Six Best Practices to Help Customers Achieve True Data Privacy

July 24th, 2017

data-7-24-17.pngWith today’s constant news stream of ransomware threats, denial of service attacks and data breaches, data privacy is more of a concern than ever. But, what exactly do we mean by data privacy, and how can we convey its importance to customers?

At its root, data privacy is the concept of implementing appropriate controls related to the sensitivity of data. There are two key components of data privacy: data classification and data protection.

Data classification simply means understanding the sensitivity level of data. There are three main categories: public, sensitive and confidential. Any data, even that which is publically available, can be collected and used by a criminal to profile their prey. The numbers tell the story: Through July 6, 2017, according to the nonprofit Identify Theft Resource Center, we’ve seen a total of 791 breaches and 12.39 million compromised records across all major industries.

Data classification helps determine the level of protection warranted, with confidential data justifying the most:

  • Confidential data, such as social security numbers, bank details, or other personally identifiable information—whether in transmission or storage—should be encrypted, and devices used to store and transmit it should be secured as well. When disposing of this data, whether electronically or in a tangible format, the data records should be fully destroyed through shredding (electronic or physically). In some cases, entire storage devices should be destroyed.
  • Sensitive data, such as religious or relationship information, or private business plans, is similar to confidential data in that the owner does not wish to share it with others. As such, sensitive data often is protected similarly to confidential data. The only differentiator is the amount spent to protect it.
  • Public data is that which is publically available, like where a person attended high school.

With greater access to information, coupled with the increased rate and publicity of compromise, many consumers are numb to the severity of a data breach, even though strengthening the environments in which they store or transmit data should be top of mind.

Below are six best practices you can convey to your customers to help them achieve real data privacy:

  • Employ data encryption for both storage and transmission. One advantage of encrypting all data is that a decision doesn’t have to be made regarding classification when it comes to encryption. A second benefit is that a criminal doesn’t know what to target when all data is encrypted.
  • Avoid accessing data such as emails, cloud storage, and the like on a public computer or network, which are easily compromised. If a public network must be used, virtual private network (VPN) encryption is necessary when sensitive or confidential data is being accessed. Keep in mind, passwords aren’t always transmitted in an encrypted format, so a criminal could intercept the password. Public computers should be used only as a last resort, and never to access confidential or sensitive data.
  • Ensure your computer is patched and protected with a firewall and up-to-date anti-malware solution. Further, even careful users should periodically have their machine inspected for malware and cleaned by a trusted technician; with the sophistication of malware today, even the most cautious and educated can still end up compromised.
  • When possible, implement multi-factor authentication, which entails using more than one means of authentication, such as passwords and authentication codes. This is one of the most promising ways to ensure data and accounts remain secure, yet even these systems aren’t foolproof. Avoid receiving texts of access codes when possible, as this is a weaker form of multi-factor authentication. Use authentication applications, phone calls or a secure email account instead, and remember that codes sent to a device are only as secure as the device itself.
  • Use strong passwords that are changed at least every 90 days. Passwords should, when allowed, be at least 15 characters in length and complex in nature, including letters, numbers and symbols. Also, password safes like KeyPass are useful for storing them. And remember, treat your password like your toothbrush: never share it and change it often.
  • Consider the sensitivity of the data you store in the cloud. Utilizing a cloud service means entrusting a company to protect your data, so ensure the provider is equipped to protect the data to the same degree that you would. Another alternative is encrypting the data with your own encryption key before storing it in the cloud, which helps mitigate risk.

While one of banks’ most important tasks is protecting customer data, educating customers to respond in kind goes a long way toward a common goal.

ssanders

Steve Sanders, CSI vice president of internal audit, oversees the evaluation of risks associated with IT, financial and operational systems. He has a strong knowledge of cybersecurity and privacy, accompanied by an educational background in computer security and data protection.