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4 data security risks to watch for in 2013

Mike Miliard, Editor, Healthcare IT News

Kroll Advisory Solutions has released its 2013 Cyber Security Forecast, spotlighting some of the pressing and perhaps unexpected privacy and security issues healthcare and other organizations may be grappling with in the coming year.

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While last year’s vulnerabilities will continue to haunt organizations that have yet to evolve their policies and procedures – from encrypting data to regularly changing passwords – there are many threats waiting in the wings, according to Kroll, which lists some things to think about in 2013.

1. "Vampire data": Don't get bitten by data you didn't know you had. Data exists in countless locations and formats within an organization, and many providers might not even realize that data exists until a cyber attack or breach, according to Kroll, which refers to that situation as vampire data – it comes back out of nowhere to "drain the life" out of the organization. Examples include backup tapes and archiving that go back decades (even though they were scheduled to be destroyed); emails that should be destroyed after 90 days but exist indefinitely on employees’ desktops; and material that has been copied to portable or cloud storage without the organization’s consent or knowledge, according to Kroll officials, who suggest taking a data inventory, classifying it by confidentiality or sensitivity level, and then handling it accordingly. Only allow users to access the data they need and provide employees with regular data handling training to avoid unnecessary data propagation or transmission.

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[Also: Compliance efforts to increase in 2012]

2. Forensics: More important than ever in the wake of a breach. During its forensics investigations, Kroll sometimes has limited resources at its disposal, officials say, because many organizations aren’t properly logging or documenting their activities. That means providers could spend more money to discover whether the breach occurred and what was lost, and may wind up sending notifications based on reasonable assumption rather than concrete evidence of exposure. Kroll sees those attitudes shifting as organizations come to understand the reputational and financial importance of forensics investigations.

In the meantime, organizations should turn on their logs and make sure they are retained long enough to be useful, officials say. It's also helpful to perform a security assessment and train key employees in the basics of immediate breach response. Those employees who are most likely to be first responders in a breach should know how to respond without wiping out vital evidence needed to understand the incident, or if applicable, meet the requirements set by the cyber insurance policy carrier, according to Kroll.

3. Hackers: They don't just want to steal data anymore. It used to be that insider attacks were generally perceived as the most malicious – if a breach was perpetrated by a malicious insider, especially one with an axe to grind and easy access to sensitive information, the results could be pretty nasty. But the latest batch of cyber attackers are delving deeper into the cyber warfare and cyber terrorism space. They have a rapidly evolving ideology and agenda – namely, they are coming to destroy the secure network, erase pertinent data, wreak havoc with physical equipment, and ultimately take your company down. Kroll worked on a handful of very large engagements in 2012 that involved this type of attack, and in each case, the company was hit by an attack that destroyed data on a large number of machines throughout the global enterprise.

What organizations can do now to prepare: While this seems like a problem strictly for large enterprises, players are already beginning to develop and deploy these tactics on organizations of all sizes and in all industries. These groups may be looking for profit, perhaps holding your data for ransom, but the end result is still the same, and the stakes are high. Make sure you have a backup plan. Don’t assume that because you have backup tapes you have a plan for restoration. If you are outsourcing IT functions, make sure your third parties understand their role in getting you back up and running – and you’ll want to test their ability to do so.

4. Nondisclosure: A thing of the past. While the academic debate on this issue will continue in 2013, we’ll start to see more and more organizations speaking up – even when the loss is not personally identifiable or protected health information (PII and PHI). In some cases, nondisclosure will simply not be an option. For instance, if you experience a data destruction attack, everyone will know once your systems are down. In other instances, the stakes will be too high; the threat will be insurmountable without help from security consultants and government entities. We’ve already seen an increase in the number of breaches where clients have been notified by a government entity or security firm that they’ve lost sensitive data; we expect to see that trend only accelerate in 2013.

What organizations can do now to prepare: It is becoming increasingly important to contract with outside resources – an investigation and forensics partner, a privacy law firm, and/or a breach notification partner. When a security incident occurs, having providers in place to assist with the investigation, advise on current legal requirements, and prepare a response should it experience a breach of PII will save time and expense for the affected organization.

“If we’ve learned one thing from the changing climate of data security in 2012, it is that 2013 will definitely not be a time to employ the same old tactics,” said Tim Ryan, managing director at Kroll Advisory. “Boards of Directors are becoming more engaged on this subject, in part because it deals with corporate risk and also because the regulators are on the lookout. 2013 will require a review of information security governance, identification of information risk and controls, and preparation for the inevitable: a breach of sensitive data, a looming threat for every organization.”

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