Big Data Losses

07 April 2016

Amethyst’s Mark Chown examines five key areas organisations should consider

This week’s headlines surrounding the huge compromise of over 11 million files from a Panamanian law firm will ensure that the protection of information remains high on the agenda of most businesses and organisations.  Major losses such as this and the Wiki leaks disclosure of hundreds of thousands of classified US documents by Private Bradley Manning in 2010, have major consequences that reach far beyond the organisation itself.  The impact is also prolonged with a long and tortuous drip-feed of harmful disclosures which will challenge and test any mitigation and recovery strategy.

As with all cyber risks there is no single solution that will prevent a major data loss.  A holistic information security management system will provide organisations with a good foundation; however, even within the most mature cyber environments there may still be opportunities for such events to happen.  The opportunity should now be taken by the security community to make the case for improving their cyber security controls.

Organisations should consider five key areas when reviewing their response to the threat of a major data loss:

Data Classification – an appropriate and well implemented Data Classification policy will allow security effort to be prioritised and focus on where it is most needed, e.g. the protection of the organisation’s most valuable data.

Access Controls – effective management of users and access permissions, particularly those with privileged access to bulk data sets will limit the risks of a major data loss.

Data Housekeeping – in the days of paper records limitations of physical space generally forced good records management, digital records are typically less well-managed.  Only retain what you need, ensure good data retention policies and undertake regular reviews of holdings.

Monitoring – implement effective monitoring of network activity for unusual data traffic and just as importantly adopt good people management techniques to help identify and react to potential internal sources of breaches.

Back-Ups – are a ready-made bulk data set for any attacker.  Back-ups need to be well-managed and secured using encryption and other techniques to minimise the chance of a catastrophic breach resulting from a single failure.

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