Data Security: Do you know what your staff are doing online?

Ian Kilpatrick, chairman of Wick Hill Group, explains why senior managers now need to be more involved in data security and offers his top tips

The networking environment has changed radically in recent times. In today’s world of increasing wireless use, widespread 'bring your own device' policies (BYOD), more home working, more remote access, more consumer devices and the huge popularity of social media, the network is becoming ever more distributed. In this situation, security breaches are inevitable, as is evidenced by the regular reporting of breaches at major organisations.

These breaches are of course only the tip of a large cyber-insecurity iceberg. As we have seen from many of the post-mortems, and increasingly senior level sackings – see today’s example of the Judges who have now lost their positions - many of the problems relate to poor management rather than a fundamental failure of business security across the organisation.

There is now a growing groundswell of change in the way we approach and look at data security. Clearly, in a world where breaches, and the associated consequences, are inevitable, relying solely on, or blaming, the information security team is no longer viable. With the business cost of a breach now directly impacting business reputations and bottom lines, security needs to come from a bottom-up approach as well as from the CEO down.

Security has often been seen as a business disabler, rather than enabler. It is sometimes seen as a costly nuisance, to be avoided if it impacts projects delivery or performance. The responsibility for all security is often left to the security team. This attitude is now sharply changing in many organisations (particularly those with significant retail or B2B profiles), with a root and branch review of security taking place at many of them.

We’re all (or should be) aware that security is the responsibility of everyone in the organisation, top-to-bottom or vice-versa. But sometimes, in the heat of trying to achieve tactical business objectives, that responsibility gets overlooked.

We are in a time of rapid and brutal change in cyber risks and cyber security failures. Below are reminders of some of the areas we need to revisit and review from time to time, to ensure we’re protecting the company and everyone’s jobs, including our own.

Starting from the premise that, as all the high profile cases have shown (and the significantly greater number of unreported failures), it is now not possible to guarantee defence against data breach. However, it is still possible to defend critical data against breach, if that data is identified and defended.

  • Define goals

The first place to look is at what is actually important. “Everything” is the wrong answer. Priority one is what is business critical or business threatening. This is a much smaller departmental and organisational list. Then decide what risk profile, and associated costs, you are prepared to accept in order to defend key data, given that the perimeter will be breached. That, almost certainly, will throw up some interesting discussions.

  • Protect the key data

Decide how to protect key data, rather than just defending all assets and all of the perimeter. Breach defences need to be in place, alongside consolidation and regular reporting, as breaches are now taking longer and longer to detect.

  • Risk analysis and risk acceptance

Before any mobile device, access, application, new technology or service is added to the company network, it should be signed off as accepted by the Board, and the proposing department or users, with a risk analysis as part of the sign-off.

  • Planning and deployment

Planning for deployment should include security implementation and acceptance of the risk. Security needs to be deployed with the solution, not post event.

Deployment of security for mobile devices and remote access is a key element in protecting networks today. Web applications (and indeed the cloud) present some specific risk points.

  • Policies

Given that there is a shift from a belief in security to acceptance that there will/could be a breach, policies need to change to encompass this. Policies need to be clearly enunciated, not just contained in a policy document.

Given the rapid shift in risks based around wireless, mobility and social media, co-opting some younger staff members onto the team can provide enlightening insights into what the risks really are.

  • Education and staff involvement

Security processes need to be clear, as do the consequences of not following them. It’s not sufficient to have security policies, if it is clear to staff that you aren’t managing them and that, actually, nothing will happen if they don’t follow the correct security procedures. This is an easy thing to say, but much harder in practice. Given the jaded view, sometimes deservedly so, of IT security in some organisations, it is a difficult culture change to now embrace security as everyone’s responsibility. Training needs to reflect that.

  • Monitoring and feedback

It is crucial to not only monitor, but also to be seen to be monitoring mobile security measures. High visibility and regular feedback to all staff, on both success and failure, are very important. Reinforcement across all levels means that security awareness can infiltrate the DNA of an organisation.

  • Analysis

All the relevant stakeholders, need to have regular reporting of the security landscape, so they are aware of the level of threat, and the levels of risk that they have accepted. Ideally, the Board should also have a disaster plan to implement, in the case of failure. That would certainly guarantee to focus an individual director’s mind on security issues!