Everybody wants your data, especially when you are in the business of meetings. Your data doesn’t just have a high face value (e.g., the attendee data, including credit card numbers that you collect and store in your online registration system), it also has a high resale value .
Here is how the theft is most often committed in your industry:
- Competitors hire one of your employees and they leave with a thumb drive full of confidential files, including client lists, personally identifying information on talent and employees, financial performance data, etc.
- Social engineers (con artists) mine your employee’s Facebook profiles to gain a heightened level of trust which allows them to manipulate your human assets
- Cyber criminals hack your lax computer network or sniff the unprotected wireless connections you and your employees use while traveling (Starbucks, hotels, airports).
- Mobile Computing Thieves target your digital devices (Laptop, smartphone, tablet) and other weak points while on the road.
- Opportunistic Vendors (Cleaning services, painters, landlords) quietly collect data assets from your desks, filing cabinets, trash cans and dumpsters when you aren’t even in the office.
Research is screaming at us—more than 80% of businesses surveyed have already experienced at least one breach (average recovery cost according to the Ponemon Institute: $7.2 million) and have no idea of how to stop a repeat performance.
A Quick and Dirty Way to Calculate Your Risk as a Meeting Professional
Here is a quick ROI formula for your risk: Multiply the number of attendees, employees and executives for whom you store any one of the following pieces of sensitive identity – name, address, email, credit card number, SSN, TIN, phone number – and multiply that by $240 (the industry average per record of lost data). So, if you have identifying information on 1,000 individuals, your out-of-pocket expenses (breach recovery, notification, lawsuits, etc.) are estimated at $240,000 even if you don’t lose a SSN or TIN. That is not a guess, those are real numbers.
As agencies who already stretch every resource to the limit just to stay in the game, you need to do more with less. I can’t possibly give you all of the answers to protecting your bureau or management company in a simple article, but I’d like to share 7 Data Theft Hotspots that you should address first.
- Start with the humans. One of the costliest data security mistakes I see departments make is thinking that this is a problem for large businesses only. It is a big problem for large businesses, but data theft is far more damaging to governmental organizations because of the increased regulation and legal scrutiny. Strategy: Give your people the tools to protect themselves personally from identity theft. In addition to showing them that you care (a good employee retention strategy), you are developing a privacy language that can be applied at work without spending all kinds of money on a security risk assessment. Once they understand opting out, encryption and identity monitoring from a personal standpoint, it’s a short leap to apply that to your attendee databases and intellectual property. You can do this in very simple, inexpensive ways. While this doesn’t necessarily train them on the specific tools to protect your bureau’s intellectual capital and customer data, it does increase their awareness of data theft and shows them that their self-interest is involved (i.e., their job depends on it). To get them started on protecting themselves, you are welcome to use this free Identity Theft Prevention Checklist.
- Immunize against social engineering. The root cause of most data loss in professional services companies like yours is not technology; it’s a human being who makes a costly miscalculation out of fear, obligation, confusion, bribery or sense of urgency. Social engineering is the craft of manipulating information out of you or your staff by pushing buttons that elicit automatic responses. Data thieves push these buttons for highly profitable ends, including spear-phishing, social networking fraud, unauthorized building access, and computer hacking. Strategy: Immunize your employees against social engineering. First, when asked for information, they should immediately apply a healthy dose of professional skepticism (Hogwash J). Train them to automatically assume that the requestor is a spy of some sort. Second, teach them to take control of the situation. If they didn’t initiate the transfer of information (e.g., the credit card company called you, not vice versa), have them stop and think before they share. Finally, during this moment of hesitation, empower them to ask a series of aggressive questions aimed at exposing fraud. This is the key – getting them to be curious in the face of a request for sensitive information. These are some of the materials that I went through in an abbreviated fashion during IASB, but you can communicate them just as well as I can.
- Stop broadcasting your digital data. There are two main sources of wireless data leakage in the meeting professionals world: the weakly encrypted wireless router in your office and the unprotected wireless connection you use to access the Internet in an airport, hotel or café. Both connections are constantly sniffed for unencrypted data being sent from your computer to the web. Strategy: Stop trying to keep your computer and network security in house and inexpensive – it is part of the costs of owning all of that processing power. Have a security professional configure the wireless router in your office to utilize WPA-2 encryption or better. If possible, implement MAC-specific addressing and mask your SSID. Don’t try to do this yourself. Instead, just hand a qualified technician this paragraph and continue to do what you do best (booking me J) while she earns your wisely spent dollars. While she’s there, have him do a security audit of your network, including firewall penetration, password strength, user-level access permissions, etc.Another major source of data theft (especially in the meetings industry) is Wi-Fi hotspot usage. Most Free hotspots do little to protect the data that you transmit over the wireless network. In fact, many home and company wireless networks are not set up to provide a secure connection to the internet and are, therefore, no safer than those you access for free in cafés, airports and hotels. Just say no to using free Wi-Fi hotspots, on your phone and your laptop. The most common form of exploitation associated with hotspots are “man-in-the-middle” attacks where a spy intercepts the transmission between your wireless network card and the cafés wireless router or modem. Using a legal, free and simple-to-use tool like Firesheep, a thief (or competitor/law enforcement, etc.) can sit next to you in a café and “sniff” your connections. Luckily, your Smartphone can provide a proactive way to help you protect your connection to the Internet when surfing wirelessly. Strategy: Tethering connects your computer to the Internet using a Smartphone (or Internet-enabled cell phone). It increases security because the mobile transmission between your cell phone and the cell tower is encrypted (scrambled) and hard to intercept. Therefore, when you use your Smartphone to surf the web, you are accessing a protected connection that probably can’t be sniffed. The connection might be slightly slower than a traditional Wi-Fi hotspot, but it is also much safer. Simply call your wireless provider and ask them if your Smartphone has tethering capabilities. You shouldn’t have to pay more than about $15 per month to put this solution into affect. Remember to do it for all company Smartphones as well.
- Eliminate the inside spy. Chances are you don’t always perform a very serious background check before hiring a new employee. That is short sighted, as most of the worst data theft ends up being an “inside job” where a dishonest employee siphons information out the back door when no one is looking. Many employees who are dishonest now were also dishonest in the past, which is why they no longer work for their former employer. Strategy: Invest in a comprehensive background check before you hire rather than wasting multiples cleaning up after a thief steals valuable data assets. Follow up on the prospect’s references and ask for some that aren’t on the application. Investigating someone’s background will give you the knowledge necessary to let your gut-level instinct go to work and will discourage dishonest applicants from going further in the process. Finally, make sure that the prospect you are employing knows that you are going to these lengths to check them out. Most people who are trying to gain employment in order to defraud you are scared away when they know you are investigating them.
- Don’t let your mobile data walk away. In the most trusted research studies, 36-50% of all major data breach originates with the loss of a laptop or mobile computing device (smart phone, etc.). Mobility, consequently, is a double-edged sword; but it’s a sword that we’re probably not going to give up easily in the high-travel world of the bureau and meetings industry. Strategy: Utilize the security professional mentioned above to implement strong passwords, whole disk encryption and remote data wiping capabilities. Set your screen saver to engage after 5 minutes of inactivity and check the box that requires you to enter your password upon re-entry. This will help keep unwanted users out of your system. Finally, lock this goldmine of data down when you aren’t using it. Either carry the computer on your person in a backpack, store it in the hotel room safe, or lock it in an office or fire safe when not using it. Physical security is the most overlooked, most effective form of protection and for people who travel as much as you do, it’s a major risk.
- Spend a day in your dumpster. You have probably already purchased at least one shredder to destroy sensitive documents before they are thrown out. The problem tends to be that no one in the business uses it consistently. Strategy: Take a day to pretend that you are your fiercest competitor and sort through all of the trash going out your door for sensitive documents. Do you find old W9s, invoices, credit card receipts, bank statements, customer lists, trade secrets, employee records or otherwise compromising information? It’s not uncommon to find these sources of data theft, and parading them before your staff is a great way to drive the importance of privacy home. If your employees know that you conduct occasional “dumpster audits” to see what company intelligence they are unsafely throwing away, they will think twice about failing to shred the next document. Also, check to make sure that these same documents are locked in a filing cabinet, safe or password-protected electronic format.
This is a very quick overview of some of the risks that I see as most pressing for meeting professionals. Here’s the good news… your espionage and data theft countermeasures don’t need to be sophisticated or expensive to be effective. Targeting the hotspots above is a savvy, incremental way to keep spies out of your agency. But it won’t start working until you do.
John Sileo speaks professionally on identity theft, social media exposure and online reputation and is the award-winning author of the newly released Privacy Means Profit. His clients include the Department of Defense, the FDIC, FTC, Pfizer and the Federal Reserve Bank. Learn more about bringing him in to motivate your organization to better protect information assets and develop information leaders.