Companies prefer not to investigate security breaches: auditor

Mooted mandatory breach-disclosure laws would present a major change to the handling of forensic information-security investigations because Australian companies currently prefer not to investigate security breaches, an experienced forensic investigator has warned.

"We do plenty of digital forensic investigations into companies that suffer breaches," Ty Miller, director of penetration-testing and security-auditing firm Threat Intelligence told CSO Australia. "Not one of them, so far, has wanted to go after it legally."

That decision has implications on the level of forensic rigour followed during the investigation: for a matter to be pursued in court, firms like Threat Intelligence need to follow a far more complex series of procedures that not only collect data about the breach, but address evidentiary requirements such as chain-of-command documentation.

"At the very start of the engagement, we tell customers that 'there are two paths you can go down'," Miller explains. "One is that we find out what happened and what data was taken, and get you back up and running. That's the quickest and cheapest way, but you're not going to be able to go to court with it: there's no chain of custody and everything will be thrown out."

The second option is to follow "a proper chain of custody," he says – but that approach "will probably take five times longer because of all the different steps you have to take, and obviously that costs five times more. Not one of them actually wants to do that."

While many companies may be focused on simply getting on with the job, the lack of clarity into just how many Australian companies are being breached has helped perpetuate a relatively low level of concern about information security, with a recent BT survey finding that regional companies are significantly less mature in their ICT security vision than those elsewhere.

It's generally only high-profile breaches, such as the recent leaking of 10,000 asylum seekers' personal details by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, that make news – but anecdotal evidence and customer surveys regularly suggest the incidence of security breaches is much higher.

In the recent PwC Global Information Security Survey 2014, 32.4 percent of Asia-Pacific companies said they had suffered 1 to 9 security incidents in the past 12 months. An additional 11.4 percent reported having 10 to 49 breaches in the previous 12 months, while fully 19.3 per cent said they had suffered 50 or more incidents in the past.

Fully 13.6 per cent did not know how many breaches they had suffered.

Given those sorts of numbers, Miller says there is a significant untold story around the true threat profile for Australian companies. With a new privacy regime coming into effect on March 12 and tightening regulations looking set to surface the information, companies will need to expand their focus from risk minimisation to a new climate of openness.

"They want to minimise the impact on the business," he says. "This includes minimising reputational damage, which means that they're not necessarily going to disclose the security breach. That's where the whole privacy regulation is key and important in protecting consumers, as well as just getting it out there of how many companies are actually deemed to have been breached."

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