Business Technology: If Data Is Breached, Do The Right Thing - InformationWeek

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4/22/2005
03:26 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
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Business Technology: If Data Is Breached, Do The Right Thing

Let's say you get a call at 2:30 a.m. from your team, and they tell you they've uncovered a security breach that has let 250,000 customer files be stolen, Bob Evans says. What's the first thing you do? Do you call the CEO? Do you call the FBI? And what about those 250,000 customers--do you contact them, or try to keep a lid on the breach and resultant theft?

But if you insist I'm being a naive Pollyanna, check out this suggestion from an April 21 Wall Street Journal story about data security in health care: "Mark Rothstein, a member of the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics, an HHS advisory group, says security concerns could become so paramount for consumers that health institutions might one day have to post their security performance records (subscription required), much as airlines report on-time departure rates. 'I don't see any way you can make an absolutely, totally foolproof system,' Mr. Rothstein says. 'But we ought to keep trying.' "

The banking industry seems to be trying to get out in front of this potential disaster, at least a bit. Earlier this month, a group of large financial institutions called the Financial Services Roundtable agreed to give permanent status to a pilot program it launched last year to provide free assistance to victims of identify theft.

But, like all deeply ingrained behavior, the instinctive desire to stonewall will not go away easily. An April 15 story from The Associated Press explores the active role some law-enforcement agencies have played in sharply restricting what the public--let alone the affected customers--are allowed to know in such cases. "In a twist, the FBI and Justice Department have worked aggressively to shield the identities of corporations that have been hacking victims. To encourage businesses to contact them after such break-ins, U.S. investigators and prosecutors have publicly promised to seal court records, keep top executives off witness stands and use protective orders to keep details of these crimes out of the headlines," the AP story said. " 'There is still some reluctance to call law enforcement, some hesitancy because of the negative impact on reputation,' said Amit Yoran, the Bush administration's former top cyber-security official. He said requiring companies to acknowledge a break-in 'may be of value, but it should not be done as a knee-jerk reaction to the handful of high-profile and significant disclosures of the past few weeks.' "

So this situation is already pretty ugly, and it's probably going to get worse. In dealing with the security of customer data, our responsibility is to force our top executives to place top-priority status on not only our cybersecurity infrastructure but also on our regard for our customers, their privacy, and the obligations we have to them. And we need to do this not just because some legislation requiring us to do so might be drawn up, but for a much simpler reason: It's the right thing to do.


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