As hacks mount, October's cybersecurity push refocuses urgency for user, executive engagement

Just days into National Cyber Security Awareness month, the hacks of Kmart Australia and David Jones have highlighted industry's continued vulnerability to hackers – and reinforced warnings about companies' ability to meet their obligations to protect consumer information.

The two Australian retailers have involved police in the wake of data thefts that stole the personal details of a massive number of customers. The breaches were contemporaneous to hacks of crowdfunding platform Patreon and a Verizon investigation that blamed the record-setting breach of US retailer Target on a failure to take many basic security precautions.

More worrying still: those findings echo the results of new research from peak security-industry body ISACA, which recently polled 780 privacy and risk professionals and found that just 29 percent are very confident in their organisation's ability to protect sensitive data.

That report, entitled Keeping a Lock on Privacy: How Enterprises are Managing Their Privacy Function, found that while 76 percent of organisations provide privacy awareness training to their staff, complex regulations (48 percent), a lack of clarity around roles and responsibilities (39 percent) and a lack of a privacy strategy and implementation roadmap (37 percent) were the factors most hindering the establishment of successful privacy programs within the respondent organisations.

Only 6 percent of respondents said their primary responsibility was privacy, suggesting that most businesses still see privacy – and other countries with strict penalties for breaches – as an ancillary task. This, despite the fact that the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) found poor levels of staff training on privacy compliance were endemic to Australian businesses.

A lack of training (named by 55 percent of respondents) or poor training, data breaches, and failure to perform risk assessments were the three most common failures in enforcing privacy controls – with 1 in 5 respondents saying their company had experienced a material privacy breach, and a further 32 percent saying they weren't sure if they had had a breach.

Within this climate, efforts to educate consumers about cyber security awareness during the industry-backed National Cyber Security Awareness Month – which counts amongst its 400-odd supporters numerous security consulting groups and universities as well as IT giants BlackBerry, AVG, EMC, Symantec, Dell, Twitter and others – take on a particular urgency.

The entire industry, it seems, agrees that cybersecurity education needs to be improved – but as report after report of new breaches piles up, the need for behaviour changes is better than ever. Recent surveys suggest that most users are still woeful when it comes to mobile security – and that many company executives are still fobbing off the blame for security breaches on those users.

The shortcomings are even more surprising given that Gartner recently pegged Australian organisations' spending on IT security as outpacing the rest of the world.

Continued breaches, however, suggest that the spend isn't necessarily fixing basic security problems. The ISACA survey nominates seven key elements that must be addressed for a privacy program to be effective – including appropriate staffing; high-level privacy responsibilities; a privacy-protection culture; privacy awareness training; globally accepted frameworks and standards; metrics and monitoring program effectiveness; and compliance with data-protection legal requirements.

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Tags executive engagementISACADavid JonesKmart AustraliaAustralian retailerhacks mountprivacyCSO Australiacyber securityCyber Security Awareness monthretail

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