What Price, Privacy?

October 15, 2014

At IP Expo last week in London, the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, outlined his vision for the future of the web, and data ownership in his keynote speech.

internet, web commerce, ecommerce, internet, future, connectivity, global connectivity, data sharing, data

© Victoria – Fotolia.com

Over the past few years there have been numerous concerns about big data and its use. Tim Berners-Lee argues that whilst he is perfectly happy for his personal data to be used by professionals where it is of benefit to him or mankind (e.g. healthcare professionals in a road traffic accident), this does not apply to commercial organisations for the purposes of targeted marketing. Tim argues that the owners of personal data are the data subject, not large corporations, and that we should have a say how it can be used and where it can be sold or merged with other data sets.

Others take a different view. An interesting panel discussion with Raj Samani, Andrew Rose & Josh Pennell ensued later in the conference. There was disagreement amongst these panelists whether the ‘reputational damage’ argument regarding data loss actually meant anything these days to organisations, since data breaches are seemingly ubiquitous and those outside the industry, especially the Facebook generation, simply don’t care if their personal data is lost. Time will tell if there is long-term damage to Target, for example from their breach, although early indications appear to show that the share price of Target has mostly recovered.

Earlier in the month, Raj Samani had argued in a webcast to Forbes, that as a consumer, he gives consent for his personal data being used and shared when he signs up for services, and that most consumers will happily do so, given there is consent, perceived value and transparency. After, all, services such as Twitter and Facebook are free for the end-user to use. Raj does concede however, that the terms and conditions are rarely clear, being large legal documents, and that few end users will actually read them. There rarely is effective transparency in these cases, if end-users do not realise what they are signing up to.

How Tim’s proposal might work in practice would be to change legislation and afford personal data the same status as copyrighted data: use and context requires specific owner consent and re-use requires a royalty paid to the data subject. It may also solve the forthcoming conundrum about the “right to erasure” in the new EU Data Protection legislation: if I ask to be removed from one database, in theory the deletion should cascade into third party databases, where the data had been sold on. It would also take away some of the burden from over-worked regulators like the ICO, who are severely under-resourced.

I’m sure many organisations will say such a model is unworkable, but it may just make organisations think about how and where they use our personal data, especially if over-use of personal data directly affected bottom line via royalty payments. 40 years ago, in the Cold War era, if you had suggested an interconnected network of disparate computers upon which banking, finance, government, education, retail and leisure all relied on, which would become both ubiquitous and intrinsic to our daily lives, the idea would probably have been dismissed as the work of science-fiction and unworkable. Yet in 2014, we rely upon the internet to sustain all these things and more. Our industry needs such radical thinking today for a new model of data protection.

Phil Stewart is Director, Excelgate Consulting


The Apple of my i

December 7, 2011

As 2011 draws to a close, inspiration for the way forward in the information security industry is drawn from the past and a man outside of it: Apple’s former CEO – Steve Jobs, who passed away on 5th October, 2011.

Apple: Think different

Apple’s iconic logo is as well known as their products are globally today. Many urban myths have sprung up over the years over the origins of the Apple logo: from the apple of knowledge from the Garden of Eden; that the logo resulted from Steve Jobs having worked in an apple orchard; to the death of the founder of computer science, Alan Turing, by biting an apple laced with cyanide. An interview with the logo designer, Rob Janoff in 2009 revealed that none of these were the inspiration for the bitten apple – it was purely a design decision to give the logo scale and make the apple instantly recognisable as such as compared to other fruit, such as a cherry. This version of the logo was used by Apple from the mid 1970s until 1998; the “Think Different” slogan was retired in 2002.

It was interesting to see the huge number of tributes for Steve Jobs, when he passed away in October this year. Has there ever been such a response for the death of a technologist? Steve Jobs’ death produced tributes from people from every walk of life and all corners of the globe: from Presidents to Prime Ministers; from rock stars to every day users of their products. Steve Jobs was a special person, who instinctively knew what his customers wanted – without asking them. He saw the value of technology as an enabler: in improving people’s lives- but he absolutely understood – that most people are not fascinated by the technology in itself but what it can do for them in their everyday lives (in the same way the motor car was an enabler in the last century: few people are concerned with how they work).  Apple’s products all have an underlying intuitiveness about them that really does allow their users to unplug and use them straight away– without assuming any technical knowledge hitherto.

Most of us, however, do not possess that instinctive insight that Steve Jobs’ had – we have to do our market research with our target audience first. Historically, many information security professionals will not engage with end users at all – since these are the people -they believe – will ask for things they can’t have and do all the things they don’t want them to do.

Some years ago I was brought into an American Investment bank as project manager, on a desktop platform refresh program that had previously failed miserably in its objectives. Successive project managers had come and gone on that project, and it always seemed a case of one step forward and two back previously. Typically – for the IT department – the team were kept out of sight and out of mind in the lower dungeons of the bank: safely away from daylight and customers. There wasn’t even a telephone for the team – all communication had been done via email previously!

I decided that as well as talking to the head of each business unit to determine what was their requirements were, I would also – shock horror!- talk to the end users of each team to determine and capture which applications they used and how they used them in their day to day tasks. I also initiated a series of end user tests, and ensured that a representative from each team came down and tested the applications before the desktop builds were approved and shipped back to the respective end-user desks. When business managers asked why we would be asking for 30mins –of one staff member’s time for testing, I explained to them that this was improving staff productivity, by reducing helpdesk calls and eliminating the need for recalled failed builds. This strategy payed off: not only did we retain this business we went onto to win further rollouts for other parts of the bank.

This year I’ve heard and seen things which beggar belief. A consultant proudly boasting that the organisation he was contracted to work for “deserved data breaches” because “their staff were uneducated” (worse still, he meant this in a generic sense, not specifically to information security best practice education). I’ve also heard all security vendors being branded as “snake oil vendors”. An interesting concept – I don’t think we’d have much of an industry without security vendors, and I’ve come across one or two unscrupulous practitioners in my time who have a scant disregard for data privacy themselves to whom the disingenuous adjective could easily apply.

Whilst there certainly are some security vendors around to whom the adjective “snake oil” can easily be applied to (and a reputable re-seller recently reminded me of one): those that have little respect for their customers’ product feedback; who are in the business purely to make money without advancing genuine information security; and whose products are so desperately clunky to use that they require reams of documentation to use them; that greatly reduce user productivity and encourage their end users to find a workaround, and thus bypass security policy. Equally, however, there are some innovative vendors on the market that are genuinely interested in advancing information security, by helping develop new standards; thinking of helping the SME community by taking away the laborious task of log oversight from them and outsourcing it to specialists; or helping to secure the use of the cloud. I’ve come across all these types of vendors too this year. To label all security vendors in the same fashion is not only disingenuous to all vendors but also rather childish.

Earlier this year when I interviewed the UK’s Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, for the ISSA, he remarked how he felt that end users were just not getting the message regarding data protection.  Too often we see the same old problems: users not being educated, making basic mistakes. Personally, I think we have an industry that’s geared up for messaging aimed mainly at board and manager level and around legal compliance, so is it any wonder? Who is teaching the end users how to handle personal data correctly, and what should and shouldn’t be stored regarding credit cards on a day to day basis in their jobs? Similarly, I’ve always disliked the industry term “evangelist” – widely used in our industry – since that implies preaching! Who on earth likes being preached to? Perhaps that’s why few end users are listening.

We urgently need an approach where information security professionals think about being business enablers, whilst enhancing security, and can talk in a language that their end users understand. For twenty years plus now, we’ve been thinking that all our problems will be solved if only we throw more technology at it. Yet still we see data breaches. Similarly, we need security products that are focused at improving end user productivity, rather than working against the business. Then users might stop looking for workarounds, to both the solutions and hence their security policy.

If only Apple did iSec!

Phil Stewart is Director, Excelgate Consulting  and Secretary and Director, Communications for ISSA UK.


The Insider Threat

September 5, 2011

Last month the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, gave an interview to the ISSA, ahead of his address to the ISSA later this week, and looks at how most data breaches start with an employee from within the organisation:

In 2006, the ICO uncovered the organised and illegal trade of confidential personal information in the report, What Price Privacy? How widespread do you believe this problem is today in the UK?

“I’ve described it as a modern scourge. The headlines, both in 2006 and more recently, have all been about the behaviour of the press, but I think it goes much further … Basically we’ve got pretty systematic trashing of our rights under the Data Protection Act.  My predecessor, in flagging the blagging, made the case for a much stronger penalty that would act as a deterrent but also send a very strong signal that data protection offences are not a victimless crime. It’s very important now that parliament gets on and activates section 77 of the Criminal Justice & Immigration Act 2008 which allows for the custodial penalty of up to 6 months in a magistrates court and up to 2 years in the crown court, but has not been commenced. It wasn’t commenced because of a stand-off between the politicians and the press.  I think we can now get through that, because the terms of the debate have changed a bit.  This isn’t something that should wait for the Leveson Inquiry because frankly it isn’t about newspapers – it’s about debt recovery, claims management companies, matrimonial disputes, child custody battles, you name it.”

Yes, I remember when you became Information Commissioner in 2009, at a Parliamentary select Committee you re-iterated the need for a custodial sentence for convictions under section 55 of the Data Protection Act.

“Indeed, I did.  I didn’t get very far, though, because basically the politicians and the press had agreed this was going to be a sort of Sword of Damocles hanging over the press and if they misbehaved then it would be activated. I think the whole point was the 2006 report – yes, it talks about the behaviour of the tabloid press because the particular private investigator that the ICO raided, that was his main line of business.  But that’s  not what all the report was about. The idea that you don’t have to take any action against staff in NHS walk-in centres selling information to claims management companies because of some arcane dispute about investigative journalism is clearly nonsense. I didn’t get very far two years ago but I’m determined to go on pushing. There’s the human factor in all of this. We can have wonderful systems and policies for data protection and data security, but if the men and women on the ground don’t take it seriously and don’t think it matters – none of those systems are going to work. A small fine in a magistrates court is simply not a deterrent. I think understanding that you might go to prison is more like it, but it also enables the courts to look at the whole range of possible penalties which might be somewhere between a small fine and the threat of going to prison or having a community sentence.”

I noticed that in the ICO’s latest annual report – you mentioned the NHS – as an organisation they had the largest number of data breaches

 “They are about the largest organisation so I’m not surprised by that – they are quite good at reporting breaches, it’s part of their procedure. I recently met with the chief executive of the National Health Service,  Sir David Nicholson.  We had a very good, workmanlike discussion. There’s a lot of change in the NHS and that makes for a particularly dangerous time but you’ve got to distinguish between the trucks and the tracks. We’re much better at thinking about the trucks: these are the great security initiatives and projects. The tracks are the routine: the day-to-day. My experience of a lot of organisations, not just the NHS, is that the messages haven’t got down to the grassroots. Data protection is seen as the sole concern of a few geeks, and as a result terrible things happen.  People have heard the messages but haven’t internalised them. Every week I’m dealing with laptops going missing, not encrypted; portable devices and papers left on the bus; sensitive files dumped in a skip. In the health service of course by definition the information is almost certainly going to be sensitive information so we’re working very closely with the NHS so that they can get the big things right – summary care records etc, but they can also get the smaller things – which actually aren’t that small – such as persuading the receptionist in the GP surgery you don’t give things out over the phone just because somebody rings you up and sounds persuasive.”

What can be done in the health sector and other sectors to generate a culture where data protection becomes second nature, rather than seen as an annual event, or a burdensome task?

“I think organisations both in the public sector and the private sector have so much at stake in terms of their reputation, which of course in commercial terms you can put a value on, and in the public sector it’s all about the threat of reversing all the work that’s gone into citizen engagement.  The fact that it’s a real issue at the top of the organisation means that the message then needs to be taken to the whole organisation: it’s not just something of peripheral concern. Yes, it’s about training, but then it’s about auditing, it’s about going back and making sure people are practising what they know they are supposed to be doing – it’s about mainstreaming the whole thing. It should be absolutely part of the performance review system. We shouldn’t have the situations we’ve had over the past few years or so where people dealing with very sensitive information are treating it in such a cavalier way.  Our first civil monetary penalty was imposed on Hertfordshire County Council where they’d faxed highly sensitive court papers in a child welfare case to what they thought was Watford County Court but unfortunately it wasn’t and they’d got the number wrong. You wouldn’t do that if you were thinking about what the material was you were handling, that it was very sensitive, personal information about vulnerable children, so faxing wasn’t a very good idea anyway. You needed to have made sure you had got the right fax number, and that someone was waiting for the fax at the other end and that you didn’t just have finger trouble and were about to send it elsewhere. The civil monetary penalties which we’ve had at [the ICO’s] disposal since April of last year have certainly had a sobering effect and made people sit up and take notice. We’ve only imposed 6 of them – we’re not trigger happy – but it’s certainly made it very real to organisations who have focused on the reputational damage – being hit with a penalty.”

Following the use of social networking sites such as Twitter to reveal the details of super-injunctions earlier this year, the Prime Minister has called for a review of Data Privacy legislation in the UK. Will the ICO be contributing to the work of any new parliamentary committee in shaping any new data privacy legislation?

“Well, the Data Privacy legislation will be reviewed anyway in the context of the European Directive – that’s a process that’s going ahead. The Commissioner Viviane Reding is leading that process and the ICO is very much engaged with our European colleagues in the Article 29 working party – we’ve been inputting into that study. We expect to see a draft of a directive in about November and then the legislative process will follow. In a few years’ time there will be changes to data protection law, because the directive on which it’s based will have changed. We don’t think there is much wrong with the principles, but we’re looking for legislation that is much more modern and realistic in terms of what actually happens in the world of global information exchange.”

 

The legislation has been behind the technology in terms of usage of it, hasn’t it?

“Absolutely. It’s very important that Brussels produces a legislative proposal which is reasonably future-proof – if you get the principles right then the principles can take the technological changes on board. If you’re overly prescriptive then you’ll come up with something that is highly relevant for 2013 but by the time it comes into law it’s probably outdated because of all of these other developments. The ICO, working with anyone who will listen to us, is stressing the accountability principle – that the legal responsibilities lie with the data controller, and that the role of the data protection authority is to regulate that relationship and intervene as and when necessary on the basis of risk, rather than pretend the data protection authorities can be like some latter day King Canute holding back the waves, and let’s not kid ourselves that no information moves across borders without some tick in the box from the Data Protection Authority. The current Directive, of course, is pre-cloud, but it ought to be clear that’s it’s a very outdated text that doesn’t take into account the realities of the modern world.”

Would you like to see greater powers for the ICO, such as the power to audit an organisation to investigate a serious data breach?

“We gained some extra powers under the Coroner’s & Justice Act, and we have found that doing consensual audits is going really well, more in the public sector than the private sector. We can run the ruler over a company’s compliance which can then be a badge of pride: “we’ve been checked over by the ICO”. There are powers to compulsorily audit government departments. I will go as far and as fast with the existing powers that I’ve got, but if I come to the conclusion that I’m not able to get anywhere-  that I can‘t audit  organisations – then I will certainly return to the Secretary of State. I can get warrants – I signed a warrant today. It would be more satisfactory to require an audit, probably as part of an undertaking to improve.”

At a recent ISSA chapter meeting, one speaker remarked that social engineering over the phone is often the seed for an attacker that allows them  either to guess a password or a weakness in a system or a process to exploit.  Many of the data breaches we have touched on this afternoon all start from an internal employee in an organisation. Do you think we are doing enough to educate employees in organisations to create a security culture?

“No I think we’re not and you absolutely put your finger on it when, in relation to this row about hacking, you have to ask the question: ‘how is it possible for the phones to be hacked?’ and the answer is: somebody has blagged, which they shouldn’t have done. That gets us back to section 55 of the Data Protection Act – it’s just too easy to blag and the penalty isn’t very impressive if you get caught. So I believe very strongly we’ve got to push for that [a custodial sentence] and I’m trying to get the politicians to see that this is something we need to do anyway – it’s going to take some time. Frankly we can’t wait [for the Leveson Inquiry] . We’ve got information leaking from databases, every day – and not, as I said earlier, to journalists particularly – because information is valuable and it’s making people a lot of money.  That’s the root of our problems – so if we’re concerned about cyber security then getting these basic things right is absolutely essential, and members of staff in all organisations need to see the connection between something which seems to them as a bit naughty, but not terribly bad, and the terrible things that happen as a result.”

Christopher Graham – thank you for your time this afternoon and we look forward to your address at the ISSA next month.

 

The Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, was talking to Phil Stewart, Director, External Communications, ISSA UK. Christopher Graham will be addressing the ISSA at their next meeting on 8th September 2011 in London.