The Media Effect On Data Breaches

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Let’s do a news recap of yesterday. Some tax legislation was passed, lame-duck Congress, celebrity mishaps, missteps and gossip as usual. Oh and there was also notification of a few data breaches; most notably McDonalds, University of Wisconsin and the Gawker website (the folks that bought a prototype of the iPhone 4 after it was lost by an Apple engineer.). Unlike the “it’s been two weeks and it’s still in the news” WikiLeaks data breach, expect McDonalds, UW and Gawker to melt into the ether of public consciousness along with the Jersey Shore, AOL and two dollar a gallon gas prices.

Lately, we are seeing more companies and institutions admitting to data breaches. Passwords get hacked and ATM cards, identities and cell phones are stolen all the time. Expect to here about more breaches as companies move ahead of legislation that forces them to admit security breaches and expect the media to pick up on the stories and run wild with them. What this forces the public to do is look closer at the type of data breach, the type of data that was stolen and what the company or institution did to cause the breach.

 For example:

  • the McDonalds breach was about third-party contractors and not enough governance around customer e-mail
  • the UW breach was about unauthorized access to databases over a two-year period… again not enough governance around data storage and access
  • the Gawker breach was about outdated encryption mechanisms and a rogue organization purposely trying to embarrass that community.

Of these three things, the Gawker breach is most troubling because of the organized and intentional motivations of a rogue organization. This is why the FBI is involved. For the past year I’ve been telling you to classify your data, assign risk to your data and mitigate that risk appropriately. Old news.

The new news is this: even something like a breach involving low risk information can actually damage your brand. And damage to the brand can be costly to repair. So when classifying risk be sure to consider not just the loss of the data but the nature of the media hell-bent on reporting any and all data breaches.

This just in… I’m getting that watch I always wanted for Christmas because I compromised that space in the attic where we hide all the gifts. Happy holidays!

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