Are You Prepared for a Data Breach?

You are going to have a data breach. You may or may not know it, but it is inevitable. Some data breaches can take months to discover. In fact, in its fourth annual Experian-sponsored study on enterprise response to data breaches, Ponemon Institute found that 52% of companies represented in the study indicated that they had a data breach in the last year, up from 49% last year. Further, 66% of 619 executives surveyed indicated their organization had multiple breaches. Each year the number of businesses experiencing data breaches increases, the report states.

Everyone who has anything to do with IT has to consider breaches a real possibility and should create a data breach preparedness plan to help lessen its negative impact. How effective those plans actually are is a matter of opinion.

The chart below from the study shows growing confidence in response plans effectiveness over the last three years. However, 42% is still less than half and leaves the impression that a lot of plans are not that effective. The study also states that only 41% of the respondents think their organizations are able to respond to a data breach that involves intellectual property and confidential information. Only 27% say they are confident in their ability to minimize the impact of the data breach. I wonder how many C-level executives know about this lack of confidence...

A data breach can seriously harm the reputation of an organization. Data breaches often result in the loss of customer confidence in the organization. The chart below indicates that the greatest concern to an organization's reputation is poor customer service (31%), with data breaches coming in second at 23%. Product recalls and even publicized lawsuits are of less concern to an organization's reputation than data breaches.

As the chart below indicates, it is reasonably common that new employees receive some security, privacy, and data protection awareness training when they first enter an organization, with 2016 survey results showing minor improvement over 2015. In other studies, 55% of data breaches have been connected to user behavior, due to phishing or other scamming operations. This means that users are not paying attention to what's arriving at their device. They are downloading unsafe applications, looking at sites they should not access, and clicking on links that should not be clicked.

All this leads to the question of security awareness. A very small number of study respondents indicated they do awareness training every six months. If you don't train again and again, it does not change the habits and behavior of users. An annual training session is at least better than nothing. Three quarters of the respondents said they don't schedule annual training. Others indicate they do it sporadically.

The problem with users is that unless security becomes a habit, it is not something they automatically think about. If they do not pause to consider what's on the screen, the data breaches will continue. The problem with training is you learn some things but may not change the user behavior permanently.

I think that there should be security checks performed to measure how many users are behaving properly when it comes to security practices. The IT organization could send out emails as phishing schemes that do not produce any security problems but observe how the users are responding to phishing and scamming emails. Send out links to sites that may be of interest that the user should not be contacting and see how many respond appropriately. When a user doesn't follow best practices and clicks on the link, they should receive a blaring message on the screen telling them they just had a breach of security. While this sort of security check will help enforce the correct behavior, IT should do these tests periodically, gathering statistics and analyzing them. This analysis should then be published within the organization and C-level executives should be informed. This could help improve the security budget.

Those who continue to repeat behavior that would lead to breaches should have that noted in their human resources record and their manager should be informed. It may be that some of the employees you want to retain should be moved to areas where they have less likelihood of creating a data breach. This may not make them happy, but the point is that you're trying to protect the organization, not the employee.

The threat environment continually changes. Your plan is always going to be behind new malicious tactics. When Ponemon Institute asked survey respondents how often their company reviews and updates its data breach response plan, 29% said it was not reviewed since being put into place. Only 24% indicated they update their plan annually, 4% twice a year, and 5% every quarter.

To assume that a plan is adequate is to assume that you know all the problems that can occur with a data breach, which is naive. The problem is that the people charged with ensuring a business's security and setting the budget don't necessarily have an imagination that can keep up with that of malicious attackers. It is best to assume that there is much you do not know.

For more on this topic, see my other blogs: Overcoming Security Overload; IT Security: Training and Beyond; So You Want to be a Security Specialist; and Curb Employee Turnover, Reduce Security Problems.