Failure To Encrypt Data May Lead To Serious Data Breaches And Hefty Fines

Computers & TechnologySite Security

  • Author Apple Tan
  • Published June 25, 2011
  • Word count 652

Organizations have to undertake a serious review of the way they handle data or the level of security of their information network. A school's ignorance of the need to encrypt mobile and portable devices has led to a breach of the Data Protection Act, after a laptop was stolen from a teacher's car, the Information Commissioner's Office has found.

Freehold Community School in Oldham was said to have broken data laws when the unencrypted device containing personal information on 90 pupils was stolen from the car parked at the teacher's home. Enquiries from the ICO found the school was not aware of the need to encrypt such devices. A school policy informing staff that storage devices should not be kept in cars away from school premises was however in place.

"The fact that the school was unaware of the need to encrypt the information stored on their laptop shows that many organizations continue to process personal information without having the most basic of security measures in place," said Sally-Anne Poole, the ICO's acting head of enforcement

Virgin Media Limited is an example of a large organization to be held to account for a breach of the UK’s Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). The breach seems to have occurred following the loss of a compact disc that was passed to Virgin Media by Carphone Warehouse. The disc contained personal details of various individuals' interest in opening a Virgin Media Account in a Carphone Warehouse store.

Virgin Media was required, with immediate effect, to encrypt all portable or mobile devices that store and transmit personal information. Further, the company is to ensure that any service provider processing personal information on its behalf must also use encryption software and this requirement has to be clearly stated in all contracts.

Over the past years laptops (Marks & Spencer), DVDs (HM Revenue and Customs), and memory sticks (PA Consulting) have all gone astray, with the potential loss of thousands of records.

Recently, the Ponemon Institute surveyed 275 European organizations in its latest lost laptop report to determine the economic consequences of having a laptop lost or stolen. It was found that participating organizations lost over 72,000 laptops during a 12-month period for a total economic impact of $1.79 billion, according to the "The Billion Euro Lost Laptop Problem" report, released in April. The researchers calculated that on average, each laptop loss cost participating organizations about $6.85 million in 2010.

The European study complemented the earlier Ponemon Institute’s December study which surveyed 329 organizations in the United States about laptop loss. Respondents lost more than 86,000 laptops over the course of a year, according to "The Billion Dollar Lost Laptop Study." The report valued the total cost at $2.1 billion at the time.

When the resulting losses from the European study are combined with the US study, the total damages ballooned to $3.9 billion across almost 160,000 lost laptops in the space of one year. Only 34 percent of lost laptops were encrypted, 26 percent were backed up regularly, and seven percent had other anti-theft features enabled, according to the European report. There were other similar trends in the European and US studies. Both reports found that roughly 30 percent of the lost laptops contained confidential data that was not encrypted.

Organizations have to pay more attention on data policies, and have a proficiently skilled IT security workforce in order to avoid cyber attacks and security breaches. IT security professionals can increase their information security knowledge and skills by embarking on advanced and highly technical training programs. EC-Council has launched the Center of Advanced Security Training (CAST), to address the deficiency of technically proficient information security professionals. CAST will provide advanced technical security training covering topics such as Advanced Penetration Testing, Digital Mobile Forensics, Advanced Application Security, Advanced Network Defense, and Cryptography, among others. These highly sought after and lab intensive information security training courses will be offered at all EC-Council hosted conferences and events, and through specially selected authorized training centers.

EC-Council certifies individuals in various information security skills through their information security training courses such as Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) and it has trained over 90,000 individuals in technical security training and certified more than 40,000 security professionals.

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