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Passport Privacy Problem Offers Business Lessons

The current news cycle hot-button -- State Department contractors poking into Barack Obama's passport files -- will give the pundits plenty to spout and sputter about from all sides. It should give small and midsize businesses pause to consider some of their own security procedures, policies and potential vulnerabilities.
The current news cycle hot-button -- State Department contractors poking into Barack Obama's passport files -- will give the pundits plenty to spout and sputter about from all sides. It should give small and midsize businesses pause to consider some of their own security procedures, policies and potential vulnerabilities.First, the improper accesses were undertaken by contract workers -- a reminder that consultants and vendors who have access to your system can make improper use of it.

Second, as this State Department teleconference briefing details, the system in-place at the State Department included Privacy Act violation warnings to would-be accessers. The lesson? Warnings alone aren't always enough.

Third, the system in-place included alerts that informed supervisors of possibly improper accesses. A good and important feature that we could all use, but --

Fourth, the supervisors who were notified didn't notify their superiors, including the Secretary of State, until three separate violations had occurred.

And therein lies the largest lesson -- one we see again and again in both private and public sector breaches.

The minute you know a breach has occurred is the minute to let the head of the company (or organization) know a breach has occurred. Period.

Whether or not the password breach turns out to be what early reports indicate -- a bonehead move by contractors who a) should've known better and b) should've had more responsibility, if nothing else, to the contractor that employed them -- or an ongoing embarrassment (Passportgate!) it's the mishandling of notification of the breach up the responsibility/public exposure chain that should be the takeaway lesson for everybody whose business includes confidential information stored electronically.

And that's just about all of us.

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Kirsten Powell, Senior Manager for Security & Risk Management at Adobe
Joshua Goldfarb, Director of Product Management at F5