8/20/2008
12:42 PM
Keith Ferrell
Keith Ferrell
Commentary

Are Competitor Security Problems A Business Advantage Worth Talkng?

The news that one of the nation's leading student testing companies had its security problems made public by another testing company should give us all pause. How worried do we need to be about competitors blowing the security whistle on us? How worried should that type of competitor be about protecting an industry's customers as well as its own competitive advantage?



The news that one of the nation's leading student testing companies had its security problems made public by another testing company should give us all pause. How worried do we need to be about competitors blowing the security whistle on us? How worried should that type of competitor be about protecting an industry's customers as well as its own competitive advantage?The Princeton Review, one of the companies many of us remember from long hours hunched over standardized school tests, and longer weeks waiting for the test results, recently suffered a data breach that placed both test scores and personal data for thousands of Florida students on a publicly accessible Web site.

Informed of the breach, The Princeton Review shut down the site and began investigating how the breach happened.

My guess is that they're also investigating who reported it to the press: The New York Times story that broke the breach news noted that the Times was alerted to the problem by a Princeton Review competitor who preferred to remain anonymous.

Great: not only do we need to worry about defenses and keeping breaches from happening in the first place, now we need to start thinking about whether or not our competitors are watching and waiting for us to make a mistake so that they can report it.

All's fair, as some say, in love, war and business, but from my perspective this one goes too far. While a case can be made that the nameless competitor wasn't trying to profit directly from the breach news being broken, it's even more clear that the company was trying to harm The Princeton Review's rep.

And even more clear that the competitor was doing nothing at all to protect the students' data from being accessed.

My take is that The Princeton Review was sloppy, dangerously so with its data, and that should surely give its clients and customers some pause.

But the competitor was blatantly callous, openly (if anonymously) more concerned about compromising The Princeton Review's reputation than about protecting any student info from being compromised.

One approach speaks poorly about a single company's security practices; the other risks giving the entire industry a black eye.

You know which is which, and so do the testing companies' clients. Problem is we don't know which company puts its perceived competitive advantage ahead of overall industry well being, and that speaks poorly, if only by implication, for everybody in the business.

Take a look here at what bMighty had to say about another highly publicized data breach.

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