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Monday, 20 August 2018 06:27

Firms very poor at handling post-breach communications, book claims

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Firms very poor at handling post-breach communications, book claims Pixabay

Companies involved in 14 major recent data breaches in Australia and the rest of the world — including human resources outfit PageUp People — did not even achieve a passing grade for the way in which they handled post-breach communications, the authors of a new book on breaches say.

Co-authors Peter Coroneos and Michael Parker said in a statement that the fallout from the poor management of the breaches included senior executive resignations, parliamentary inquiries, loss of customers, significant share price, revenue and business valuation reductions, litigation, damages and compensation orders and general lingering brand damage from an increasingly distrustful public.

Coroneos is a former leader of the Internet Industry Association and is now regional head of the non-government organisation, Cyber Security Advisers Network. Parker is a brand management and communications professional and is managing director of Praxis Communication.

Their book, Cyber Breach Communication Playbook, analyses the 14 breaches and finds that they scored as follows: C (1 case); C-minus (3 cases); D (3 cases); D-minus (3 cases); and Fail (4 cases).

The PageUp response, to what is the first major breach after Australian data breach laws came into force, has been criticised by both technical and legal professionals.

Coroneos and Parker used 10 "grade criteria" to assess the 14 breaches which occurred from 2015 to July 2018. These included:

  • the scale of the breach;
  • the sensitivity of the information compromised;
  • the time taken to report the breach;
  • any evidence of a cover-up;
  • the time taken for management acceptance of responsibility;
  • how predictable and preventable the breach was;
  • the degree of public backlash; and
  • where appropriate, notice and redress for affected individuals.”

The breaches the pair studied were:

  • Australian Bureau of Statistics – 2016 online census;
  • Australian Electoral Commission – 2016 election electronic voting security flaws;
  • Geoscience Australia July 2018 – national audit office report;
  • PageUp People – 2018 job applicants data breached;
  • Uber 2017 – 57 million records including 1 million Australian passengers and drivers;
  • Republican National Convention 2017 – 198 million voter records exposed by cloud error;
  • Equifax 2017 – 143 million personal records stolen;
  • JP Morgan and Chase – 7 million customer records exposed;
  • TalkTalk 2015 – UK telco 150,000 customer records breached;
  • Ticketmaster – 2018 breach exposing financial details;
  • Target – supply chain breach of its point of sale systems;
  • Verizon 2017  14 million customer records exposed;
  • Yahoo! – largest ever reported data breach; and
  • Ashley Madison – the infamous 2015 dating site hack.

“Systemic failures are adding to fears that information is not longer safe even in the hands of major brands or government databases”, said Coroneos

“It borders on inexcusable that organisations should run for cover after a breach. Even if you’re not the direct cause, finger pointing and blame shifting are not winning strategies.

“Our sense is that a culture of denial still persists, particularly where a major breach hasn’t yet occurred. Every new poorly-handled breach inflames end user demands for greater accountability and more laws.

"But we shouldn’t have to have to wait for laws to dictate our trust processes. Businesses who rely on the Internet have a collective interest in moving to best practice. Trust is fragile and ephemeral — it shouldn’t be taken for granted."


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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