[BreachExchange] How small businesses can protect against data breaches from within
audrey at riskbasedsecurity.com
Tue May 23 19:04:13 EDT 2017
As we become more connected and companies hold more data, breaches are
increasing, with more than 4,000 reported in 2016 alone. A statistical
analysis of breaches in the United States found that 85% were conducted by
someone known to the business, usually an employee or partner.
To protect both themselves and their customers, companies need to secure
their data. This starts with critically evaluating what data they hold, and
then securing, dumping and outsourcing it as necessary.
We can never be entirely protected from data breaches, but understanding
data is the first step to minimising the risk.
Data breaches can take a number of forms
Recently, Australian retailer ShowPo alleged a former employee had exported
a customer database before going to work for a competitor.
A DuPont employee was charged in April with stealing 20,000 files —
including trade secrets — with the aim of selling them to rival companies
Employees at Wells Fargo Bank leaked customer information, allowing
criminals to impersonate customers and steal more than half a million
dollars. Around US$16 billion was stolen, affecting more than 12 million
consumers in the US in 2014 alone due to identity theft.
What makes these breaches worse is that once information has been stolen it
cannot be easily recovered. If a thief steals a wallet, it can be returned.
But this is not true for information theft because the owner still has it.
Data can be replicated almost infinitely. The genie can’t be put back in
This only gets worse as technology improves, allowing for greater storage,
concealment and transmission of data.
What data needs to be secured?
The first step in securing data is to do an audit. What data does the
organisation hold and where is it stored? Which suppliers, customers,
regulators or staff have access to it? This is important as data comes in
many forms, and ownership can be quite murky.
For example, does a business own the emails downloaded onto a workers’
Next, the type of data needs to be profiled and classified as public,
confidential or secret. Not all data is created equal and some may not
require confidentiality, such as sales brochures.
Customer data, on the other hand, would be classified as confidential.
Especially due to tough penalties in recently passed legislation. These
include fines of $360,000 for individuals and $1.8 million for
organisations, for those that don’t divulge breaches of customer data.
So companies need to identify what is high-value or strategically important
The next step is to decide whether any outsourcing constraints exist and
are relevant to the organisation. For example, do privacy obligations
prevent organisations from storing personal information in data centres
outside of Australia?
Once the data has been sorted, there are three strategic approaches to
reduce the danger of data breaches.
The first strategy involves securing sensitive information with protective
fortifications. This could take the form of encrypting it.
But there are some weaknesses to this approach. Encrypted information may
make workflows cumbersome, and it may not stop an insider who has been
trusted with passwords. It could also lead to a false sense of security.
The second strategy involves devaluing the data held by actively deciding
not to hold sensitive information. This is analogous to a retail shop
hanging a “no cash kept on premises” sign in the window.
Does a company really need to hold credit card details, for instance, or
could that be outsourced to a company like Paypal? Businesses may always
need to protect their “secret sauce”, but by methodically devaluing data
they are less of a target and can concentrate on what to protect.
The third strategy involves seeking outside assistance. This may not be an
option for some sectors due to regulation, but storing data in the cloud or
hiring a security service provider may be wise if possible. These services
often offer security infrastructure unavailable to small organisations, as
well as specialists to counter a lack of security expertise inside an
But, again, there is a trade-off. Outsourcing comes with a lack of control,
which may increase other risks. The Australian Red Cross found this out
when an external administrator accidentally leaked the personal information
of blood donors.
In the end, we can never be entirely safe. But if businesses critically
analyse what data they hold, and adopt strategies in response to this, the
risk of an insider attack can be minimised.
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