[Comment] The Enemy Within: Employees, Agents and Company Data

By Virtuoso Legal

If your business traded gold, you would probably keep your yellow bars behind bars and only entrust one or two people with the key.  But do your protect your valuable virtual assets as securely and what happens if you don’t?

The number of security breaches affecting UK business continues to grow, with 93 percent of large organisations and 87 percent of small businesses reporting incidents last year.

Logic might suggest the main threat comes from outside, but increasingly it is those on the inside, entrusted with access, who misuse or steal company data.  It isn’t just the likes of Aviva and Wm Morrisions who have suffered recently: staff-related incidents have risen particularly sharply in small businesses, with 57 percent reporting a breach in 2013, up from 45 percent the year before.

No business likes to believe it is an easy target and most business owners naturally assume their database is safe - because only a few people have access and they trust their staff. 

Many employ cutting edge software systems requiring biometric triggers to enable approved personnel to log on and may also, or alternatively, use system monitors to examine IT processes to identify unusual patterns of behaviour and access. 

But what happens if there is a business requirement to share parts of internal systems and data with third parties, such as clients, agents, distributors or others?  What sort of access should be provided, and is it sensible to use a standard piece of software and rely upon built-in security to ring fence virtual assets?

Intellectual property law specialists Virtuoso Legal recently helped a client who had provided a third party with access to confidential data stored on an off-the-shelf product, and learnt the hard way that it gave them nowhere near enough protection. 

When the client fell out with an overseas agent, who had a login and password that gave them unlimited access to files, they found that confidential information and customer data had been handed over to a competitor. 

Although Virtuoso Legal secured an injunction and other relief from the court barring the perpetrators from spreading malicious stories, there was no similar gag for their ‘friends and family’.  The ensuing social media storm was impossible to control.

Liz Ward, Principal at Virtuoso Legal, sets out the lessons from this episode: “Your database is highly likely to be one of your most important business assets and you should treat it as such.  So make sure it can’t be accessed by just anyone and that all access is monitored.

“If you are using industry-standard software it is sensible to ensure that there are built-in security systems. Check that you know how to use these, and that they are appropriate and meet the requirements of your business.  You need to make sure you ring fence information so it can only be viewed by those who really need to see it.”

She also emphasises the importance of customer care: “Respond quickly to any complaints, especially the vocal ones on social media.  Remember, social media is just that, a conversation broadcast to the public. 

“If everyone is happy, then it’s fine.  But it’s almost impossible to control the reach of a negative message and this can badly damage your business, even if the initial complaint was fairly trivial.”

Aside from the reputational and commercial damage a data security breach can cause, businesses can easily fall foul of their legal obligations. The European Parliament is also considering a law that would make companies liable for a fine of five percent of their global turnover if they suffer a serious data breach.  

Article contributed by Virtuoso Legal


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