Data Breaches: Are You Protected?

The year is 2020 and the internet as we know it has been around for roughly 30 years. (No, we aren’t counting ARPANET) As the internet continues to expand and evolve, so do the threats. In 2019, according to, there were roughly 80 reported data breaches/cyber-attacks each month. In January 2020, we learned Microsoft fell to cyber-attacks, leaving 250 million records in their customer support eco system exposed. But what you may not have known is that there was a total of 61 reported data breaches and cyber-attacks, which exposed around 1,505,372,820 records.

Left Unprotected

Does 61 disclosed breaches in January sound like a low number? That’s because it is, last month rang in as the new 6-month low in the average number of data breaches per month. However, these are only reported data breaches and cyber-attacks. According to Varonis, cyber-attacks happen every 39 seconds—which means in a year there are approximately 809,152 cyber-attacks each year, or 67,430 attacks a month. These attacks can range from a small phishing attempt on an individual, to a large-scale breach similar to the Microsoft breach.

On the list of disclosed breaches from January the majority of the list of breaches and attacks contained a number of smaller enterprises. These organizations may have been aware of the data security threat but thought something similar to “I’ll never get hacked, I’m too small.”

This is an all too common way of thinking for small organization executives. This thinking is the complete opposite of a hackers however. Hackers target small organizations because their defenses are more likely to be easier to penetrate.

In fact a recent survey found that 60% of enterprises (of varying sizes) say they are not prepared to handle data breaches. The study discusses how roughly 73% of surveyed enterprises continue to experience unplanned downtime due to poorly managed digital certificates and PKI (public key infrastructure).

Mismanaged digital certificates aren’t the only risks to businesses though. The ones you hear about most are ransomware, malware, phishing, and denial of service attacks. However, social engineering is on the rise as more people familiarize themselves with other forms of cyber-attack and data breach styles.

Protect Yourself

The stark reality is that hackers and malicious threats aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. And while many small businesses tend to fall more into a category of reactive, rather than proactive there are steps you can take to protect an organization.

  1. Conduct a security audit.
  2. Identify weak points
  3. Develop a data breach prevention plan
  4. Increase awareness of security risks
  5. Create an employee security policy training
  6. Encrypt sensitive data

Protecting your organization from malicious threats may seem like a daunting task. But it needs to fall high on the list of business priorities. If customers are your biggest asset, protecting their data is your biggest liability.

Learn More About How CyNtell can help you Protect. Comply. Relax.

Privacy versus Security

Privacy and security are rapidly converging especially in the realm of compliance. A comprehensive program for information security management and planning must include privacy concerns and meet such confidentiality objectives. The two disciplines become “siloed” when information security is regarded as an IT issue and privacy as a legal issue. The truth is they are both a management data protection issue with board room level implications. Management must look at all forms of information and provide for its protection in accordance with privacy, Cyber Security, and include continuity of operations as these three components of business assurance have congruent requirements.

After a recent presentation on Cyber Security at a financial services conference, I was asked what the differences are between privacy and information security. I thought I would share my answer with you in hopes that it improves collective understanding.

What is Privacy?

Privacy is centered around customer and employee information most people would reasonably consider private and only for trusted disclosure. Such information includes, but is not limited to:

  • Personally Identifiable Information (PII) – This is information that could lead a third-party to identify who you are and how to contact you including email addresses and phone numbers. PII extends to data values that can lead to identity theft like your social security number and birthdate.
  • Personal Health Information (PHI) – This is information that could identify you and reveal health diagnosis, illnesses, prognosis, and treatments.
  • Personal Financial Information (PFI) – This is information that could identify you and provide information about your investments, credit status, loans, liens, wages, and taxes.

The primary protection focus is the confidentiality (prevention of unauthorized disclosure) of such information. The main threat is a breach of information in which an unauthorized party can access data. A breach could lead to identity theft resulting in company legal liability and loss of company confidence.

What is Information Security?

Information security focuses on the protection of data while stored, in transit, and during processing, and the related informational assets like servers and mobile devices. The objectives are information confidentiality, integrity and availability (C-I-A). Compromise of one or more of the objectives could result in a breach of information to unauthorized parties, inaccuracy in data elements and records, and destruction or denial of access to mission critical data.

Privacy and Security Laws and Regulations

European nation states are serious about privacy. Germany is one of the leaders in this area based on its history of violations towards citizens. Well known North American laws, like the Canadian Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) and the U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), set the standard for data privacy in the western hemisphere. In the U.S., there are very few federal laws regarding privacy protection beyond HIPAA which puts pressure on the individual states. Thus, U.S. companies that operate across multiple states must always be aware of various state laws and implement controls commensurate with the most restrictive.

Unlike privacy, information security has very little by way of laws requiring protection. Don’t misunderstand, there are numerous regulations regarding companies having a security program, but government statutes are lacking. Most U.S. congressional statutes in this realm have to do with cybercrime or refer back to data privacy. More recent laws in the U.S., like the Cyber Security Act of 2015, give companies legal rights to protect their data. Stay tuned as many more laws across the international landscape will quickly rise in the remaining years of this decade.

Privacy and Security Frameworks and Standards

A trending industry approach is to focus on creating an organization standard through the lens of privacy and information security frameworks like ISO 29100 and ISO 27000. ISO 29100 is a privacy framework that can be adapted to any organization that stores, transmits, and processes PII; and ISO 27000 series is a set of mature security techniques that can be used by organizations to protect various types and states of data. Both address protection via the implementation of information technology controls and the two frameworks have a direct relationship (according to ISO).

For several years in the U.S., the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Risk Management Framework (RMF) has been the standard for information security within federal government agencies. RMF has a provision for privacy and all systems using this framework must conduct a privacy impact assessment. In May 2015, NIST drafted a Privacy Risk Management Framework (PRMF) for protecting and assessing federal systems processing personal information. As with ISO, there is a direct relationship between information security and privacy as it pertains to RMF and PRMF.

Most U.S. industries are highly regulated and new regulatory standards require safeguards for privacy and programs for Cyber Security. Most of these regulations make a direct reference to NIST guidelines and frameworks. For regulated organizations, NIST provides guidance via the Cyber Security Framework (CSF) which includes a smidge of privacy techniques. My prediction is that more privacy protection guidance will be incorporated over the coming years of this maturing framework.

Business Privacy and Security Implementations

Privacy and information security, although not the same, are closely related and critical for every business. Privacy should be regarded as an element of information security specifically providing for the confidentiality of PII, PHI, and PFI. The requirements for both are complex and evolving. Every business has a responsibility to understand their legal, civil, and social obligations for data protection. For small to medium sized businesses, the convergence of privacy and security is essential to an efficient and effective data protection program. For certain medium to large sized companies, it makes sense to separate, yet closely relate, the two functions as each can benefit from concentrated focus and management.