Some people believe that in an age of Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter, we should give up all our expectations of privacy. While I agree that I’ve been shocked by the amount of personal information that people share (sometimes even how much I share), I still believe that organizations need to have the right technologies, policies and training in place to protect abuse of personal and sensitive data.
In a wilful privacy breach in 2011, a clerk at British Columbia’s insurance bureau (ICBC) accessed customer data in order to intimidate employees of another organization. One of the victims has launched legal proceedings against ICBC for failing to have suitable data protections in place. ICBC is a sort of universal automobile insurance organization in BC – everyone who wants a driver’s license there must get their insurance via this organization, so their data collection covers most adult BC residents.
Annette Oliver isn’t just worried about sensitive information being made public, but about how that data was used to terrorize her family and co-workers.
Annette Oliver alleges in her lawsuit that her husband’s van was torched on April 17, 2011, at about 2 a.m., which police believe was an arson.
Then on June 1, 2011, Oliver claims, she was at home when she heard three loud bangs at about 5 a.m. and discovered three bullet holes in the front of her house.
Oliver says her husband and two daughters were home at the time.
This wasn’t an isolated case: others had their cars burned and homes shot.
Three months later, on Dec. 14, 2011, the RCMP revealed the investigation had found a link to an ICBC employee, who allegedly accessed personal information of 65 people, including 13 identified as victims who were targeted.
ICBC said at the time the employee under investigation was a woman who had been at ICBC for 15 years before she was fired in August 2011
It appears from the lawsuit that ICBC did not use monitoring technologies to monitor access. Or that they weren’t using them correctly. I’m always surprised by organizations that steward customer data and don’t do much to properly care for that data. We’ll see in the end whether or not ICBC had suitable protections.
Myths about Data Protection
- Data privacy breaches don’t really hurt people. This one makes me mad. Even something less physically harmful like having their identities stolen can cause years of trouble for your customers, not to mention great financial harm. But data breaches can and do physically harm people.
- Data privacy is about secrecy. No, data privacy protection is about controlling the usage of data for only the reasons for which it was collected. Among other things.
- If the data is available elsewhere, it doesn’t need to be protect in our database. No, IT professionals still have a duty to protect personal and sensitive data in their care.
- Data wants to be free, so we shouldn’t control how it’s used within the organizations. Yeah? My cats want to be free, too. And we still don’t let them outside.
- Data protection is just a technology issue. Data protection is just a training issue. Data protection requires technological, process and people-based solutions.
- Encryption is all we need to do. No, because if people can read the data or download it, it’s not encrypted any more. Encryption helps when people walk away with the data. But people who use the data don’t see encrypted data.
- Data privacy requirements can be applied after the system goes into production. This one drives me crazy. Data protection requires effort at all phases of a project. There architectural, design, development, deployment and maintenance components to be addressed. There are policy and procedures to be developed. There is monitoring and alerting to be practiced.
You know my mantra. Love your data because it’s not really yours. You have a professional duty to ensure it’s safe.
Read the full story at Metronews
Tomorrow, Thursday 28 February at 2;00PM EST, I’ll be moderating a panel of expert data modelers as part of my Big Challenges in Data Modeling Series at Dataversity.net . In this month’s webinar, we’ll be debating the role of data architects in how we can best support business processes related to data privacy, data security and compliance. We’ll start by talking about recent data breaches and privacy issues.
One of the more contentious debates I have on projects is whether or not data modelers and architects should even have a role in these processes.
Joining me for this month’s panel are:
- Eva Smith ( @datadeva | blog ) Director of Information Technology at Edmonds Community College (EdCC) where she oversees college IT functions and serves on the IT Commission for the Washington State Community and Technical College system. Eva also volunteers for DAMA, International on the Editorial Board for the Data Management Body of Knowledge (DMBOK) Version 1, and as DAMA-I liaison to the Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals (ICCP).
- Loretta Mahon Smith( @silverdata ) is currently the IBM Global Business Services, Business Analytics & Optimization Lead for the Data Modeling Center of Excellence. She has an extensive background in the financial services industry and is also a long time DAMA volunteer.
- Peggy Schlesinger is a well-respected Master Enterprise Architect with Intel Corporation with a long history in Master Data Management. She is currently working on the Semantic Definition for the enterprise to improve and accelerate Business Intelligence, and is moving the environment toward Self-Service Business Intelligence.
As always, our last panelist is YOU! Unlike many webinars, we run these as highly-interactive events. We have a formal Q&A for when you want to ask a question of the panel, but we also have a peer-to-peer chat open so that you can discuss what you hearing in real time. We try to keep track of what’s going on in the chat so that we can comment and address the points being raised there. I love this feature and hope you will join us to be part of this event.
If you have a topic or question you’d like us to address, leave a comment below and we’ll try to work it in.
Also, if you are unable to make the webinar, you can register now anyway and listen to the recording later. So get registered now.
I’ve blogged about this data breach before: Federal Department Bans Use of Portable Devices (YAFF). To add insult to the injury, a “printer error” has led to recipients of notifications about the breach receiving letters intended for other victims.
The federal government is blaming a printing error for the fact that some student loan recipients who received letters to say their personal information had gone missing along with a portable hard drive also got letters addressed to someone else.
Human Resources and Skills Development Canada revealed last month that a hard drive containing the personal information of some 583,000 Canadians had gone missing. The data included social insurance numbers and dates of birth of people who had received student loans between 2002 and 2006.
Sure, these sorts of errors do happen, especially when using automated printing and envelope stuffing equipment. I’ve got to say, though, that the timing on this error is more than … difficult. I’m wondering if the IT teams are being blamed here, or just the outsourcing company that provides mailing services.
I’ve been blogging about health data breaches lately, but I’m not sure if there are more of them or if the reporting requirements are more strict. I suspect the latter.
One of the things I’ve noticed is that many of the breaches seem to be of multiple exposures by the same organization, which has led to recent legislative changes to the HITECH Act. You can see from the quote below that not only has the limit to the penalty been increased, but the penalties for repeat violators are higher.
Given the sensitive nature of health data, I’m still thinking that we need to move more towards criminal penalties for wilful neglect and repeat violations.
In addition to redefining the scope and liabilities of business associates in the healthcare industry, the final HIPAA omnibus rule includes revisions to the penalties applied to each HIPAA violation category. While the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) initially established a tiered penalty structure, it hasn’t been revised until now.
Section 160.404 refers to the amount of civil monetary penalty as administered under the HITECH (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health) Act. The original penalty structure used to be:
Do you think companies are bearing enough of the responsibility for protecting our data? Do you as a data professional get enough support from management to ensure that data is protected?
I thought I had blogged about this Canadian data breach, but I guess not. All these data breaches are coming so fast it’s hard to keep up. In this report, we have another YAFF: a portable hard drive being used as a backup device.
It looks like Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) will be taking a three-pronged approach to protecting our data: first, a new policy banning portable storage devices; second, use of data loss protection technologies and third, establishing consequences for staff that cause a data breach.
OTTAWA — The federal department at the centre of a massive data breach says it is banning the use of portable data devices in its offices, using new technology to prevent information from being easily removed from the network and warning any staff that violation of the new rules could mean the loss of their job.
Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) said Monday that it will start using “data loss technology,” which would allow the department to restrict when, where and which staff can remove information from government systems. Reviews have already started to see what risks the use of secured, portable data devices, such as USB memory sticks, carry in the department’s work and whether there are enough safeguards to prevent another massive breach of personal information from happening again.
Their loss of more than half a million student loan borrowers’ data has led to class action lawsuits. A missing external hard drive is the hardware piece of this breach; the fact that this drive contained unencrypted backups is the behavioural issue. Perhaps we need to start thinking about how to train end users on the consequences of moving data from “the system” to any place else, even for backup purposes.
Is there a solution?
I have more questions than solutions here, though. Usually enterprise backup solutions involve software plus a server or external service. I’m not sure why HRSDC was using a portable hard drive for backup. They are harder to manage, they tend to walk away, and they aren’t that reliable. So I’m going to guess here that this device was a personal device or being used to sneakernet files from one location to another. Perhaps from office to home, or from office to office. Both of those scenarios bother me because they most likely were not official methods for doing these tasks.
I don’t think there’s one answer. Training, policy, inspections, consequences, real monitoring and protection, more training, more inspections, some tough decisions. It’s a complex issue that will require complex responses. I’d like to hear what other organizations are doing to mitigate data breaches.
I think we need to have an industry acronym now that this seems to happen every week. My proposals:
- Yet Another USB Breach (YAUB)
- Blame A Thumbdrive (BLAT)
- Yet Another Flashdrive Fail (YAFF)
I like the YAFF one best, so I’m going with that, even though the #FAIL really isn’t in the hardware, but in the abuse of policy and hardware to cause a data breach.
This week’s YAFF announcement comes again from Utah, where a contractor with access to sensitive health data lost a USB flash drive somewhere between Salt Lake City, Denver, and Washington, DC.
What’s different about this news story is that we get more insight as to why that data was on a portable device. And it’s just as I prognosticated in a previous post: the contractor was frustrated with an infrastructure issues.
The contractor, Goold Health Systems, handles Medicaid pharmacy transactions for the Health Department.Department spokesman Tom Hudachko said the GHS employee, identified only as a woman from Denver, was having trouble with an Internet connection Thursday while trying to upload the data to a server. The employee saved the personal information to an unencrypted USB memory stick and left the Health Department with the device. The employee lost the stick sometime in the following days while traveling between Salt Lake City, Denver and Washington, D.C.
The contractor lost her job over this.
People Forget Policy When They Are Frustrated or Stressed
I once found a QA contractor cursing at his computer because he was having trouble sending a large file via his Hotmail account. I offered to help. When he showed me what he was doing I just about had a heart attack. He had been trying to send our offshore contractor a copy of a production database backup. This backup contained names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card information (no, the legacy system shouldn’t have been storing this information, but it did), SSNs, Driver’s license numbers and other forms of ID. It was an identity theft treasure chest of awesome.
When I asked him why he was trying email this information to our offshore contractor he said he was frustrated that corporate email system would not let him email such a large file.
He told me the only reason he did this was that he had to get the bug logged and fixed before the weekend because he had plans to be away. He also forgot that production data was never supposed to leave the building. I’m not sure he ever really felt that what he was doing was wrong, or had any idea why emailing sensitive data was wrong.
The other shock I got was that it was a production DBA who had given him the backup. When I asked the DBA why he did this without even asking what it was for, he said "I was really busy and didn’t have time."
I wonder just how many times this scenario plays out every day in offices around the world.
Love your data, even when you are stressed. Especially when you are stressed.
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