on encryption as your only method of defense. When used alone, it gives businesses a false sense of security. Although the majority of state statutes require notification only if a breach compromises unencrypted personal information, professionals can and do break encryption codes.
  • 9. Keep current with security software updates (or "patches"). An unpatched system is, by definition, operating with a weak spot just waiting to be exploited by hackers. Admittedly, applying patches takes time and resources, so senior management must provide guidance on allocations and expectations.
  • 10. Hold vendors and partners to the same standards.

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