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12/14/2006
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Seven Steps To Follow When Data Leakage Strikes

At a recent summit on "data leakage," which sounds like an unfortunate side effect to a prescription medication, Experian Corp. chief information security officer James Christiansen provided a very useful rundown of what to do before, during, and

At a recent summit on "data leakage," which sounds like an unfortunate side effect to a prescription medication, Experian Corp. chief information security officer James Christiansen provided a very useful rundown of what to do before, during, and after a data breach or a court-issued subpoena for data.As states continue to pass laws that hold companies accountable for lost or stolen data, federal legislation on this subject is making its way, albeit slowly, through Congress. The courts have also tightened their reins on data discovery by amending the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to compel companies to produce any and all available data pertinent to a court case. No longer will you be able to say, "I left that document in my other briefcase."

Christiansen's cardinal rules of responding to data leakage: 1) Put together a Cyber Incident Response Team (CIRT) that reports to the top executives in charge of both IT and the business as a whole while still having the autonomy to initiate an emergency response plan as needed.

2) CIRT members should include personnel from IT management and IT security as well as business managers, legal counsel, public relations, human resources, a law enforcement liaison, and senior company management. Each should know his or her role in an emergency, such as a security breach or a subpoena for data.

3) Control your communications or you'll wind up having more explaining to do in court. Once a lawsuit has been filed and the flurry of e-mails starts to fly, employees put their company in a deep hole by writing CYA e-mails that say things like, "I told them not to do that." "This kills companies in court all the time," Christiansen says.

4) Create a signal that can quickly be communicated throughout your organization when it's time to circle the wagons. As chief information security officer at GM, Christiansen implemented a color-coded "threat advisory management" warning system similar to the warning system adopted by Homeland Security following 9/11. When a red or orange alert is issued, management and employees should know exactly what procedures to follow to protect and preserve company data.

5) Offer a whistle-blower hotline or some other means for employees to confidentially report on suspicious or criminal activity that should be further investigated. Assign a code to each tipster's name so that identities aren't revealed. Nearly 70% of the time, insiders tip companies off to a problem, Christiansen says.

6) Make sure your legal team has authorized any investigation your organization conducts in the wake of a data breach or subpoena for information.

7) Create a template for a letter that will be sent to clients so that correspondence can be sent out as quickly as possible. Decide ahead of time who will sign and authorize the final letter.

Christiansen's advice isn't the antidote for data leakage, but it'll certainly help you stop the bleeding.

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