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Hot dates and hot data

View profile for Spencer Davis
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Reports that an extramarital dating site has been hacked recently may have given its customers more than the usual worry that accompanies news of cyber-crime.

Following on the heels of many other high profile hacking cases, such as Sony in the United States, organisations are being forced to look ever more carefully at their information risk management regime, to make sure they value information as an asset, and assess their processes with the same rigour as legal, regulatory, financial or operational risk. 

In the case of the dating site Ashley Madison, which promotes itself with the strapline ‘Life is short, have an affair’, it’s been reported that more than 2,500 customer records have been released to the public by the hackers, who claim to have stolen the total database of the site, which is said to contain more than 33 million members in 46 countries. The company has faced a barrage of calls from customers, concerned that their personal details and credit card information have been compromised. 

And whilst the true picture for the internet daters continues to enfold, Ashley Madison’s problems are a reflection of a fast-growing area of crime, as more and more criminals exploit the speed, convenience and anonymity of the internet. The Metropolitan Police has recently announced it is boosting the size of its team to tackle cyber-crime and the Government has issued guidance for companies, in a bid to stem the range of criminal activities that know no borders, either physical or virtual. 

For companies, cyber-criminals may attack the functioning of computer hardware and software, or try to commit financial crimes, such as online fraud or by penetrating online financial services, or go ‘phishing’ for confidential information. For company directors, the advice is to ensure the topic is at the top of the boardroom agenda.

As well as having to meet the requirements of the Data Protection Act and the Communications Act in the UK, also up and coming is the draft EU Data Protection Regulation and the proposed EU Cyber Security Directive. There are requirements under the Companies Act 2006 also, which place a duty on directors to keep themselves informed on relevant issues. They may be held to be negligent if they do not take appropriate professional or expert advice to tackle any identified threats.

The key components for business are to undertake a risk analysis, develop a cyber-security program, set in place the right policies and take appropriate technological measures. 

Every business must ask itself what value there is in information they hold electronically, for example, it may be intellectual property, customer information or client funds. Then they need to consider where the risk lies; as well as outside criminals, the risk could come from current or previous employees or competitors. 

The response to that review should include a clear cyber-security strategy, with policies in place and staff well informed, backed up by a regular review and updating of technological practices.

IT system reviews would range from how networks are monitored for attack and what firewalls and malware detection software is in place, through to how internal and external users are controlled and how access may be segregated or restricted. 

It can come down to the most simple things, such as who holds the passwords and making sure staff don’t open spam mail. Thorough education of staff, with regular updates, is essential. As well as demonstrating that the company takes the matter seriously, staff are often in the front line, and if they are well informed of the risks, and encouraged to take responsibility, they can be more effective gatekeepers.

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

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