The top 2 responses to data security threats

How does your company mitigate the risk of data security threats?

Is your company management adopting a policy of “It’s other peoples money”?

In a recent thread on LinkedIn – Jody Keyser shared some quotes from David Vose’s book on risk, reliability and computerized risk modeling:  Risk Analysis a quantitative guide.

The responses to correctly identified and evaluated risks are many but generally fall into one of the following categories:

– Cancel Project
– Eliminate ( do it another way)
– Transfer (insure back to back contract)
– Share (with partner or contractor )
– Reduce (take a less risky approach)
– Add a contingency (increase budget, deadline etc.,to allow for possibility of risk)
– Collect more data to better understand risk
– Do nothing (cost is just too dang high)
– Increase ( maybe the plan is too cautious )

In my experience – when it comes to data security, data loss prevention, DLP projects – the top 2 responses to data security threats are “accept the risk” followed by “cancel the project” in a close second place.

The other alternatives are almost all non-starters. The question is – why?

Eliminating risk by changing the business process is often not an option or too much trouble for employees. For example – consider the process of transferring documents to external contractors – even though it’s trivial to encrypt documents inside a Zip file and share the password – most companies don’t make it part of their security procedure and those that do require encryption of documents sent to external business partners, don’t deploy DLP monitoring to ensure compliance with the encryption policy.

There are multiple reasons for data security risk being accepted by business managers.  Most are related to cost, complexity, changing business requirements and a tacit disbelief in effectiveness of technology in preventing data theft and fraud.

The reasons for accepting data security risk are related to  the difference between being secure and feeling secure.  Since most companies don’t monitor data flows, they don’t know how many sensitive digital assets are being leaked to the competition – ergo they don’t have the empirical data to analyze their data security threats and measure data security risks in terms of dollar threat to the business.  This would lead to enable a business to deploy data security countermeasures and be secure at an acceptable cost. It would also enable them to measure the cost effectiveness of their data security technology and challenge their innate beliefs and skepticism.

However – the company management already feel secure because they have delegated that part of  the business to the information security folks and reading the papers tells them that customers (not the business management) pay the cost of a data security breach.

As a kid growing up in South Jersey – when there was the occasional report of an urban boondoggle or million dollar NASA toilets – my Dad (who worked for RCA on defense projects and knew about these things) would always use the expression – “Other peoples money” or if it was closer to home – “Pa’s rich and Ma don’t care”…which is really close to home this year for Americans as President Obama takes the US to an unprecedented $1.35 trillion budget deficit in  2010.

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