How tech trends and risks shape organizations’ data protection strategy

Trustwave released a report which depicts how technology trends, compromise risks and regulations are shaping how organizations’ data is stored and protected.

data protection strategy

Data protection strategy

The report is based on a recent survey of 966 full-time IT professionals who are cybersecurity decision makers or security influencers within their organizations.

Over 75% of respondents work in organizations with over 500 employees in key geographic regions including the U.S., U.K., Australia and Singapore.

“Data drives the global economy yet protecting databases, where the most critical data resides, remains one of the least focused-on areas in cybersecurity,” said Arthur Wong, CEO at Trustwave.

“Our findings illustrate organizations are under enormous pressure to secure data as workloads migrate off-premises, attacks on cloud services increases and ransomware evolves. Gaining complete visibility of data either at rest or in motion and eliminating threats as they occur are top cybersecurity challenges all industries are facing.”

More sensitive data moving to the cloud

Types of data organizations are moving into the cloud have become increasingly sensitive, therefore a solid data protection strategy is crucial. Ninety-six percent of total respondents stated they plan to move sensitive data to the cloud over the next two years with 52% planning to include highly sensitive data with Australia at 57% leading the regions surveyed.

Not surprisingly, when asked to rate the importance of securing data regarding digital transformation initiatives, an average score of 4.6 out of a possible high of five was tallied.

Hybrid cloud model driving digital transformation and data storage

Of those surveyed, most at 55% use both on-premises and public cloud to store data with 17% using public cloud only. Singapore organizations use the hybrid cloud model most frequently at 73% or 18% higher than the average and U.S. organizations employ it the least at 45%.

Government respondents store data on-premises only the most at 39% or 11% higher than average. Additionally, 48% of respondents stored data using the hybrid cloud model during a recent digital transformation project with only 29% relying solely on their own databases.

Most organizations use multiple cloud services

Seventy percent of organizations surveyed were found to use between two and four public cloud services and 12% use five or more. At 14%, the U.S. had the most instances of using five or more public cloud services followed by the U.K. at 13%, Australia at 9% and Singapore at 9%. Only 18% of organizations queried use zero or just one public cloud service.

Perceived threats do not match actual incidents

Thirty-eight percent of organizations are most concerned with malware and ransomware followed by phishing and social engineering at 18%, application threats 14%, insider threats at 9%, privilege escalation at 7% and misconfiguration attack at 6%.

Interestingly, when asked about actual threats experienced, phishing and social engineering came in first at 27% followed by malware and ransomware at 25%. The U.K. and Singapore experienced the most phishing and social engineering incidents at 32% and 31% and the U.S. and Australia experienced the most malware and ransomware attacks at 30% and 25%.

Respondents in the government sector had the highest incidents of insider threats at 13% or 5% above the average.

Patching practices show room for improvement

A resounding 96% of respondents have patching policies in place, however, of those, 71% rely on automated patching and 29% employ manual patching. Overall, 61% of organizations patched within 24 hours and 28% patched between 24 and 48 hours.

The highest percentage patching within a 24-hour window came from Australia at 66% and the U.K. at 61%. Unfortunately, 4% of organizations took a week to over a month to patch.

Reliance on automation driving key security processes

In addition to a high percentage of organizations using automated patching processes, findings show 89% of respondents employ automation to check for overprivileged users or lock down access credentials once an individual has left their job or changed roles.

This finding correlates to low concern for insider threats and data compromise due to privilege escalation according to the survey. Organizations must exercise caution when assuming removal of user access to applications to also include databases, which is often not the case.

Data regulations having minor impact on database security strategies

When asked if data regulations such as GDPR and CCPA impacted database security strategies, a surprising 60% of respondents said no.

These findings may suggest a lack of alignment between information technology and other departments, such as legal, responsible for helping ensure stipulations like ‘the right to be forgotten’ are properly enforced to avoid severe penalties.

Small teams with big responsibilities

Of those surveyed, 47% had a security team size of only six to 15 members. Respondents from Singapore had the smallest teams with 47% reporting between one and ten members and the U.S. had the largest teams with 22% reporting team size of 21 or more, 2% higher than the average.

Thirty-two percent of government respondents surprisingly run security operations with teams between just six and ten members.

Researchers open the door to new distribution methods for secret cryptographic keys

Researchers from the University of Ottawa, in collaboration with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Bar-Ilan University scientists, have been able to create optical framed knots in the laboratory that could potentially be applied in modern technologies.

framed knots

Top view of the framed knots generated in this work

Their work opens the door to new methods of distributing secret cryptographic keys – used to encrypt and decrypt data, ensure secure communication and protect private information.

“This is fundamentally important, in particular from a topology-focused perspective, since framed knots provide a platform for topological quantum computations,” explained senior author, Professor Ebrahim Karimi, Canada Research Chair in Structured Light at the University of Ottawa.

“In addition, we used these non-trivial optical structures as information carriers and developed a security protocol for classical communication where information is encoded within these framed knots.”

The concept of framed knots

The researchers suggest a simple do-it-yourself lesson to help us better understand framed knots, those three-dimensional objects that can also be described as a surface.

“Take a narrow strip of a paper and try to make a knot,” said first author Hugo Larocque, uOttawa alumnus and current PhD student at MIT.

“The resulting object is referred to as a framed knot and has very interesting and important mathematical features.”

The group tried to achieve the same result but within an optical beam, which presents a higher level of difficulty. After a few tries (and knots that looked more like knotted strings), the group came up with what they were looking for: a knotted ribbon structure that is quintessential to framed knots.

“In order to add this ribbon, our group relied on beam-shaping techniques manipulating the vectorial nature of light,” explained Hugo Larocque. “By modifying the oscillation direction of the light field along an “unframed” optical knot, we were able to assign a frame to the latter by “gluing” together the lines traced out by these oscillating fields.”

According to the researchers, structured light beams are being widely exploited for encoding and distributing information.

“So far, these applications have been limited to physical quantities which can be recognized by observing the beam at a given position,” said uOttawa Postdoctoral Fellow and co-author of this study, Dr. Alessio D’Errico.

“Our work shows that the number of twists in the ribbon orientation in conjunction with prime number factorization can be used to extract a so-called “braid representation” of the knot.”

“The structural features of these objects can be used to specify quantum information processing programs,” added Hugo Larocque. “In a situation where this program would want to be kept secret while disseminating it between various parties, one would need a means of encrypting this “braid” and later deciphering it.

“Our work addresses this issue by proposing to use our optical framed knot as an encryption object for these programs which can later be recovered by the braid extraction method that we also introduced.”

“For the first time, these complicated 3D structures have been exploited to develop new methods for the distribution of secret cryptographic keys. Moreover, there is a wide and strong interest in exploiting topological concepts in quantum computation, communication and dissipation-free electronics. Knots are described by specific topological properties too, which were not considered so far for cryptographic protocols.”

The applications

“Current technologies give us the possibility to manipulate, with high accuracy, the different features characterizing a light beam, such as intensity, phase, wavelength and polarization,” said Larocque.

“This allows to encode and decode information with all-optical methods. Quantum and classical cryptographic protocols have been devised exploiting these different degrees of freedom.”

“Our work opens the way to the use of more complex topological structures hidden in the propagation of a laser beam for distributing secret cryptographic keys.”

“Moreover, the experimental and theoretical techniques we developed may help find new experimental approaches to topological quantum computation, which promises to surpass noise-related issues in current quantum computing technologies,” added Dr. Ebrahim Karimi.

Global adoption of data and privacy programs still maturing

The importance of privacy and data protection is a critical issue for organizations as it transcends beyond legal departments to the forefront of an organization’s strategic priorities.

adoption privacy programs

A FairWarning research, based on survey results from more than 550 global privacy and data protection, IT, and compliance professionals outlines the characteristics and behaviors of advanced privacy and data protection teams.

By examining the trends of privacy adoption and maturity across industries, the research uncovers adjustments that security and privacy leaders need to make to better protect their organization’s data.

The prevalence of data and privacy attacks

Insights from the research reinforce the importance of privacy and data protection as 67% of responding organizations documented at least one privacy incident within the past three years, and over 24% of those experienced 30 or more.

Additionally, 50% of all respondents reported at least one data breach in the last three years, with 10% reporting 30 or more.

Overall immaturity of privacy programs

Despite increased regulations, breaches and privacy incidents, organizations have not rapidly accelerated the advancement of their privacy programs as 44% responded they are in the early stages of adoption and 28% are in middle stages.

Healthcare and software rise to the top

Despite an overall lack of maturity across industries, healthcare and software organizations reflect more maturity in their privacy programs, as compared to insurance, banking, government, consulting services, education institutions and academia.

Harnessing the power of data and privacy programs

Respondents understand the significant benefits of a mature privacy program as organizations experience greater gains across every area measured including: increased employee privacy awareness, mitigating data breaches, greater consumer trust, reduced privacy complaints, quality and innovation, competitive advantage, and operational efficiency.

Of note, more mature companies believe they experience the largest gain in reducing privacy complaints (30.3% higher than early stage respondents).

Attributes and habits of mature privacy and data protection programs

Companies with more mature privacy programs are more likely to have C-Suite privacy and security roles within their organization than those in the mid- to early-stages of privacy program development.

Additionally, 88.2% of advanced stage organizations know where most or all of their personally identifiable information/personal health information is located, compared to 69.5% of early stage respondents.

Importance of automated tools to monitor user activity

Insights reveal a clear distinction between the maturity levels of privacy programs and related benefits of automated tools as 54% of respondents with more mature programs have implemented this type of technology compared with only 28.1% in early stage development.

Automated tools enable organizations to monitor all user activity in applications and efficiently identify anomalous activity that signals a breach or privacy violation.

“This research revealed a major gap between mature and early stage privacy programs and the benefits they receive,” said Ed Holmes, CEO, FairWarning.

“It is exciting to see healthcare at the top when it comes to privacy maturity. However, as we dig deeper into the data, we find that 37% of respondents with 30 or more breaches are from healthcare, indicating that there is still more work to be done.

“This study highlights useful guidance on steps all organizations can take regardless of industry or size to advance their program and ensure they are at the forefront of privacy and data protection.”

“In today’s fast-paced and increasingly digitized world, organizations regardless of size or industry, need to prioritize data and privacy protection,” said IAPP President & CEO J. Trevor Hughes.

“As the research has demonstrated, it is imperative that security and privacy professionals recognize the importance of implementing privacy and data protection programs to not only reduce privacy complaints and data breaches, but increase operational efficiency.”

2020 brings unique levels of PKI usage challenges

Organizations are rapidly increasing the size, scope and scale of their data protection infrastructure, reflected in dramatic rises in adoption of public key infrastructure (PKI) across enterprises worldwide, according to Entrust research.

PKI usage

PKI is at the core of nearly every IT infrastructure, enabling security for critical digital initiatives such as cloud, mobile device deployment, identities and the IoT.

The annual study is based on feedback from more than 1,900 IT security professionals in 17 countries.

IoT, authentication and cloud, top drivers in PKI usage growth

As organizations become more dependent on digital information and face increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks, they rely on PKI to control access to data and ascertain the identities of people, systems and devices on a mass scale.

IoT is the fastest growing trend driving PKI application deployment, up 26 percent over the past five years to 47 percent in 2020, with cloud-based services the second highest driver cited by 44 percent of respondents.

PKI usage surging for cloud and authentication use cases

TLS/SSL certificates for public-facing websites and services are the most often cited use case for PKI credentials (84 percent of respondents).

Public cloud-based applications saw the fastest year-over-year growth, cited by 82 percent, up 27 percent from 2019, followed by enterprise user authentication by 70 percent of respondents, an increase of 19 percent over 2019. All underscore the critical need of PKI in supporting core enterprise applications.

The average number of certificates an organization needs to manage grew 43 percent in the 2020 study over the previous year, from 39,197 to 56,192 certificates, highlighting a pivotal requirement for enterprise certificate management.

The rise is likely driven by the industry transition to shorter certificate validity periods, and the sharp growth in cloud and enterprise user authentication use cases.

Challenges, change and uncertainty

The study found that IT security professionals are confronting new challenges to enabling applications to use PKI. 52 percent cited lack of visibility of an existing PKI’s security capabilities as their top challenge, an increase of 16 percent over the 2019 study.

This issue underscores the lack of cybersecurity expertise available within even the most well-resourced organizations, and the need for PKI specialists who can create custom enterprise roadmaps based on security and operational best practices.

Respondents also cited inability to change legacy applications and the inability of their existing PKIs to support new applications as critical challenges – both at 51 percent.

When it comes to deploying and managing a PKI, IT security professionals are most challenged by organizational issues such as no clear ownership, insufficient skills and insufficient resources.

PKI deployment figures from the study clearly indicate a trend toward more diversified approaches, with as-a-service offerings even becoming more prevalent than on-premise offerings in some countries.

The two greatest areas of PKI change and uncertainty come from new applications such as IoT (52 percent of respondents) and external mandates and standards (49 percent). The regulatory environment is also increasingly driving deployment of applications that use PKI, cited by 24 percent of respondents.

Security practices have not kept pace with growth

In the next two years, an estimated average of 41 percent of IoT devices will rely primarily on digital certificates for identification and authentication. Encryption for IoT devices, platforms and data repositories, while growing, is at just 33 percent – a potential exposure point for sensitive data.

Respondents cited several threats to IoT security, including altering the function of IoT devices through malware or other attacks (68 percent) and remote control of a device by an unauthorized user (54 percent).

However, respondents rated controls relevant to malware protection – like securely delivering patches and updates to IoT devices – last on a list of the five most important IoT security capabilities.

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recommends that cryptographic modules for certificate authorities (CAs), key recovery servers and OCSP responders should be validated to FIPS 140-2 level 3 or higher.

Thirty-nine percent of respondents in this study use hardware security modules (HSMs) to secure their PKIs, most often to manage the private keys for their root, issuing, or policy CAs. Yet only 12 percent of respondents indicate the use of HSMs in their OSCP installations, demonstrating a significant gap between best practices and observed practices.

“PKI underpins the security of both the business and the consumer world, from digitally signing transactions and applications to prove the source as well as integrity, to supporting the authentication of smart phones, games consoles, citizen passports, mass transit ticketing and mobile banking, says Larry Ponemon, founder of the Ponemon Institute.

“The 2020 Global PKI and IoT Trends Study shows a surge in the use of PKI credentials for cloud-based applications and enterprise user authentication, underscoring the criticality of PKI in supporting core enterprise applications.”

“We are seeing increasing reliance on PKI juxtaposed with struggles by internal teams to adapt it to new market needs — driving changes to traditional PKI deployment models and methods,” says John Grimm, vice president strategy for digital solutions at Entrust.

“In newer areas like IoT, enterprises are clearly failing to prioritize security mechanisms like firmware signing that would counter the most urgent threats, such as malware.

“And with the massive increase in certificates issued and acquired found in this year’s study, the importance of automated certificate management, a flexible PKI deployment approach, and strong best practice-based security including HSMs has never been greater.”

How do I select a data storage solution for my business?

We live in the age of data. We are constantly producing it, analyzing it, figuring out how to store and protect it, and, hopefully, using it to refine business practices. Unfortunately, 58% of organizations make decisions based on outdated data.

While enterprises are rapidly deploying technologies for real-time analytics, machine learning and IoT, they are still utilizing legacy storage solutions that are not designed for such data-intensive workloads.

To select a suitable data storage for your business, you need to think about a variety of factors. We’ve talked to several industry leaders to get their insight on the topic.

Phil Bullinger, SVP and General Manager, Data Center Business Unit, Western Digital

select data storage solutionSelecting the right data storage solution for your enterprise requires evaluating and balancing many factors. The most important is aligning the performance and capabilities of the storage system with your critical workloads and their specific bandwidth, application latency and data availability requirements. For example, if your business wants to gain greater insight and value from data through AI, your storage system should be designed to support the accelerated performance and scale requirements of analytics workloads.

Storage systems that maximize the performance potential of solid state drives (SSDs) and the efficiency and scalability of hard disk drives (HDDs) provide the flexibility and configurability to meet a wide range of application workloads.

Your applications should also drive the essential architecture of your storage system, whether directly connected or networked, whether required to store and deliver data as blocks, files, objects or all three, and whether the storage system must efficiently support a wide range of workloads while prioritizing the performance of the most demanding applications.

Consideration should be given to your overall IT data management architecture to support the scalability, data protection, and business continuity assurance required for your enterprise, spanning from core data centers to those distributed at or near the edge and endpoints of your enterprise operations, and integration with your cloud-resident applications, compute and data storage services and resources.

Ben Gitenstein, VP of Product Management, Qumulo

select data storage solutionWhen searching for the right data storage solution to support your organizational needs today and in the future, it’s important to select a solution that is trusted, scalable to secure demanding workloads of any size, and ensures optimal performance of applications and workloads both on premises and in complex, multi- cloud environments.

With the recent pandemic, organizations are digitally transforming faster than ever before, and leveraging the cloud to conduct business. This makes it more important than ever that your storage solution has built in tools for data management across this ecosystem.

When evaluating storage options, be sure to do your homework and ask the right questions. Is it a trusted provider? Would it integrate well within my existing technology infrastructure? Your storage solution should be easy to manage and meet the scale, performance and cloud requirements for any data environment and across multi-cloud environments.

Also, be sure the storage solution gives IT control in how they manage storage capacity needs and delivers real-time insight into analytics and usage patterns so they can make smart storage allocation decisions and maximize an organizations’ storage budget.

David Huskisson, Senior Solutions Manager, Pure Storage

select data storage solutionData backup and disaster recovery features are critically important when selecting a storage solution for your business, as now no organization is immune to ransomware attacks. When systems go down, they need to be recovered as quickly and safely as possibly.

Look for solutions that offer simplicity in management, can ensure backups are viable even when admin credentials are compromised, and can be restored quickly enough to greatly reduce major organizational or financial impact.

Storage solutions that are purpose-built to handle unstructured data are a strong place to start. By definition, unstructured data means unpredictable data that can take any form, size or shape, and can be accessed in any pattern. These capabilities can accelerate small, large, random or sequential data, and consolidate a wide range of workloads on a unified fast file and object storage platform. It should maintain its performance even as the amount of data grows.

If you have an existing backup product, you don’t need to rip and replace it. There are storage platforms with robust integrations that work seamlessly with existing solutions and offer a wide range of data-protection architectures so you can ensure business continuity amid changes.

Tunio Zafer, CEO, pCloud

select data storage solutionBear in mind: your security team needs to assist. Answer these questions to find the right solution: Do you need ‘cold’ storage or cloud storage? If you’re looking to only store files for backup, you need a cloud backup service. If you’re looking to store, edit and share, go for cloud storage. Where are their storage servers located? If your business is located in Europe, the safest choice is a storage service based in Europe.

Best case scenario – your company is going to grow. Look for a storage service that offers scalability. What is their data privacy policy? Research whether someone can legally access your data without your knowledge or consent. Switzerland has one of the strictest data privacy laws globally, so choosing a Swiss-based service is a safe bet. How is your data secured? Look for a service that offers robust encryption in-transit and at-rest.

Client-side encryption means that your data is secured on your device and is transferred already encrypted. What is their support package? At some point, you’re going to need help. A data storage service with a support package that’s included for free, answers in up to 24 hours is preferred.

60% of IT pros list improving security as a top priority today

Kaseya announced the results of its sixth annual IT operations benchmark report, consisting of two distinct survey audiences: IT practitioners (the IT managers and technicians working daily with technology) and IT leaders (IT directors and above).

improving security top priority

The study surveyed 878 SMB respondents, 543 of whom were IT practitioners and 335 were IT leaders. The differences in priorities and concerns between the two audiences understandably center around aspects of their roles impacted most by COVID-19: IT leaders are currently more focused on maintaining operations while keeping IT budgets in check, whereas one of IT practitioners’ greatest struggles is maintaining productivity using limited resources.

However, many similarities also emerged for both groups, including an emphasis on IT security, data protection and the interplay between automation and productivity in 2020.

Improving security is a top priority

Although 63% of IT practitioners said they had not experienced a security breach or ransomware attack in the past three years, the increase in cyberattacks during the pandemic has cemented cybersecurity and data protection as a top priority for both groups.

More than half of IT practitioners and 60% of IT leaders listed “improving IT security” as their top priority in 2020, and more than half of respondents from both groups named “cybersecurity and data protection” as their top challenge.

But managing and working with limited budgets makes securing their company during this time difficult for IT teams. Although 73% of IT leaders are optimistic that their IT budgets will remain the same or increase in 2021, nearly one-third are still concerned about having inadequate IT budgets or resources to meet demands — a similar consideration for 32% of practitioners.

As a result of limited budgets, less than a third of practitioners are actually able to patch remote, off-network devices. This potentially exposes the entire company’s networks to higher security risks given the increase in remote workforces using personal devices or connecting to unsecured Wi-Fi connections during the pandemic.

Investing in IT automation improves productivity and reduces costs

In addition to potentially making companies vulnerable to security risks, slashed budgets can also impact an IT team’s productivity. Luckily, both IT practitioners and leaders are on the same page about the solution to this problem in 2020: automation.

IT practitioners who listed “increasing IT productivity through automation” and IT leaders who named “reducing IT costs” are simply pursuing the same goal, since higher productivity ultimately reduces operating costs.

When asked about the technologies IT leaders are planning to invest in for 2021, 60% said “IT automation.” Likewise, 38% of practitioners named “automation of IT processes” as a top use case for their endpoint management solution.

Data protection critical to keeping customers coming back for more

Although consumers remain concerned about sharing personal data with companies, the results of a Privitar survey highlight an opportunity for businesses to take a leadership role and build brand loyalty by protecting their customers.

customers data protection

The report found that more than three-quarters of respondents are concerned or very concerned about protecting their personal data, with 42 percent of consumers saying they wouldn’t share sensitive data (e.g. name, address, email address, phone number, location information, health information, banking information, social security number) with a business for any reason.

As consumers grow increasingly apprehensive when it comes to their data, business success will depend on an organizations’ ability to prioritize and successfully execute on privacy initiatives.

Disconnect between consumer sentiment and actions surrounding data protection

When it comes to the management of their data, many consumers aren’t fully aware of how brands are securing their personal information. According to the survey, 43 percent of consumers don’t know if they’ve worked with a business that has been impacted by a data breach.

When it comes to privacy notices, 28 percent admit to not reading privacy notices at all and 42 percent admitted to only skimming the text. These findings point to a growing sentiment that data privacy should be the responsibility of the business – not the customer. With this, businesses have a tremendous opportunity to make data privacy a differentiator and way to build long-term loyalty.

Pandemic creating more data sharing opportunities, still consumers are wary

Despite the growing advancements on the data protection front, 51 percent of consumers surveyed said they are still not comfortable sharing their personal information. One-third of respondents said they are most concerned about it being stolen in a breach, with another 26 percent worried about it being shared with a third party.

In the midst of the growing pandemic, COVID-19 tracking, tracing, containment and research depends on citizens opting in to share their personal data. However, the research shows that consumers are not interested in sharing their information.

When specifically asked about sharing healthcare data, only 27 percent would share health data for healthcare advancements and research. Another 21 percent of consumers surveyed would share health data for contact tracing purposes.

As data becomes more valuable to combat the pandemic, companies must provide consumers with more background and reasoning as to why they’re collecting data – and how they plan to protect it.

Upcoming U.S. elections driving consumer awareness of data privacy

Recently, there’s been increased conversation about data privacy and protection legislation across the United States, especially as the CCPA is enacted and the CDPSA awaits its fate in Congress.

As the debate grows louder across the nation, 73 percent of consumers think that there should be more government oversight at the federal and/or state/local levels. While legislation can take years to pass, it’s important for businesses to overhaul their technology and processes now to quickly address consumers’ concerns and keep business running.

Businesses must drive data privacy action

Companies rely on brand loyalty to keep their operations up and running. While often referring to affordable costs and personalization as a means to keeping business moving, many overlook the importance of instilling a more personal sense of trust within their customer base.

When working with a business, 40 percent of consumers think the brand’s trustworthiness is most important when it comes to brand loyalty and 31 percent say it’s the brand’s commitment to protecting their data.

Evenly matched up with the 30 percent of consumers who believe customer service matters most, the results prove that data protection is just as critical to keeping customers coming back for more.

However, broken trust and lost responsibility for protecting that data have severe consequences, with 24 percent saying they have either stopped doing business or done less business with a company after it was breached.

As markets grow increasingly competitive in a fluctuating economy, it’s critical for businesses to keep customer loyalty high – and as such, be more open and transparent with how they’re using personal data.

“The global COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of the trust relationship companies and governments need to build with consumers in an increasingly digital world,” said Jason du Preez, CEO, Privitar.

“The results of the survey affirm the growing need for brands to focus on building and maintaining this trust, starting first and foremost with protecting customer data. As more businesses utilize the cloud to enable data driven insights, a firm commitment to data privacy will help to ensure long-term loyalty, consumer satisfaction and shareholder value.”

Half of IT teams can’t fully utilize cloud security solutions due to understaffing

There are unrealized gaps between the rate of implementation or operation and the effective use of cloud security access brokers (CASB) within the enterprise, according to a global Cloud Security Alliance survey of more than 200 IT and security professionals from a variety of organization sizes and locations.

utilize cloud security solutions

Utilize cloud security solutions

“CASB solutions have been underutilized on all the pillars but in particular on the compliance, data security, and threat protection capabilities within the service,” said Hillary Baron, lead author and research analyst, Cloud Security Alliance.

“It’s clear that training and knowledge of how to use the products need to be made a priority if CASBs are to become effective as a service or solution,” Baron concluded.

The paper found that while nearly 90% of the organizations surveyed are already using or researching the use of a CASB, 50% don’t have the staffing to fully utilize cloud security solutions, which could be remediated by working with top CASB vendors.

CASBs have yet to become practical for remediation or prevention

More than 30% of respondents reported having to use multiple CASBs to meet their security needs and 34% find solution complexities an inhibitor in fully realizing the potential of CASB solutions.

Overall, CASBs perform well for visibility and detecting behavior anomalies in the cloud but have yet to become practical as a tool for remediation or prevention.

Additional findings

  • 83% have security in the cloud as a top project for improvement
  • 55% use their CASB to monitor user behaviors, while 53% use it to gain visibility into unauthorized access
  • 38% of enterprises use their CASB for regulatory compliance while just 22% use it for internal compliance
  • 55% of total respondents use multi-factor authentication that is provided by their identity provider as opposed to a standalone product in the cloud (20%)

BYOD adoption is growing rapidly, but security is lagging

As the shift to remote work has increased, most businesses are embracing BYOD in the workplace.

BYOD adoption

In a survey by Bitglass, 69% of respondents said that employees at their companies are allowed to use personal devices to perform their work, while some enable BYOD for contractors, partners, customers, and suppliers.

While the use of personal devices in the work environment is growing rapidly, many are unprepared to balance security with productivity. When asked for their main BYOD security concerns, 63% of respondents said data leakage, 53% said unauthorized access to data and systems, and 52% said malware infections.

Lack of proper steps to protect corporate data

Despite the concerns, the research shows that organizations are allowing BYOD without taking the proper steps to protect corporate data. 51% of the surveyed organizations lack any visibility into file sharing apps, 30% have no visibility or control over mobile enterprise messaging tools, and only 9% have cloud-based anti-malware solutions in place.

Compounding these problems are results that demonstrated that organizations need physical access to devices and even device PINs to secure them. This may be acceptable for managed endpoints, but it is a clear invasion of privacy where BYOD is enabled.

BYOD adoption

“The top two reasons enterprises hesitate to enable BYOD relate to company security and employee privacy,” said Anurag Kahol, CTO of Bitglass.

“However, the reality is that today’s work environment requires the flexibility and remote access that the use of personal devices enables. To remedy this standoff, companies need comprehensive cloud security platforms that are designed to secure any interaction between users, devices, apps, or web destinations.”

A Boxcryptor audit shows no critical weaknesses in the software

More and more companies, self-employed and private customers are using Boxcryptor to protect sensitive data – primarily in the cloud. Boxcryptor ensures that nobody but authorized persons have access to the data. Cloud providers and their staff, as well as potential hackers are reliably excluded. The audit verified whether this protection is guaranteed.

During the audit, Kudelski was given access to the source code of Boxcryptor for Windows and to the internal documentation.

“All these components were logically correct and did not show any significant weakness under scrutiny. It is important to note that the codebase we audited was not showing any signs of malicious intent.”

The goal of the audit

The goal of the audit was to give all interested parties an indirect insight into the software so that they can be sure that no backdoors or security holes are found in the code.

Robert Freudenreich, CTO of Boxcryptor, about the benefits of an audit: “For private users, Boxcryptor is a means of digital self-defense against curious third parties, for companies and organizations a way to achieve true GDPR compliance and complete control over business data. With software that is so security relevant, it is understandable that users want to be sure that the software is flawless.”

The audit process started at the beginning of May with short communication lines to the developers and managers in the Boxcryptor team. If Kudelski had found a serious security vulnerability, they would not have held it back until the final report, but would have reported the problem immediately.

A problem rated as “medium”

The problem rated as medium is a part of the code that affects the connection to cloud providers using the WebDAV protocol. Theoretically, the operators of such cloud storage providers could have tried to inject code into Boxcryptor for Windows.

In practice, however, this code was never used by Boxcryptor, so there was no danger for Boxcryptor users at any time. In response to the audit, this redundant part of the code was removed.

Two problems classified as “low” and further observations

One problem classified as low concerns the user password: to protect users with insecure passwords, it was suggested that passwords be hashed even more frequently and that the minimum password length be increased, which we implemented immediately.

The second problem classified as low was theoretical and concerned the reading of the Boxcryptor configuration.

New privacy-preserving SSO algorithm hides user info from third parties

Over the last few decades, as the information era has matured, it has shaped the world of cryptography and made it a varied landscape. Amongst the myriad of encoding methods and cryptosystems currently available for ensuring secure data transfers and user identification, some have become quite popular because of their safety or practicality.

SSO algorithm

For example, if you have ever been given the option to log onto a website using your Facebook or Gmail ID and password, you have encountered a single sign-on (SSO) system at work. The same goes for most smartphones, where signing in with a single username and password combination allows access to many different services and applications.

SSO schemes give users the option to access multiple systems by signing in to just one specific system. This specific system is called the “identity provider” and is regarded as a trusted entity that can verify and store the identity of the user. When the user attempts to access a service via the SSO, the “service provider” asks this identity provider to authenticate the user.

SSO advantages and privacy concerns

The advantages of SSO systems are many. For one, users need not remember several username and password combinations for each website or application. This translates into fewer people forgetting their passwords and, in turn, fewer telephone calls to IT support centers.

Moreover, SSO reduces the hassle of logging in, which can, for example, encourage employees to use their company’s security-oriented tools for tasks such as secure file transfer.

But with these advantages come some grave concerns. SSO systems are often run by Big Tech companies, who have, in the past, been reported to gather people’s personal information from apps and websites (service providers) without their consent, for targeted advertising and other marketing purposes.

Some people are also concerned that their ID and password could be stored locally by third parties when they provide them to the SSO mechanism.

A fast, privacy-preserving algorithm

In an effort to address these problems, Associate Professor Satoshi Iriyama from Tokyo University of Science and his colleague Dr Maki Kihara have recently developed a new SSO algorithm that on principle prevents such holistic information exchange. In their paper, they describe the new algorithm in great detail after going over their motivations for developing it.

Dr Iriyama states: “We aimed to develop an SSO algorithm that does not disclose the user’s identity and sensitive personal information to the service provider. In this way, our SSO algorithm uses personal information only for authentication of the user, as originally intended when SSO systems were introduced.”

Because of the way this SSO algorithm is designed, it is impossible in essence for user information to be disclosed without authorization. This is achieved, as explained by Dr Iriyama, by applying the principle of “handling information while it is still encrypted.”

In their SSO algorithm, all parties exchange encrypted messages but never exchange decryption keys, and no one is ever in possession of all the pieces of the puzzle because no one has the keys to all the information.

While the service provider (not the identity provider) gets to know whether a user was successfully authenticated, they do not get access to the user’s identity and any of their sensitive personal information. This in turn breaks the link that allows identity providers to draw specific user information from service providers.

The proposed scheme offers many other advantages. In terms of security, it is impervious by design to all typical forms of attack by which information or passwords are stolen. For instance, as Dr Iriyama explains, “Our algorithm can be used not only with an ID and a password, but also with any other type of identity information, such as biometrics, credit card data, and unique numbers known by the user.”

This also means that users can only provide identity information that they wish to disclose, reducing the risk of Big Tech companies or other third parties siphoning off personal information. In addition, the algorithm runs remarkably fast, an essential quality to ensure that the computational burden does not hinder its implementation.

Does analyzing employee emails run afoul of the GDPR?

A desire to remain compliant with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and other privacy laws has made HR leaders wary of any new technology that digs too deeply into employee emails. This is understandable, as GDPR non-compliance pay lead to stiff penalties.

analyzing employee emails

At the same time, new technologies are applying artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to solve HR problems like analyzing employee data to help with hiring, completing performance reviews or tracking employee engagement. This has great potential for helping businesses coach and empower employees (and thus help them retain top talent), but these tools often analyze employee emails as a data source. Does this create a privacy issue in regard to the GDPR?

In most cases, the answer is “no.” Let’s explore these misconceptions and explain how companies can stay compliant with global privacy laws while still using AI/ML workplace technologies to provide coaching and empowerment solutions to their employees.

Analyzing employee data with AI/ML isn’t unique to HR

First of all, many appliances already analyze digital messages with AI/ML. Many of these are likely already used by your organization and do not ask for consent from every sender for every message they analyze. Antivirus software uses AI/ML to scan incoming messages for viruses, chatbots use it to answer support emails, and email clients themselves use AI/ML to suggest responses to common questions as the user types them or create prompts to schedule meetings.

Applications like Gmail, Office 365 Scheduler, ZenDesk and Norton Antivirus do these tasks all the time. Office 365 Scheduler even analyzes emails using natural language processing to streamline the simple task of scheduling a meeting. Imagine if they had to ask for the user’s permission every time they did this! HR technologies that do something similar are not unique.

Employers also process employee’s personal data without their consent on a daily basis. Consider these tasks: automatically storing employee communications, creating paperwork for employee reviews or disciplinary action, or sending payroll information to government agencies. Employees don’t need to give consent for this. That’s because there’s a different legal basis at work that allows the company to share data in this way.

Companies do not need employee consent in this context

This isn’t an issue because the GDPR offers five alternative legal bases pursuant to which employee personal data can be processed, including the pursuit of the employer’s “legitimate interests.” This concept is intentionally broad and gives organizations flexibility to determine whether its interests are appropriate, regardless of whether these interests are commercial, individual, or broader societal benefits, or even whether the interests are a company’s own or those of a third party.

GDPR regulations single out preventing fraud and direct marketing as two specific purposes where personal data may be processed in pursuit of legitimate interest, but there are many more.

These “legitimate interest” bases give employers grounds to process personal data using AI/ML applications without requiring consent. In fact, employers should avoid relying on consent to process employee’s personal data whenever possible. Employees are almost never in a position to voluntarily or freely give consent due to the imbalance of power inherent in employer-employee relationships, and therefore the consents are often invalid. In all the cases listed above, the employer relies on legitimate interest to process employee data. HR tools fall into the same category and don’t require consent.

A right to control your inbox

We’ve established that employers can process email communication data internally with new HR tools that use AI/ML and be compliant with the GDPR. But should they?

Here is where we move from legal issues to ethical issues. Some companies that value privacy might believe that employees should control their own inbox, even though that’s not a GDPR requirement. That means letting employees grant and revoke permission to the applications that can read their workplace emails (and which have already been approved by the company). This lets the individual control their own data. Other organizations may value the benefits of new tools over employee privacy and may put them in place without employees’ consent.

I have seen some organizations create a middle ground by making these tools available to employees but requiring them to opt in to use them (rather than installing them and giving employees the option to opt out, which puts an extra burden on them to maintain privacy). This can both respect employee’s privacy and allow HR departments to use new technologies to empower individuals if they so choose. This is more important than ever in the new era of widespread work from home where we have an abundance of workplace communication and companies are charting new courses to help their employees thrive in the future of work.

Fully understanding compliance around new AI/ML tools is key to effectively rolling them out. While these solutions can be powerful and may help your employees become more self-aware and better leaders, organizations should fully understand compliance and privacy issues associated with their use in order to roll them out effectively.

EU Commission: The GDPR has been an overall success

The European Commission has published an evaluation report on the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), two years after the regulation became enforceable.

GDPR two years

Two years of the GDPR: What was achieved?

Citizens are more empowered and aware of their rights: The GDPR enhances transparency and gives individuals enforceable rights, such as the right of access, rectification, erasure, the right to object and the right to data portability. Today, 69% of the population above the age of 16 in the EU have heard about the GDPR and 71% of people heard about their national data protection authority, according to results published last week in a survey from the EU Fundamental Rights Agency. However, more can be done to help citizens exercise their rights, notably the right to data portability.

Data protection rules are fit for the digital age: The GDPR has empowered individuals to play a more active role in relation to what is happening with their data in the digital transition. It is also contributing to fostering trustworthy innovation, notably through a risk-based approach and principles such as data protection by design and by default.

Data protection authorities are making use of their stronger corrective powers: From warnings and reprimands to administrative fines, the GDPR provides national data protection authorities with the right tools to enforce the rules. However, they need to be adequately supported with the necessary human, technical and financial resources. Many Member States are doing this, with notable increases in budgetary and staff allocations. Overall, there has been a 42% increase in staff and 49% in budget for all national data protection authorities taken together in the EU between 2016 and 2019. However, there are still stark differences between Member States.

Data protection authorities are working together in the context of the European Data Protection Board (EDPB), but there is room for improvement: The GDPR established a governance system which is designed to ensure a consistent and effective application of the GDPR through the so called ‘one stop shop’, which provides that a company processing data cross-border has only one data protection authority as interlocutor, namely the authority of the Member State where its main establishment is located. Between 25 May 2018 and 31 December 2019, 141 draft decisions were submitted through the ‘one-stop-shop’, 79 of which resulted in final decisions. However, more can be done to develop a truly common data protection culture. In particular, the handling of cross-border cases calls for a more efficient and harmonised approach and an effective use of all tools provided in the GDPR for the data protection authorities to cooperate.

Advice and guidelines by data protection authorities: The EDPB is issuing guidelines covering key aspects of the Regulation and emerging topics. Several data protection authorities have created new tools, including helplines for individuals and businesses, and toolkits for small and micro-enterprises. It is essential to ensure that guidance provided at national level is fully consistent with guidelines adopted by the EDPB.

Harnessing the full potential of international data transfers: Over the past two years, the Commission’s international engagement on free and safe data transfers has yielded important results. This includes Japan, with which the EU now shares the world’s largest area of free and safe data flows. The Commission will continue its work on adequacy, with its partners around the world. In addition and in cooperation with the EDPB, the Commission is looking at modernising other mechanisms for data transfers, including Standard Contractual Clauses, the most widely used data transfer tool. The EDPB is working on specific guidance on the use of certification and codes of conduct for transferring data outside of the EU, which need to be finalised as soon as possible. Given the European Court of Justice may provide clarifications in a judgment to be delivered on 16 July that could be relevant for certain elements of the adequacy standard, the Commission will report separately on the existing adequacy decisions after the Court of Justice has handed down its judgment.

Promoting international cooperation: Over the last two years, the Commission has stepped up bilateral, regional and multilateral dialogue, fostering a global culture of respect for privacy and convergence between different privacy systems to the benefit of citizens and businesses alike. The Commission is committed to continuing this work as part of its broader external action, for example, in the context of the Africa-EU Partnership and in its support for international initiatives, such as ‘Data Free Flow with Trust’. At a time when violations of privacy rules may affect large numbers of individuals simultaneously in several parts of the world, it is time to step up international cooperation between data protection enforcers. This is why the Commission will seek authorisation from the Council to open negotiations for the conclusion of mutual assistance and enforcement cooperation agreements with relevant third countries.

GDPR: What’s next?

According to the report, in two years the GDPR has met most of its objectives, in particular by offering citizens a strong set of enforceable rights and by creating a new European system of governance and enforcement.

The GDPR proved to be flexible to support digital solutions in unforeseen circumstances such as the Covid-19 crisis. The report also concludes that harmonisation across the Member States is increasing, although there is a certain level of fragmentation that must be continually monitored. It also finds that businesses are developing a compliance culture and increasingly use strong data protection as a competitive advantage.

The GDPR has acted as a catalyst for many countries and states around the world – e.g., Chile, South Korea, Brazil, Japan, Kenya, India, Tunisia, Indonesia, Taiwan and the state of California – to consider how to modernise their privacy rules, the EC noted.

They also pointed out that it provided data protection authorities many corrective powers to enforce it (administrative fines, orders to comply with data subject’s requests, bans on processing or the suspension of data flows, etc.)

There is room for improvement, though.

“For example, we need more uniformity in the application of the rules across the Union: this is important for citizens and for businesses, especially SMEs. We need also to ensure that citizens can make full use of their rights,” noted Didier Reynders, Commissioner for Justice.

The EC also noted that stakeholders should also make sure to closely monitoring the application of the GDPR to new technologies such as AI, Internet of Things, abd blockchain.

Does a generalization of tracking data cover up our traces on the internet?

Tracking of our browsing behavior is part of the daily routine of internet use. Companies use it to adapt ads to the personal needs of potential clients or to measure their range. Many providers of tracking services advertise secure data protection by generalizing datasets and anonymizing data in this way.

generalization data

Data generalization

Computer scientists of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and Technische Universität Dresden (TUD) have now studied how secure this method is.

Tracking services collect large amounts of data of internet users. These data include the websites accessed, but also information on the end devices used, the time of access (timestamp) or location information.

“As these data are highly sensitive and have a high personal reference, many companies use generalization to apparently anonymize them and to bypass data security regulations,” says Professor Thorsten Strufe, Head of the “Practical IT Security” Research Group of KIT.

By means of generalization, the level of detailing of the information is reduced, such that an identification of individuals is supposed to be impossible. For example, location information is restricted to the region, the time of access is limited to the day, or the IP address is shortened by some figures.

Strufe, together with his team and colleagues of TUD, have now studied whether this method really allows no conclusions to be drawn with respect to the individual.

With the help of a large volume of metadata of German websites with 66 million users and over 2 billion page views, the computer scientists succeeded in not only drawing conclusions with respect to the websites accessed, but also with respect to the chains of page views, the so-called click traces. The data were made available by INFOnline, an institution measuring the data range in Germany.

The course of page views is of high importance

“To test the effectiveness of generalization, we analyzed two application scenarios,” Strufe says. “First, we checked all click traces for uniqueness. If a click trace, that is the course of several successive page views, can be distinguished clearly from others, it is no longer anonymous.”

It was found that information on the website accessed and the browser used has to be removed completely from the data to prevent conclusions to be drawn with respect to persons.

“The data will only become anonymous, when the sequences of single clicks are shortened, which means that they are stored without any context, or when all information, except for the timestamp, is removed,” Strufe says.

“Even if the domain, the allocation to a subject, such as politics or sports, and the time are stored on a daily basis only, 35 to 40 percent of the data can be assigned to individuals.” For this scenario, the researchers found that generalization does not correspond to the definition of anonymity.

A few observations are sufficient to identify user profiles

In addition, the researchers checked whether even subsets of a click trace allow conclusions to be drawn with respect to individuals.

“We linked the generalized information from the database to other observations, such as links shared on social media or in chats. If, for example, the time is generalized precisely to the minute, one observation is sufficient to clearly assign 20 percent of the click traces to a person,” says Clemens Deusser, doctoral researcher of Strufe’s team, who was largely involved in the study.

“Another two observations increase the success to more than 50 percent. Then, it is easily obvious from the database which other websites were accessed by the person and which contents were viewed.” Even if the timestamp is stored with the precision of a day, only five additional observations are needed to identify the person.

“Our results suggest that simple generalization is not suited for effectively anonymizing web tracking data. The data remain sharp to the person and anonymization is ineffective. To reach effective data protection, methods extending far beyond have to be applied, such as noise by the random insertion of minor misobservations into the data,” Strufe recommends.

Companies are rethinking their approach to privacy management

TrustArc announced the results of its survey on how organizations are protecting and leveraging data, their most valuable asset. The survey polled more than 1,500 respondents from around the world at all levels of the organization.

privacy management

“There are more than 900 global privacy laws to which organizations must adhere, making privacy management an ongoing and dynamic challenge,” said Chris Babel, CEO, TrustArc.

“The TrustArc survey highlights just how difficult it can be to comply with even a single new regulation, such as CCPA, let alone the entire list of existing laws. The results also show how the COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant technologies, such as video conferencing, have exacerbated an already difficult privacy challenge and forced respondents to rethink their approaches.”

CCPA compliance readiness mostly lacking, prior GDPR preparedness a boost

29% of respondents say they have just started planning for CCPA.

  • More than 20% of respondents report they are either somewhat unlikely to be, very unlikely to be, or don’t know if they will be fully compliant with CCPA on July 1.
  • Just 14% of respondents are done with CCPA compliance. Nine percent have not started with CCPA compliance, and 15% have a plan but have not started implementation.
  • Of respondents who reported as being slightly or very knowledgeable about CCPA and GDPR regulations, 82% are leveraging at least some of the work they did for GDPR in implementing CCPA requirements.

Privacy professionals still use inefficient technologies for compliance programs

Though 90% of respondents agree or strongly agree that they are “mindful of privacy as a business,” many privacy professionals are left building privacy programs without automation.

  • 19% of respondents report they are most deficient in automating privacy processes.
  • Just 17% of all respondents have implemented privacy management software, which matches the 17% who are still using spreadsheets and word processors.
  • In addition, 19% are using open source/free software and 9% are doing nothing.
  • Even in the U.S., which boasts the highest rate of privacy management software adoption, just 22% of respondents use privacy management software as their primary compliance software.

Respondents understand the importance of data privacy and continue to invest in ongoing privacy programs. However, many are still attempting to implement these programs using manual processes and technologies that do not offer automation.

Moving forward, the companies that can leverage automation to simplify data privacy can protect their most valuable asset—data—and use it to drive business growth.

New technologies present additional challenges to compliance

With the move to all-remote workforces, companies are increasingly turning to technologies, such as video conferencing and collaboration tools. These tools present new avenues for data creation that privacy professionals must consider in their company-wide plans.

  • Twenty-two percent of respondents said personal device security during the pandemic has added a great deal of risk to their businesses. “Personal device security” received the highest proportion of “a great deal of risk” responses, compared to the other four response options.
  • A majority of respondents said that third-party data, supply chain, personal-device security, unintentional data sharing, and required or voluntary data sharing for public health purposes all added at least a moderate amount of risk to their businesses.
  • Seventy percent of respondents say video conferencing tools have required a moderate or great change to their privacy approach, and 65% of respondents say collaboration tools have required a moderate or great change to privacy approaches.

Despite financial impact of pandemic, privacy compliance remains a high priority

Though many respondents expect a significant decrease in their company’s revenues as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are still prioritizing privacy-related investments.

  • Forty-four percent of companies expect a decrease or steep decrease in overall company revenues for the balance of 2020 as a result of COVID-19.
  • Just 15% of respondents report they plan to spend less or a great deal less on privacy efforts in 2020 as a result of the pandemic.
  • 42% of respondents plan to spend $500,000 or more in 2020 on CCPA efforts alone.

Boards of directors actively involved in privacy management

The mandate for increased privacy investments is coming from the very top of organizations.

  • Eighty-three percent of respondents indicate their board of directors regularly reviews privacy approaches.
  • An impressive 86% of respondents say that everyone from the board of directors to the front-line staff knows their role in protecting privacy.
  • Four out of five respondents view privacy as a key differentiator for their company.

GDPR enforcement over the past two years

Two years after the GDPR went into effect, official data show that Data Protection Authorities (DPAs), crippled by a lack of resources, tight budgets, and administrative hurdles, have not yet been able to create adequate GDPR enforcement.

GDPR enforcement

Worse, some public authorities have grossly misused the GDPR to undermine other fundamental rights such as the right to free expression and freedom of the press, Access Now reveals.

The GDPR’s first two years have been marked by crisis, whether internal, external, political, geopolitical, or administrative. Beyond enforcement challenges, the report explores how these crises have impacted the protection of personal data in the EU, taking a close look at both Brexit and the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Through this report, we raise the alarm to the EU institutions and Data Protection Authorities that it’s high time to act to enforce the GDPR and condemn its misuses,” said Estelle Massé, Senior Policy Analyst and Global Data Protection Lead at Access Now.

“The European Union may have the best law in the world for the protection of personal data, but if it is not enforced, it risks being as useful as a chocolate teapot.”

The GDPR remains a strong framework, and if authorities take urgent action, it can go a long way in defending people’s fundamental rights.

GDPR around the world

From May 2018 to March 2020, authorities levied 231 fines and sanctions while as many as 144,376 complaints were filed between May 2018 and May 2019.

Out of 30 DPAs from all 27 EU countries, the United Kingdom, Norway, and Iceland, only nine said they were happy with their level of resourcing. The inadequate budget provided to DPAs means that our rights may not be effectively protected. In fact, it may create a negative incentive for DPAs investigating large tech companies to agree on settlements that may be more favorable to the companies. This is reinforced by the huge disparity of resources between data protection authorities and companies they oversee.

In Poland, Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia, courts and authorities have been abusing the GDPR to curtail investigative journalism or target civic tech NGOs by trying to force outlets to reveal their sources.

The GDPR is a robust tool to guide officials and public health authorities in the response to the COVID-19 crisis. Access Now condemns Hungary’s disproportionate decision to limit the application of GDPR rights during the COVID-19 crisis as it gravely endangers people’s right to data protection at a time when our personal information, including our health data, is being collected perhaps more than ever.

Enforcement challenges and the UK’s insistence on lowering current standards through the Brexit talks have implications for any future negotiations of a so-called adequacy decision between the EU and the UK that would authorize the transfer of data between the two jurisdictions.

GDPR enforcement

Key recommendations

Governments across the EU must increase the financial and human resources allocated to Data Protection Authorities, including technical staff, so that they can function properly and be able to address the large number of complaints.

The European Commission should launch infringement procedures against EU states:

  • When they do not provide sufficient resources to Data Protection Authorities, or
  • When they do not guarantee the Data Protection Authority independence in status and in practices, or
  • Where Data Protection Authorities or courts misuse the GDPR to restrict freedom of the press or stifle civil society’s work.

Data Protection Authorities must not misuse the GDPR, as they hold much of the responsibility for the GDPR’s success or failure. It is absolutely unacceptable that DPAs misuse the GDPR to undermine civil society, restrict freedom of the press, or otherwise violate human rights.

Reality bites: Data privacy edition

May 25th is the second anniversary of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and data around compliance with the regulation shows a significant disconnect between perception and reality.

Only 28% of firms comply with GDPR; however, before GDPR kicked off, 78% of companies felt they would be ready to fulfill data requirements. While their confidence was high, when push comes to shove, complying with GDPR and GDPR-like laws – like CCPA and PDPA – are not as easy as initially thought.

Data privacy efforts

While crucial, facing this growing set of regulations is a massive, expensive undertaking. If a company is found out of compliance with GDPR, it’s looking at upwards of 4% of annual global turnover. To put that percentage in perspective, of the 28 major fines handed down since the GDPR took effect in May 2018, that equates to $464 million dollars spent on fines – a hefty sum for sure.

Additionally, there is also a cost to comply – something nearly every company faces today if they conduct business on a global scale. For CCPA alone, the initial estimates for getting California businesses into compliance is estimated at around $55 billion dollars, according to the State of California DoJ. That’s just to comply with one regulation.

Here’s the reality: compliance is incredibly expensive, but not quite as expensive as being caught being noncompliant. This double-edged sword is unfortunate, but it is the world we live in. So, how should companies navigate in today’s world to ensure the privacy rights of their customers and teams are protected without missing the mark on any one of these regulatory requirements?

Baby steps to compliance

A number of companies are approaching these various privacy regulations one-by-one. However, taking a separate approach for each one of these regulations is not only extremely laborious and taxing on a business, it’s unnecessary.

Try taking a step back and identifying the common denominator across all of the regulations. You’ll find that in the simplest form, it boils down to knowing what data you actually have and putting the right controls in place to ensure you can properly safeguard it. Implementing this common denominator approach can free up a lot of time, energy and resources dedicated to data privacy efforts across the board.

Consider walking through these steps when getting started: First, identify the sensitive data being housed within systems, databases and file stores (i.e. Box, Sharepoint, etc.). Next, identify who has access to what so that you can ensure that only the right people who ‘should’ have access do. This is crucial to protecting customer information. Lastly, implement controls to keep employee access updated. Using policies to keep access consistent is important, but it’s crucial that they are updated and stay current with any organizational changes.

Staying ahead of the game

The only way to stay ahead of the numerous privacy regulations is to take a general approach to privacy. We’ve already seen extensions on existing regulations, like The California Privacy Rights and Enforcement Act of 2020. ‘CCPA 2.0’ as some people call it, would be an amendment to the CCPA. So, if this legislation takes effect, it would create a whole new set of privacy rights that align well with GDPR, putting greater safeguards around protecting sensitive personal information. It’s my opinion that since the world has begun recognizing privacy rights are more invaluable than ever, that we’ll continue to see amendments piggybacking on existing regulations across the globe.

While many of us have essentially thrown in the towel, knowing that our own personal data is already out there on the dark web, it doesn’t mean that we can all sit back and let this continue to happen. Considering, this would be to the detriment of our customers’ privacy, cost-prohibitive and ineffective.

So, what are the key takeaways? Make your data privacy efforts just as central as the rest of your security strategy. Ensure it is holistic and takes into account all facts and overlaps in the various regulations we’re all required to comply with today. Only then do you stand a chance at protecting your customers and your employees’ data and dodge becoming another news headline and a tally on the GDPR fine count.

EasyJet data breach: 9 million customers affected

British low-cost airline group EasyJet has revealed on Tuesday that it “has been the target of an attack from a highly sophisticated source” and that it has suffered a data breach.

EasyJet data breach

The result? Email address and travel details of approximately 9 million customers and credit card details (including CVV numbers) of 2,208 customers were accessed.

How did the attackers manage to breach EasyJet?

EasyJet did not share in their official notice about the incident when it happened, but told the BBC that they became aware of it in January and that the customers whose credit card details were stolen were notified in early April.

They also did not say how the attackers got in, only that it seems that they were after “company intellectual property.” Grabbing customer info might have been an afterthought or a secondary goal, then.

Richard Cassidy, senior director security strategy at Exabeam, says that by looking at recent breaches in the aviation industry, the tools, tactics and procedures (TTPs) being used are largely the same ones that have led to significant breaches in other industries.

“Attackers need credentials to access critical data – we can be certain of this – and often it is social engineering techniques that reveal those credentials. They then laterally move through systems and hosts to expand their reach and embed themselves within the infrastructure, providing multiple points of entry and exit. If an attacker can achieve this – as we are seeing here – it is then a case of packaging and exfiltrating critical data,” he added.

“Some airlines are doing it right – implementing state of the art behavioural analytics technologies that learn the normal behaviour of the network and immediately notify the security team when anomalies occur. Many, however, still need to understand that there is a better way to manage security, risk and compliance requirements and it most certainly is not ‘what we’ve always done’. In an industry that has defined ‘automation’ and ‘process efficiencies’, applying the same to Information Security would quite literally revolutionise their ability to detect, respond and mitigate against the largely traditional raft of attack TTP’s we’ve seen targeted at aviation this past decade.”

Professor Alan Woodward of the University of Surrey noted that the stolen credit card information might have been the result of a Magecart attack:

It would not be the first time for an airline to be targeted by Magecart attackers – British Airways was hit in 2018.

Advice for affected customers

“There is no evidence that any personal information of any nature has been misused, however, on the recommendation of the ICO [the UK’s data protection watchdog], we are communicating with the approximately 9 million customers whose travel details were accessed to advise them of protective steps to minimise any risk of potential phishing,” said EasyJet Chief Executive Officer Johan Lundgren.

“We are advising customers to continue to be alert as they would normally be, especially should they receive any unsolicited communications. We also advise customers to be cautious of any communications purporting to come from easyJet or easyJet Holidays.

Unsolicited communications may take the form of fake invoices, refund offers, requests for additional data, and so on.

“Always check the sender name and email address match up and if you’re being asked to carry out an urgent action, verify the legitimacy of the request by contacting EasyJet directly using details on their website,” advised Tim Sadler, CEO, Tessian.

“Cybercriminals have not missed a trick to capitalize on the COVID-19 crisis, and we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of cyber attacks and scams during this time. The travel industry especially has been severely impacted by COVID-19, and there’s no telling how much more damaging this cyber breach will be to EasyJet’s future. Moving forward, organisations should prioritise security protocols, implement sophisticated protection software, and ensure all employees are aware of security best practices, and carrying them out at all times.”

The UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has advised affected customers to:

  • Be vigilant against any unusual activity in their bank accounts or suspicious phone calls and emails asking them for further information
  • Change their password on their EasyJet accounts (and other accounts that have the same password)
  • Check if their account has appeared in any other public data breaches, and to
  • Depending on their nature, report any fraud attempts to the police, the NCSC, and their bank’s fraud department.

New third-party healthcare data rules: Increased access alongside privacy considerations

It would be an understatement to say that 2020 is a monumental year for healthcare. The COVID-19 pandemic brought many aspects of care to the forefront – from technology and its ability to connect us, to the necessity for records to be quickly disseminated to patients and their providers, and patients’ rights to exercise informed control over their treatment.

healthcare data rules

In early March, as COVID-19 impacted areas of the U.S., new healthcare data rules were issued by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to “give patients unprecedented safe, secure access to their health data“ so that they can better manage their care.

Currently, many large healthcare organizations share patient information via health information exchanges (HIEs), which are strictly regulated by HIPAA and other similar laws. Under the new rules, patients can choose to have their health records shared with third-party applications that will use the approved API outside of HIPAA’s controls.

There are several federal agencies that will have influence over the development, implementation, and oversight of these applications. For example, if the application is considered a medical device (i.e., software-as-a-medical device), the FDA would oversee how these apps are developed.

Under the purview of HIPAA and new breeds of state privacy laws and regulations, these apps will need to be built with security and privacy in mind, governed with the right controls, and provide appropriate patient verification and authentication. This will fundamentally alter how health data is exchanged between insurers, patients and providers by broadening the scope, but could also open the door for large technology enterprises, many with questionable track records for consumer privacy, to enter the space.

The new rules are intended to empower patients to have greater control over their health data, access to their health information and share their information when and with whom they desire. Compiling health records from all healthcare providers into one application would provide a single source of truth to help patients see the full landscape of their treatments.

The changes to the ADT requirements will offer similar benefits for practitioners, as this would streamline information sharing between large healthcare systems, smaller practices, and specialists caring for the same patient. Combining the benefits of the API with the rapid event notification services, and the apps could provide the ability for providers to have the most current health information due to the real-time connectivity of these apps. This has the potential of enabling independent care teams a comprehensive, timely, and relevant platform to ensure the health and well-being of their patients.

For example: All providers could be notified if their patient tested positive for a virus. Or in a medical emergency, receive a patient’s latest stats to provide lifesaving background information. It would also give organizations advance notice to prepare and triage patients during a significant health crisis.

An app that is developed to aggregate information collected from providers, payers, and the patient can notify anyone the patient wants to know.

With all the benefits and promises that this legislation provides, there are several considerations that must be weighed due to the inherent sensitivity of patient health information. Regulations such as HIPAA may not apply to third-party applications, which shifts the onus of privacy to the patients, and forces them to make informed decisions about trusting the organization that developed an application that offers these capabilities.

A patient would need to ask: “Do I trust that this app has the appropriate security and privacy safeguards?” It’ll be even more crucial that patients now read the fine print in those complicated and (seemingly) never-ending user agreements. These are where patients give permission for the app developer to store, share, sell, and use their most sensitive information.

Before granting permission, it will be increasingly important to understand how their data will be used and shared. Information is an extremely valuable asset. If the company behind the application is for-profit, then a patient should understand the motive of collecting and using their information.

For practitioners, there are still several unknowns around the mainstream execution and adoption of a third-party application system.

Healthcare organizations will eventually be required to utilize the API of these apps for secure data transfer which could be a burden for smaller practices, and there is industry interest in aggregating records into a single source to assist with diagnostics. However, how would corrections or changes be uniformly executed if the patient’s records are dispersed to multiple organizations or platforms? This could create confusion and misinformation without a clear authority to instate the modifications.

Additionally, the security of the app will be crucial to safeguard this information, along with the right controls and verification and authentication checks. A data breach from these types of applications could trigger catastrophic impacts, such as reputational damage if sensitive patient information is leaked, or fraud results from malicious access to financial information.

Today, a batch of highly-detailed healthcare data on the Dark Web is priced between $100 – 500, according to RSA. Compare that to stolen bank account credentials that range in price from $3 – 24 and you see why patient data is a target for cybercrime.

Conclusion

The convergence of healthcare and technology holds great potential to democratize patient information and enhance practitioners’ ability to provide comprehensive care.

But the complexity of this new legislation creates an opportunity for information privacy risks as the industry has never seen before. There are still many unanswered questions about the realities of broad technology adoption, and updated legislation and Federal oversight to reflect the current technology environment are needed to help close the gaps.

These changes in information sharing and care are inevitable and needed, so providers should take it upon themselves to ensure they are informed and prepared to adapt in order to best treat their patients. If we start seeing these capabilities embedded in consumer apps, and done so in a responsible, collaborative manner, then the patient will be put first, and as the CMS says, “[given] access to their health information when they need it most and in a way they can best use it.”

Half of IT pros believe their cybersecurity teams are ready to detect attacks

A surprising 51 percent of technology professionals and leaders are highly confident that their cybersecurity teams are ready to detect and respond to rising cybersecurity attacks during COVID-19, according to ISACA. Additionally, 59 percent say their cybersecurity team has the necessary tools and resources at home to perform their job effectively.

cybersecurity teams detect attacks

This presents a problem, as 58 percent of respondents say threat actors are taking advantage of the pandemic to disrupt organizations, and 92 percent say cyberattacks on individuals are increasing.

Remote work increasing data protection and privacy risk

While 80 percent of organizations shared cyber risk best practices for working at home as shelter in place orders began, 87 percent of respondents still say the rapid transition to remote work has increased data protection and privacy risk.

“Organizations are rapidly and aggressively moving toward new ways of doing business during this time, which is a very positive thing, but it can also lead to making compromises that can leave them vulnerable to threats,” says ISACA CEO David Samuelson.

“A surge in the number of remote workers means there is a greater attack surface. Remote work is critically important right now, so security has to be at the forefront along with employee education.”

More than 3,700 IT audit, risk, governance and cybersecurity professionals from 123 countries have been surveyed in mid-April to assess the impact of COVID-19 on their organizations and their own jobs.

Concerns about the wider impact

Most of these professionals believe their jobs are safe. Ten percent think a job loss is likely and 1 percent has been furloughed. However, while their own positions are stable, respondents are still extremely concerned about these wider impacts of the novel coronavirus:

  • Economic impact on my national economy (49 percent)
  • Health of family and friends (44 percent)
  • Personal health (30 percent)
  • Economic impact on my organization (24 percent)

The negative effects

While respondents report being highly satisfied with their organization’s internal communications, business continuity plans and executive leadership related to COVID-19, their organizations have not been able to avoid the negative effects, including:

  • Decreased revenues/sales (46 percent)
  • Reduced overall productivity (37 percent—more executives than practitioners think this is the case)
  • Reduced budgets (32 percent)
  • Supply chain problems (22 percent)
  • Closed business operations (19 percent)

The majority of respondents expect normal business operations to resume by Q3 2020.

“It’s hard to predict what ‘normal’ will look like in the short term,” said ISACA CTO Simona Rollinson. “What we do know is that tech professionals, including the IT audit, risk, governance and security professionals in our community, are more necessary than ever to their enterprises, and they are well-positioned to adapt and even thrive, regardless of what changes may be in store.”

GDPR, CCPA and beyond: How synthetic data can reduce the scope of stringent regulations

As many organizations are still discovering, compliance is complicated. Stringent regulations, like the GDPR and the CCPA, require multiple steps from numerous departments within an enterprise in order to achieve and maintain compliance. From understanding the regulations, implementing technologies that satisfy legal requirements, hiring qualified staff and training, to documentation updating and reporting – ongoing compliance can be costly and time intensive.

synthetic data

In fact, a report found that one-third of all enterprises (defined as businesses with 1000+ employees) spent more than $1 million on GDPR compliance alone.

As more states move to adopt GDPR-like regulations, such as California’s CCPA and Washington’s failed, but not forgotten Washington Privacy Act (WPA) legislation, organizations are having to look very closely at their data sets and make critical decisions to ensure compliance and data security.

But what can be done to minimize the scope of these stringent and wide-reaching regulations?

If an organization can identify all of its personal data, take it out of the data security and compliance equation completely – rending it useless to hackers, insider threats, and regulation scope – it can eliminate a huge amount of risk, and drastically the reduce the cost of compliance.

Enter synthetic data

Organizations like financial institutions and hospitals handle large quantities of extremely sensitive credit/debit card and personally identifiable information (PII). As such, they must navigate a very stringent set of compliance protocols – they can fall under the GDPR, CCPA, PCI DSS and additional laws and regulations depending on their location and the location of their customers.

Synthetic data is helping highly regulated companies safely use customer data to increase efficiencies or reduce operational costs, without falling under scope of stringent regulations.

Synthetic data makes this possible by removing identifiable characteristics of the institution, customer and transaction to create what is called a synthetic data set. Personally identifiable information is rendered unrecognizable by a one-way hash process that cannot be reversed. A cutting-edge data engine makes minor and random field changes to the original data, keeping the consumer identity and transaction associated with that consumer completely protected.

Once the data is synthetized, it’s impossible for a hacker or malicious insider to reverse-engineer the data. This makes the threat of a data breach a non-issue for even the largest enterprises. Importantly, this synthetic data set still keeps all the statistical value of the original data set, so that analysis and other data strategies may be safely conducted, such as AI algorithm feeding, target marketing and more.

What do the major data privacy regulations say about synthetic data

The CCPA does not expressly reference synthetic data, but it expressly excludes de-identified data from most of the CCPA’s requirements in cases where the requisite safeguards are in place. Synthesized data as defined is considered de-identified data. The CCPA also excludes from its coverage personal information subject to several federal privacy laws and comparable California state laws, including “personal information collected, processed, sold, or disclosed pursuant to Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) and the California Financial Information Privacy Act.”

Likewise, the GDPR does not expressly reference synthetic data, but it expressly says that it does not apply to anonymous information: according to UCL, “information which does not relate to an identified or identifiable natural person or to personal data rendered anonymous in such a manner that the data subject is not or no longer identifiable.” Synthetic data is considered personal data which has been rendered anonymous and therefore falls outside the material scope of the GDPR.

Essentially, these important global regulatory mandates do not apply to collection, storage and use of synthesized data.

A big solution for big struggles

As businesses continue to grow in size and number of customers, the amount and frequency of data that flows in also increases dramatically. With these vast streams of data comes a struggle to collect, store and use customer data in a private and secure manner. This struggle is also becoming more publicly known, as headlines of data breaches or compliance violations flood news feeds seemingly every week.

To effectively and efficiently manage the influx of sensitive data while staying compliant and secure, companies can implement synthetic data in their environments with zero risks. Companies can use synthetic data to dig into customer action likelihood, analytics, customer segmentation for marketing, fraud detection trends, and more without jeopardizing compliance or data privacy.

And with data being the key to actualizing machine learning and artificial intelligence engines, companies can also utilize synthetic data to gain valuable insights into their algorithm data and design new products, reduce operational costs, and analyze new business endeavors while keeping customer privacy intact.

With the GDPR and the CCPA now in full effect and more industry and region-specific data regulations on the horizon, organizations of all sizes that want to reduce the burden of compliance will look to use synthetic data technology to manage their privacy and data security-related legal obligations.

Synthetic data helps organizations in highly regulated industries put customer data security and privacy first and keep their data operations frictionless and optimized while minimizing the scope of compliance. The more organizations that adopt synthetic data, the safer personal information transactions become, and the more organizations are free to conduct business without having to worry about regulation.