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Brian Pennington

A blog about Cyber Security & Compliance

Month

June 2013

SMEs are putting larger customers at risk of security breaches

According to Shred-it’s third annual Security Tracker survey SMEs in the UK are putting their own businesses at risk and could also be damaging larger firms they supply services to by not taking enough preventative measures of confidential data.

It’s good business sense for larger companies to ask whether their suppliers have a data protection partner and an information security system in place – not only to prevent sensitive information being lost by a third party but also because the financial and reputational damage of a breach could put that supplier out of business and cause havoc in the supply chain,” warns Robert Guice, Vice President Shred-it EMEA.

The survey reveals SMEs are 10 times less likely to have an information security system set up than is the case with larger businesses.

SMEs continue to hugely underestimate the potential cost of a data breach to them. In terms of financial loss, the Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK can fine companies up to half a million pounds, enough to send many companies into insolvency”, Mr Guice said. “We believe that smaller companies maybe over-estimating the costs involved in making sure confidential information is kept safe

Whilst larger companies may be able to absorb this cost, SMEs risk a huge hit to their bottom line and a tarnished reputation which can impact relationships with customers and other business partners” Mr Guice continued.

There is a worrying gap between the protocols in place between smaller and larger businesses. Whilst companies with revenue over £1m are eight times more likely to use a professional shredding company to dispose of their sensitive documents, 37 per cent of small businesses in the UK have no information security management system in place. Moreover, three in ten (28 per cent) small business owners have never provided any information security training to their employees.

Key findings include

  • 2 in every 5 large businesses suffering a data breach have incurred losses of more than £500,000
  • The average fine is approximately £150,000 – large enough for 30% of companies to have to lay off staff as a result.
  • 77% of larger businesses have an employee directly responsible for managing information security issues at management level (66%) or board level (11%)
  • 48% of SMEs have a nominated person
  • 95% of large businesses have an employee devoted to data protection compared with only 53% of small business owners, suggesting that larger businesses better understand the potential threat of data breaches and have put control systems in place accordingly.
  • 33% of senior business executives and only 4% of small business owners use a professional shredding service
  • 88% of large businesses are more than twice as likely to be aware of the EU Data Protection Directive reforms as small businesses (43%).
  • Although the gap is closer, large businesses are still more likely to be aware of the UK Data Protection Act (92%) than small business owners (72%).
  • With more information being stored in electronic form, it is equally worrying that less than one quarter of large (23%) and small businesses (25%) crush their electronic media – which means the vast majority of UK businesses are inadvertently putting themselves and their customers at risk.
  • Businesses could be giving away private information to fraudsters by not properly disposing of or destroying hard drives. 66% of large business and 49% of small business owners wrongly think that degaussing or wiping a hard drive will remove confidential information kept on them.

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UK’s Information Commissioner believes 2013 will the year businesses handle data correctly…!

2013 is the year that commercial imperative of good data handling will be realised

Speaking at the launch of the ICO’s annual report today, Christopher Graham will highlight that consumers have a strong awareness of how their data should be handled, and how this affects their relationship with businesses.

An ICO study into public attitudes toward data protection found that 97% of those surveyed were concerned that organisations would pass or sell-on their personal details. The survey also found more than half (53%) considered details of the products they had bought to be personal information.

Yet in spite of these consumer concerns, only 10% of businesses were aware of the legal limitations of how they could use customer’s personal data.

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said:

Education and empowerment have been two of the key areas we’ve focused on in the past twelve months. That work is having real benefits: consumers’ awareness of their rights remains strong, and that is empowering people to demand more in return for their data.

“The result is consumers expecting organisations to handle their personal data in a proper way, and in a legal way. Businesses that don’t meet that basic requirement are going to quickly find themselves losing customers.

I think 2013 is the year that organisations will realise the commercial imperative of properly handling customer data. The stats we’ve seen about public concern around personal data show that, as does a company the size of Microsoft choosing privacy as a theme of a national advertising campaign.

“The message to business is simple: consumers understand the value of their personal data, and they expect you to too.

Find the complete report here.

Is the concern for data protection making half of all employees less productive?

In 2010, the Visual Data Breach Risk Assessment Study revealed that two out of three working professionals are displaying sensitive information on their mobile devices, such as social security numbers, credit card numbers and other non-regulated but sensitive company information, when outside the office. This points to the insight that in certain circumstances people value productivity over data protection when working. However, in circumstances when an individual values data protection, is the company potentially losing productivity due to visual privacy concerns?

The 2013 Visual Privacy Productivity Study, conducted by The Ponemon Institute, revealed that companies can lose more than data as remote working increases, with 50% of employees answering that they are less productive when their visual privacy is at risk in public places.

The Visual Privacy Productivity Study showed that employees are forced to either trade-off working and risking private data being overlooked by nosy neighbours, or stop working altogether. Based on these findings, lost productivity due to employee visual privacy concerns is potentially costing a US business organisation with more than 7,500 people over $1 million dollars per year.

While many companies realise that snooping and visual privacy presents a potential data security issue, there has been little research regarding how the lack of visual privacy impacts a business’ bottom line,” says Larry Ponemon, Chairman and Founder of The Ponemon Institute. “As workers become more mobile and continue to work in settings where there is the potential for visual privacy concerns, companies need to find solutions to address productivity as it relates to computer visual privacy in addition to dealing with the fundamental security issues of mobile devices

The study of 274 US individuals from 5 organisations in a variety of sectors. More than half stated that their visual privacy had been violated whilst travelling or in other public places such as cafes, airports and hotels, and two out of three admitted to exposing sensitive data on mobile devices whilst outside the workplace. When asked how their organisation handles the protection of sensitive information in a public location, 47% did not think any importance was put on this and that no adequate policies were in place.

Other interesting findings include:

  • Employees are 50% less productive when their visual privacy is at risk and lost productivity costs an organisation approximately £350 per employee per year
  • Visual privacy impacts on transparency as users that value privacy are less likely to enter information on an unprotected screen.
  • Women value privacy more (61%) than men (50%), and women’s productivity is more positively impacted than men’s when the screen is protected with a privacy filter.
  • Older employees value privacy more, with 61% of over 35s compared to 51% of under 35s placing importance on privacy.

Productivity loss is a major discovery in this survey and will hopefully encourage companies across all sectors to consider employee working practices and behaviours,” said Rob Green, Marketing Executive at 3M’s Speciality Display & Projection Division

According to the survey the devices used for work-related activities were:-

  • Smartphone 65%
  • Laptop computer 65%
  • Desktop computer 45%
  • Tablet computer 29%
  • Netbook computer 14%
  • Other 2%

The 2010 Visual Data Breach Risk Assessment survey revealed that visual privacy on computer screens was an under-addressed area in corporate policy. Seventy percent of working professionals said their organization had no explicit policy on working in public places and 79% said that their company had no policy on the use of computer privacy filters.

The 2012 Visual Privacy Productivity Study reinforced these findings with

  • 47% of those surveyed saying they were unsure or did not think their company placed an importance on protecting sensitive information displayed on a screen in public places
  • 58% were unsure or did not think other employees were careful about protecting sensitive information on computer or mobile device screens in public places. Corporate policy and education on that policy continues to be areas for improvement as it relates to visual privacy.

The full study is very informative about how the sponsor’s (3M) privacy filters can improve productivity and reduce risk and can be read here.

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Top Tips from the ICO for when you are moving premises – do not forget to check the cabinets being one

After another NHS body * decides to ignore simple Data Protection guidelines the UK Information Commissioner has repeated his Top 5 Tips to help organisations improve their approach to Data Protection, especially those moving premises:

  1. Personal information is at particular risk when moving premises – make sure its security is a priority. All but one of our monetary penalties issued under the Data Protection Act in 2012/13 were for failing to keep information secure.
  2. Don’t assume anything. This breach happened because two departments each assumed that the other was conducting a final check that all records had been removed or transferred as required. Make sure it is clear who is responsible for what.
  3. Ensure records and equipment containing personal information are moved securely. Where personal information is being moved to other premises, make sure there is a secure means of moving the information and check that it has all been received safely.
  4. Dispose with care. If moving premises requires the disposal of files or computer hardware, make sure that this is done in a secure manner. Remember you are still responsible for what happens to personal data even after it has left through the back door.
  5. Learn from your mistakes. Stockport Primary Care Trust had suffered two similar incidents before this breach, but senior management hadn’t been informed. Put a policy in place to make sure that security incidents are reported and acted upon so that you learn from your mistakes.

* The NHS Commissioning Board was been fined £100,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) after the dissolved Stockport Primary Care Trust left around 1,000 documents including work diaries, letters, referral forms and patient records containing personal information. Some of the documents contained particularly sensitive data relating to 200 patients, including details of miscarriages, child protection issues and, in one case, a police report relating to the death of a child.

The size of the fine reflects the serious nature of the breach and the fact it was not the first time the organisation had “lost information”.

David Smith, Deputy Commissioner and Director of Data Protection, said about the Stockport fine:

It’s crucial that organisations don’t take their eye off the ball when moving premises. This NHS trust’s efforts to keep its patients’ confidential records secure were completely undermined by its failure to properly decommission the premises it was leaving.

The highly sensitive nature of the documents left behind makes this mistake inexcusable, and there can be no doubt that the penalty we’ve served is both necessary and appropriate.

In the last year we have served two six figure penalties on organisations that have left large volumes of personal information behind when leaving a site. These penalties highlight the need for organisations to have effective decommissioning procedures in place and to make absolutely sure that these procedures are followed in practice

Finally a prosecution of a former employee stealing confidential information

Thousands of people everyday must copy, save or forward information for innocent or mischievous purposes but now there is a quotable case that can be used to deter such risky activities.

A former manager of a health service based at a council run leisure centre in Southampton has been prosecuted by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for unlawfully obtaining sensitive medical information relating to over 2,000 people.

Paul Hedges took the information hoping to use the data for a new fitness company he was setting up. He was prosecuted under section 55 of the Data Protection Act at West Hampshire Magistrates Court yesterday and fined £3,000 and ordered to pay a £15 victim surcharge and £1,376 prosecution costs.

Mr Hedges, who previously worked as a Community Health Promotions Manager based at Bitterne Leisure Centre, sent the information to his personal email account on 28 April 2011 after being told that he was being made redundant. The 42 year-old had previously been responsible for managing the council’s Active Options GP referral service, where patients would be referred by their GP or other health professional to attend fitness sessions, for a range of conditions including obesity, diabetes, arthritis, and cardiac and mild mental health issues.

The information included sensitive medical details relating to 2,471 patients. The council became aware of their former employee’s actions when they received complaints about patients being approached by Mr Hedges; who had since set up a similar service using the Active Options name and branding.

Christopher Graham the UK Information Commissioner was quoted as saying:

People have a right to privacy and the ICO works to maintain that right

Nobody expects that their health records will be taken and used in this way. Mr Hedges had been told by Southampton Council about the need to keep patients’ details confidential, but he decided to break the law.

This case shows why there is a need for tough penalties to enforce the Data Protection Act. At very least, behaviour of this kind should be recognised as a ‘recordable offence’ which it isn’t now. For the most serious cases the current ‘fine only’ regime will not deter and other options including the threat of prison should be available. The necessary legislation for this is already on the statue book but needs to be activated.

The government must ensure that criminals do not see committing data theft as a victimless crime and worth the risk.

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