Updated: Jan 7
Risks of Security Breaches and Cyber Threats
If your organization is connected to the internet, it is under the risk of a cyber threat. It will never cease to be. There is no way to eliminate cyber threats, but there are many ways to mitigate these risks. Aside from the conventional technology-based means of data protection, it is possible to reduce those risks by complying with data privacy laws.
The reason why compliance is a useful way to deal with security breaches is simple: the most recent data privacy laws require that organizations operationalize many data security measures that will keep personal data safe.
The Laws Can Actually Help
Awareness around data privacy has grown significantly in the last few years. Several high-profile security breaches have compelled governments worldwide to take data protection more seriously and pass comprehensive laws with very detailed requirements. To name a few, the EU passed the GDPR, Canada has PIPEDA, the Healthcare sector has HIPAA, while CCPA is the most comprehensive California privacy law to date.
These laws require organizations to take the "privacy by design" approach. The good news about taking this approach is that if you implement privacy by design in your organization, you will, in fact, also implement cybersecurity by design.
Data privacy and cybersecurity are heavily interconnected. Data cannot remain protected without adequate security measures, and no security system is complete without the protection of data. Consequently, the data privacy laws passed in the last few years, including the California privacy law (CCPA), the GDPR, PIPEDA, LGPD, and others, all contain provisions on security breaches and security. They require organizations to do whatever is in their power to protect users' data. Therefore, complying with the applicable data protection regulations will inevitably lead to reduced risks of cyber threats.
How to Ensure Data Privacy Compliance?
The safest way to ensure data privacy compliance for an organization is to take a proactive approach; ensure compliance before the occurrence of security breaches. Thinking about compliance after a breach occurs is too late. It should also be an essential management area of your Data Governance strategy.
Implementing the six steps listed below will steer your organization away from trouble, but only if you implement them correctly. There is no room for improvisation with data privacy.
Also, you have to keep in mind that no one solution fits every single organization. Follow these steps as a guide, but adjust them to your organization's specific context, particularly for your scope, size, and operations.
The six steps are:
Ensure to have experts do the job
Prepare a data protection strategy
Create a data inventory
Establish compliant policies and procedures
Operationalize your Data Governance
Keep records to prove compliance.
Ensure to Have Experts Do the Job
If Data privacy compliance is vital to your organization, you cannot afford to have people who have no experience do the job. One mistake and you'll breach the law. The press is full of examples.
You have two options at this phase: hire an expert as an employee of your organization, or outsource it.
Assign this person on this program and make sure they have all the necessary resources to complete it successfully. Again, you are trying to reduce cyber threat risks and stay away from penalties, so this is no time to save on personnel, money, time, or other resources.
If none of your employees are experts, the best option is hiring external expertise or outsourcing. You can hire a firm with experts who have done this multiple times and know how to make organizations compliant with the applicable data privacy laws routinely.
Prepare a Data Protection Strategy
Your experts, mandated by your Data Council (Data Governance), should make a data protection strategy. The strategy has to fit your organization. Its purpose is to determine the gap between non-compliance and compliance and how to bridge that gap. Therefore, your data protection strategy will have three elements:
where you stand now
where you need to go, and
how to get there.
The rest depends on the laws and regulations applicable to your organization. Strategy aiming to ensure compliance with the California privacy law is different from a strategy leading to compliance with the EU or the Canadian data protection regulations. Data protection laws have individual differences that will reflect on your plan.
Besides the national, provincial, or state data protection laws, your strategy may need to consider industry-specific and data breach laws. This is particularly important if you operate in the United States. There is no single US federal privacy law, but many state data breach laws, a few state data protection laws, and plenty of industry-specific data privacy regulations.
If you operate in a country or a state with low legal requirements regarding data protection, consider meeting requirements applicable to other countries or states regarding data safety.
Don't forget that you want to mitigate cyber threats, and to do so, you need data safety regardless of the applicable legal requirements.
Create a Data Inventory
Creating a data inventory is an essential part of a reliable data privacy strategy. It is a document with details about the data your organization collects and processes. Engage your Data Governance team for assistance. The document contains details on what information is collected or processed, whether the data is sensitive or not (data classification), how and why, with whom the data is being shared, and other details.
This document will show you where you stand at the moment regarding privacy practices and, consequently, exposure to cyber risks. The insights will give you a bird overview of your company's data privacy processes, including where and how to adjust for compliance. Finally, you'll be able to make decisions based on actual data.
Establish Privacy Policies and Procedures
You have the data inventory and insights. Now your legal team or the experts you've hired should prepare the necessary data privacy policies and procedures in concert with the Data Governance members assigned to the task force.
Data protection laws always contain provisions on essential elements of privacy policies. The most common features include the categories of data you collect, the purposes and methods of collection and processing, their data subject rights, contact information, etc.
Besides the policies, you need to establish data protection procedures (operating practices - see Prodago's Privacy Accelerator for over 200 detailed processes pre-documented).
You need to determine data retention periods, how and when you delete data, whether you transfer data to third parties, if and how you sell users' personal information, how you assess the third parties with whom you share users' data, how you keep users' data safe, and so on.
Regarding cyber threats, data protection procedures are of utmost importance. These are all operating practices you have to define, but you will not need to invent them thankfully.
As we can see in the table below, some regulations actually force organizations to adopt data security practices.
Operationalize your Data Governance
Train your personnel and assign accountability, and track that operating practices get executed. Track interactions with data and automate attestations. Having the policies and procedures on paper is not enough. It would be advisable that you implement them in practice.
Even if you have data privacy experts in your team already, you have to ensure that each person that gets in contact with someone else's data has the proper training on how to handle it. Remember that only one mistake is enough to breach the laws. Operationalizing Data Governance minimizes exposure.
Although your employees have the best interests of your company at heart, they are people of flesh and blood and are prone to mistakes. Cyber threats are lurking around the corner, so you have to equip them with the knowledge to defend themselves and your organization from such risks.
Keep Records to Prove Compliance
If you can't prove compliance with data protection regulations, in the eyes of the authorities, it is the same as if you've never been compliant. That's why keeping records of your privacy practices is of crucial importance.
Data protection authorities are tightening the belt around companies.
Authorities may knock on your door requesting the documentation that proves compliance, such as evidence that you respond to requests, collect consent on the collection of data, provide sale-of-information notice to California citizens, and so on. If you don't keep such records, they will administer fines to your organization.
The Road to Reduced Cyber Threats Through Data Privacy Compliance
This six-steps process will take you from where you are now to data privacy compliance, which will indirectly protect you from security breaches. If you haven't had any cyber incidents so far, it doesn't mean they will never happen. Every organization gets exposed to internet threats and security breaches, but those that do not comply with data protection laws are particularly vulnerable.
Organization owners often see data privacy laws as a burden. Nevertheless, these laws also protect your organization. By implementing the applicable requirements, you'll keep your company away not only from monetary fines but from cyber threats as well.