Privacy is a difficult, yet increasingly relevant issue in the world of business. As technology continues to advance – and more companies begin to rely on it – the potential for personal business data to be accessed and misused grows. Criminals no longer need to rely on physical acts of theft and vandalism to make a profit; they’re now able to do so through the exploitation of digital information.

Unethical practices such as identity theft, phishing scams, and other cyber-attacks can wreak havoc both among businesses and consumers. We’ve entered a modern age in which everyone is at risk, and where the potential consequences are higher than ever. This article will discuss the evolving challenges of privacy and business, what they cost, and how organizations can insulate themselves from the growing threats of malicious data theft.

Why Is Data Privacy Important?

Let’s start by addressing why this is such a big issue in the first place. Digital data has become a valuable commodity in the twenty-first century; it has commercial value, and when left unprotected, can be easily acquired by malicious actors. In the wrong hands, confidential personal information can be used to commit a range of offenses – from blackmail and fraud to identity theft and more.

The University of Maryland estimates that hacking attacks occur an average of every 39 seconds among computers connected to the internet. 2017 research analyzed the behavior of “brute force” criminals who use simple software-aided techniques to attempt to gain access to usernames and password-protected devices. The computers used in the study were attacked over 2,200 times a day.

This is concerning when you consider the volume of valuable data there is to steal out there; the average company has over half a million files containing sensitive information. Documents like customer records, invoices, financial statements, and private emails all carry a hefty price tag on the black market.

Statistics from IBM show that the average internal file breach costs $150 per record lost. While that may not seem like a lot, it adds up quickly with the massive swaths of information often taken in a cyber-attack. The typical data breach costs businesses a whopping $3.92 million, and that’s without factoring in the long-term repercussions such as reputational damage, lost customers, and legal fees.

Pew Research says that 81% of consumers believe the potential risks of giving a company data outweigh the benefits. 92% want businesses to take a proactive approach to protect their information, while 64% of Americans say that they would blame the company, not the attacker, for the theft of their personal data.

Yet despite these glaring reasons for change, there hasn’t been near enough action to address privacy risks. Varonis estimates that over half of businesses (53%) leave more than 1,000 sensitive files open to all of their employees. All too many take a band-aid approach to data security – waiting until an incident occurs to implement any kind of protective measures.

This isn’t only irresponsible, but also a move that can worsen the effects of what would already be a damaging cyber-attack. Reports show that the global average time to detect and contain a breach was 279 days in 2022, a figure proving just how inadequate most companies’ security measures are.

What Is a Privacy Program?

While there could never be a single solution to a problem as complex as business data security, one strategy has the power to make a big impact – privacy programs. These organized sets of policies, processes, and systems are a must for companies looking to limit their exposure to cyber risks and the associated losses.

At its core, a privacy program is an organization-wide initiative designed to protect the private information of consumers, employees, and other stakeholders. It works by securely collecting data, setting up safeguards to keep it safe, providing access only to authorized personnel, and minimizing the risk of a breach.

The goal of a privacy program is three-fold:

1. To Protect the Data of Customers and Employees

The primary objective of any privacy program is to keep the data of customers and employees secure. There should be measures in place both to prevent theft, as well as to limit the damage of a successful attack.

2. To Give Individuals Control Over How Their Information Is Shared

Privacy programs ensure that customers and employees are fully aware of the information a company collects from them, how it’s stored, and how it’s used. This is important for reasons of both transparency and informed decision-making.

3. To Meet Regulatory Requirements

Privacy programs help companies stay compliant with relevant data protection laws, such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), by outlining processes for the collection, storage, and usage of data. While it isn’t necessarily required to implement a privacy program to adhere to regulations, doing so can save a lot of time and money in both the short term (by avoiding fines) and the long term (by preempting potential incidents).

What Goes into a Privacy Program?

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all privacy program; in order to be effective, solutions must address an organization’s specific needs, considering things like its industry, size, number of employees, the volume of data, risk profile, and existing security measures. Failure to do so can create several open holes in the system and leave a company vulnerable to attack.

That said, some principles should be included in any privacy program: company-wide policies, a data inventory, advanced security measures, compliance tracking and auditing, employee training, and incident response. Together, they form the basis of any effective security strategy – which can be built up in accordance with specific organizational needs.

1. Privacy Policies

The first step in any good privacy program is to create comprehensive and compliant policies. Policies are sets of rules that govern how staff members can use, store, and share data. They include specific guidance related to the types of data that are collected, where it is stored, and who has access to it.

Companies can also choose to create policies related to activities such as data transfers and third-party access, along with any rules about using personal data for marketing. These documents are essential for ensuring that all employees and affiliated parties remain in compliance with national, international, and industry privacy laws.

2. Data Inventory

Data inventory is the practice of mapping out all the different types of data an organization holds, where they are stored, and who has access to them. It’s a critical component of data security, as it enables organizations to identify potential deviations from policy and take corrective measures.

Data inventory can be conducted manually or through automated tools. It should cover the entirety of a company’s digital infrastructure and focus on all types of data – from customer information to confidential business documents.

3. Security Measures

Once an organization has established its policies and inventoried its data, it needs to take steps to protect it. This means investing in malware protection and firewalls, implementing two-factor authentication, and encrypting data as standard. Organizations must also make sure that all of their systems are kept up to date with the latest security patches. These updates can be a nuisance but are vital to staying ahead of emerging risks.

4. Compliance Tracking and Auditing

Organizations must continuously monitor how their systems are being used to ensure they remain compliant with any relevant privacy laws. They must also audit these systems regularly to identify any malicious or anomalous activity. An effective way to do this is to create an audit log, which documents the activities of users across different systems and applications for review later. This can be done manually or with automated tools such as SIEM (Security Information and Event Management).

5. Employee Training

No matter how effective an organization’s security measures are, they are only as strong as the people who use them. That’s why it is important to provide employees with adequate training on data privacy and security best practices, such as password hygiene, avoiding phishing emails, and recognizing suspicious activity. Organizations can also use simulated phishing campaigns to test their employees’ ability to recognize malicious links or attachments. This is a great way for companies to ensure their staff members are well-prepared and aware of the threats they may face daily.

6. Incident Response

Even with the best security measures in place, organizations can still fall victim to malicious attacks. They must have an incident response plan in place to ensure that any breaches are addressed quickly and efficiently.

Why Implement a Data Privacy Program?

Privacy programs can seem daunting at face value – there are a lot of parts, people, and policies to consider when implementing them. But at the same time, they are essential for any organization that collects and stores sensitive data.

Take a look at just a few of the reasons for and benefits of investing in a privacy program:

Compliance – Data privacy laws are complex and ever-evolving, which is why proper compliance is essential for any organization that deals with personal data. Having a robust privacy program and comprehensive policy in place can help organizations ensure they remain compliant with all relevant laws.

Security – Data breaches can be incredibly damaging, both to an organization’s reputation and its bottom line. Privacy programs help organizations prevent or minimize the likelihood of a breach by implementing strong security measures and protocols.

Trust – Privacy programs help to build trust with customers, partners, and other stakeholders by demonstrating that an organization takes data privacy seriously. This can help to attract and retain customers, as well as open new opportunities for collaboration.

Emerging Risks – Today’s cyber criminals are lightyears ahead of where they were 20, or even 10 years ago. And as technology continues to evolve, the risks will only multiply. Privacy programs are essential for staying ahead of emerging threats and ensuring the security of an organization’s data over the long term.

Efficiency – Threats like ransomware can completely derail an organization’s operations. Well-implemented privacy programs enable them to detect and respond to these threats quickly, minimizing downtime and disruption.

Financial Savings – Companies that take data security seriously are less likely to face fines or other penalties for non-compliance. They’re also better equipped to deal with ransomware attacks, which can cost the average business tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

How To Implement a Privacy Program

Here are some steps organizations can take to get started:

1.  Establish a Privacy Team: Assemble a team of individuals from different departments to create and maintain the privacy program. This team should be chaired by a senior manager or data security officer who is responsible for overseeing everything.

2. Assess Privacy Risks: Conduct a privacy assessment to identify and analyze potential privacy risks and determine the most effective measures for mitigating them.

3. Develop a Privacy Policy: Develop a privacy policy that outlines how information is to be collected, used, and protected. It should be communicated to employees, customers, and other stakeholders.

4. Implement Procedures: Establish procedures for collecting, managing, and storing personal information in accordance with the privacy policy. Examples include employee training, customer opt-in forms, and secure data storage.

5. Monitor Compliance: Conduct audits and reviews, respond to inquiries and complaints, and regularly assess the program to ensure its ongoing effectiveness.

Implementing a privacy program takes time, effort, and resources. But the rewards for doing so are well worth it. Utilizing privacy programs and products like Tokenizer+, Redactor+, and Secrets+ will allow for proper on-prem and cloud protection of your company’s sensitive data. Contact us today to learn more.