Protecting information is no longer the sole responsibility of IT and compliance departments; data security is a companywide responsibility.

information security posters displayed in the office at REaD Group

By Andy Bridges, Data Quality and Governance Manager at REaD Group

The Gemalto Breach Level Index (BLI) recently published some rather concerning findings – more data records were leaked or stolen in the first half of 2017 than in the whole of 2016. An even greater cause for concern, and perhaps somewhat surprising, the report also revealed that the most common cause for data breaches was accidental loss and data being inadvertently left exposed.

While attacks by cyber criminals make for more compelling reading, more attention needs to be brought to internal threats such as accidental loss and other acts of negligence. If nothing else, the BSI report highlights that UK data security culture is in serious need of an overhaul. So how exactly can businesses better protect themselves?

However much we like to believe that information breaches are largely the result of strategically orchestrated attacks by criminal masterminds, the truth is generally far less dramatic. They are frequently the result of human error, such as misplacing hard drives, bad password management, careless file sharing or lack of vigilance to the increasingly prevalent phishing emails. All can be easily prevented.

More than anything, businesses must incorporate information security into office culture – protecting information is no longer the sole responsibility of IT and compliance departments; data security is a companywide responsibility.

As a first step, staff should be trained on a regular basis to ensure that everyone understands best practice in the workplace. The HR policy should also be altered to reflect the fact that responsibility doesn’t lie solely with IT to instigate better behaviour.

Additionally, employees should be on the lookout for potential threats to information security, such as leaving computer screens unlocked and leaving confidential paperwork unattended, and should be encouraged to self-police. Implementing a clean desk policy is a good first step towards safeguarding confidential information.

In order to better protect an information estate, companies need to understand what information they have. As well as ensuring that data is clean, viable and that all relevant permissions and consent are held for the data, companies must also ensure that the appropriate data protection and information security practices are in place. It states in Recital (100) of the GDPR that:

 ‘In order to enhance transparency and compliance with this Regulation, the establishment of certification mechanisms and data protection seals and marks should be encouraged, allowing data subjects to quickly assess the level of data protection of relevant products and services.’

It is not currently compulsory to report a data breach, but once GDPR comes into force next year, all companies must report a data breach to the Information Commissioner’s office within 72 hours. In addition to risking a hefty fine, companies will also stand to incur the longer-standing loss to their reputation.

With this in mind, it seems highly probable that we will see an increase in breach reports – most likely not due to an increase in breaches, but because companies will have much more incentive to be transparent and open about such occurrences.

Overall, GDPR presents a great opportunity for UK businesses to step up their data protection strategies and better protect themselves against data breaches. The new regulation stipulates that companies will have to be much more rigorous in their approach to collecting, storing and using customer data – which should correspondingly see a vast reduction in accidental loss. Inevitably, this increased transparency will result in a more trusting and loyal consumer.

It is now less than 6 months until GDPR is introduced, and the more earnest businesses are to prepare and implement the necessary data protection strategies, the sooner we will see a significant reduction in the number of data breaches.

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