Three-quarters of IT decision-makers still unaware of looming Australian privacy changes

Just over four months out from the introduction of substantially revised privacy legislation, some 73 per cent of IT decision-makers remain unaware of the new requirements, recent research from content-protection vendor Clearswift has found.

The March 12 enactment of a national privacy regime, built on 13 Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) to be strictly followed by public and private sector organisations, represents a significant ramping-up of the imperative for organisations to revisit the security of customer information and their internal mechanisms for protecting it.

It’s also a call to action for Australian organisations, which face penalties for breaches of up to $1.7m for breaches of customer privacy. Many could well be forced to pay up: fully 24% of respondents to Clearswift’s survey – half of whom work in compliance-related roles – reported that they have suffered some form of data security incident within the last 12 months.

Yet those weren’t necessarily intrusions by malicious outsiders: 44% said their biggest security threat was most likely to come from their own employees, with use of personal devices and inadvertent human error named as the biggest threats.

“A lot of the challenges around data leaks are due to broken business processes or people just not being aware of the consequences of what they’re doing,” Clearswift ANZ regional director Michael Toms told CSO Australia.

Clearswift, like every content-security vendor, has been bulking up its offerings in anticipation of the need for better controls over enterprise data. The company recently purchased Adelaide company Jedda Systems, whose data-leak prevention functionality will soon be tied in with Clearswift technology to provide an ‘information governance platform’ that “is all about giving flexibility around how you deal with your data and where it can go,” Toms said.

Controls on enterprise data privacy are increasingly tied to security protections against attacks such as advanced persistent threats (APTs), which often trigger problems by compromising protected data just as effectively as staff might do accidentally.

“Significant data leaks have happened through targeted attacks, and we’ve focused on mitigating those attacks,” Toms said. This threat requires data-protection policies to be tightly integrated with overall security infrastructure, even for such seemingly simple protections as managing and blocking email attachments.

Three-quarters of IT managers in Clearswift’s survey said they still had work to do to enforce an adequate security perimeter, with just 23 per cent saying they were highly confident that they had the issue under control.

That low level of enforcement could open up companies to significant financial liabilities once the new privacy regulations kick in. Repercussions of a privacy breach would extend far beyond simple financial penalties, however: “The attitude towards companies that have leaked data, have changed significantly and very quickly,” Toms explains.

“If you’re not dealing with your significantly sensitive information in the right way, you’re going to be losing custom to a significant degree. Especially when they become more aware of the new privacy principles, a lot of these individuals are not going to deal with organisations that have lax data breach policies.”

Improving those policies will be a key goal for both private and public-sector organisations as the March 12 implementation date for the new privacy regulations nears. Toms expects “a bit of a race to ensure that people are compliant” in the last months and weeks before the deadline, with education programs being run regularly – regardless of technological implementations – to minimise the potentially destructive role of the human element.

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