Data Breaches Impact Reputations and Customers
A data breach can lead to terrible consequences for you and your customers. In addition to devastating financial losses, the damage to your reputation and brand may be irreversible. Yet, despite the risks, some firms still view cyber crimes as random events. They take a “this will never happen to me” approach. On the contrary, it can happen to you and there are things you can do to prevent it.
For one, know that hackers don’t pull names out of a hat. They target firms for precise reasons. Either you have something they want or they’ve spotted a weakness in your system that makes you vulnerable. Consider TJX. In 2007, the retail giant reported the largest data breach in history. Out from under the company’s nose, cyber criminals made off with more than 45 million credit and debit card numbers. It turned out the crooks had been siphoning data for nearly two years before TJX detected the breach. How did the hackers do it? They intercepted insecure wireless payment information TJX was sending to its credit card authorizers and banks. TJX was using an outmoded WEP encryption instead of the more secure WAP. The company elected to not install the latest encryption technology, figuring the risk of a breach was low. Sounds familiar. It was also at work in the Target and Home Depot cases. You might argue, TJX’s business was retail, not technology. What did its management know about cyber crime? Probably not as much as they do now. But had they taken the risks more seriously, the event likely would never have happened.
Employees present a risk, too
Sometimes cyber criminals get help from employees inside a company. In 2011, an RSA employee retrieved an email from his junk folder and opened it. The email contained a malware that gave cyber thieves a foothold and allowed them to burrow into the company’s network. That one employee’s oversight ended up costing RSA and its parent company EMC $66 million. Other times, employees inside a company become the cyber criminals themselves. Booz Alan Hamilton gave its employee Edward Snowden access to classified information. Snowden, in turn, went against his employer’s client, the US government, by going public with that information. JP Morgan, Barings Bank and Société Générale are examples of other companies that also have experienced employee fraud or data breaches.
Tips for securing your data
We live in a data-driven society. Fortunately, you can do a few things to mitigate loss, and ensure your data is more secure.
1. Pay attention to the tiniest of details – As we rely increasingly on data automation to do our heavy lifting for us, we open ourselves up to the dangers of processing data inappropriately. Cloud storage and file sharing add to that risk. It’s best to take a detailed approach to examining data flows. Small holes easily can turn into flood gates.
2. Partner with best-in-class data firms – TJX lost money not because of a bad business model or even poor customer service. It lost money because of how it transferred credit card data, a task far outside of running a department store. Target, Home Depot, and many more are suffering the same. Be honest about what you do best and don’t be afraid to partner with experts in data risks and management.
3. Know your employees and their actions – A broad universe of tools (social networks, blogs, and intranet postings) is available for monitoring employee behavior. Many firms even deploy keystroke tracking software to comb messages and emails for legal issues. It is important to educate employees on how their actions can impact a company’s overall data security.
4. Customers expect more than the law – Laws exist that set clear direction on how companies need to process financial and health care data. But as more firms allow data sharing with web services and third-party apps, the risks become greater. Management needs to look to customer expectations regarding the treatment of data.