The paper data breach

In the digital age, businesses place much emphasis on protecting electronic data, but very little seems to have changed in the way of protecting data on paper. Here are a few examples:

  • Charity – I am often approached on the street by a representative of a charity wanting monthly donations by direct debit. While listening to information about the charity, large quantities of personal data are often visible. The number of times bank details, names and addresses from earlier in the day are visible to me while engaging with charity staff, is quite incredible. We are not talking about obscure charities, but mainstream national and international names.
  • Banking – I recently entered one of my banks and was asked questions in the doorway about insurance products. The sales approach was to find out what people needed, then arrange a follow-up call to discuss the needs in more detail. This information was visible on a clipboard which included full name, address and contact telephone number. Again, this was at a high-street bank branch.
  • Car Hire – I once arrived to collect a car, only to see all the customer contracts arranged on the counter for everyone to see. The top pages included full names and addresses, price information and contact telephone numbers. These included my details.
  • Street Stands – most people will have at some point been approached by people asking what broadband they use, or what utilities they have, a pretext for a conversation about how their services are better value for money. So much personal information is visible to other people as a result of this activity. With so many new brands emerging and advertising in this way, it is conceivable that someone could set up a stand for gathering information for identity fraud. Conversations are often very intrusive and far exceed what is reasonable. Street stands advertising credit cards have become very popular over the last couple of years.

People need to be more careful. Beyond what I observed while interacting with businesses, I have also noticed the following while working professionally over the years:

  • Printed documents left abandoned on a printer for everyone to see. This disclosure includes visitors, and staff that may not be authorised to know the content; not to mention cleaning companies which often have a high staff turnover. Printers are available that require people to log on to print their documents. Unprinted documents are deleted from the queue if not collected, which saves paper as well as improving data security.
  • Documents left in meeting rooms instead of being securely recycled
  • Visitor sign-in sheets which sometimes include more details than needed
  • Unlocked filing cabinets and desk draws
  • Documents left on desks overnight

It is clear that while a significant focus is on digital data protection, exposure of personal data on paper is high.

Unwise Software Installations

The issue of viruses, ransomware, spyware and other forms of malware intended to cause harm, has become much more of a hot topic in recent years. However, this has not translated into a comparable increase in vigilance and due diligence when it comes to choosing software vendors and websites. Although many attacks come from vulnerabilities in software, it is far easier for malicious software to find its way into your corporate environment by allowing staff to install software themselves.

Malware is becoming more sophisticated, and the quantity of malicious software is quickly increasing. Technical solutions are evolving to protect against malware, but the concern voiced here is the culture of software installation and usage.  When left unchecked, this can easily result in harm, loss of data, loss of reputation and business. Anti-malware solutions are essential but relying on such solutions while allowing any software to be installed by anyone for any reason is a dangerous approach. An extra level of defence is needed.

  • Restrict endpoint permissions so that only key members of staff have the authority to install the software. Needing to involve an authorised person or team to have new software installed requires a justification which slows down the process. Whereas, if just one person is involved, they can easily install software on a whim with very little in the way of thought about the implications.
  • Have a published white list of software for use within the business, and defined policies in place regarding how to install software, and how new software is selected. Promote awareness of software installation policies throughout the company. Again, this aims to slow down the installation process or, more precisely, increases the time between an end-user deciding they need a piece of software to the software being ready to use on their desktop.
  • Remove all unauthorised software. Implementation of software installation controls are often performed at a late stage in business development and seldom implemented during any start-up period. Therefore, it is highly likely that when there is a requirement to enforce control of software within a corporate environment, it is because the business has lost control of its software.
  • Identify all executables on desktops and which application they belong to and remove all other executables. This approach can be time-consuming, and a more viable strategy is to define a standard image for endpoints which includes the operating system and all the software applications used by most staff. Applying this standard build will remove all traces of the previous installation and any unauthorised legacy software. The outcome is two-fold, cleanup of all old software, and control of new software.
  • Don’t install software from unknown or untrusted sources. The fact is, it is effortless to search for software online, find anything that is needed, and install the software very quickly. Websites giving away malicious software often look very professional, and many sites mimic known websites to capitalise on the credibility of legitimate websites.

Slowing down the process and giving time for appropriate software to be chosen and installed is essential and cannot be over-emphasised.