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Risk

3/30/2006
01:17 AM
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Commentary
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When It Comes To Data, We Just Still Don't Get It

This whole information mismanagement thing is really starting to concern me. If we're to draw conclusions from recent developments, we, the nation that has mastered the art of creating an information economy while shipping most of the actual production of real goods overseas, appear to have no idea what we're doing with electronic data.

This whole information mismanagement thing is really starting to concern me. If we're to draw conclusions from recent developments, we, the nation that has mastered the art of creating an information economy while shipping most of the actual production of real goods overseas, appear to have no idea what we're doing with electronic data.Companies and government agencies we're supposed to trust are busy selling personal information to imposters, handing it off to incompetent shippers, posting it inadvertently on Web sites, mailing it to the wrong people, or inexcusably allowing it to be stored on laptops that subsequently are stolen. The people we trust with our financial futures are allegedly treating E-mail like it's some sort of secret diary stored in the back of a teen's closet instead of the public, discoverable, and thoroughly vulnerable technology they know it to be. What in blazes is going on?

Meanwhile, as we learn each day of new jaw-dropping transgressions in the mismanagement of information, companies are still struggling to get any control of the monster they've created. They continue to shy away from encryption, saying it makes working with information too difficult, even though there are oodles of encryption technologies that are proven to be effective at thwarting many kinds of breaches. They're dragging their feet on developing the kind of data governance programs needed to control who has the right to access and change information, much less move it offsite. And top executives still have an apparent lack of understanding of what they should or shouldn't reveal in an E-mail.

Worse, Congress is considering legislation that would trump California's aggressive breach-disclosure law by requiring that companies notify customers of breaches only if they have reason to believe they've been adversely impacted. That would be a wrongheaded move, to put it lightly. (To be fair, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee this week approved a separate piece of legislation that would place more stringent requirements on data brokers.)

Here's a tip: In an economy that's as information-centric as ours, data--and the channels through which it's moved--should be treated with the utmost respect. Information is the most valuable commodity most companies own--and the most dangerous, as they're learning the hard way. It's about time business leaders--from the CXOs down to those charged with collecting, entering, and working with data--get serious about this problem. They need to assess their data assets, think carefully about who has rights to those assets, and ensure that they're adequately protected.

Oh, yeah, and use judgment when it comes to the types of information they create as E-mails.

If they do this with the utmost care and diligence, not only will they severely curtail the flow of personal data into the wrong hands, but they just might keep themselves out of hot water in the process. And if that's not enough, they'll also save some significant greenbacks from not having to clean up the mess.

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