Cyber Security and GDPR Compliance

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Olu Odeniyi writes…

Data Protection Officers (DPOs), and others who work in data protection, will know that a fundamental requirement of GDPR is to protect personal data ”against accidental loss, destruction or damage, using appropriate technical or organisational measures” as stipulated in the sixth data protection principle in Article 5. As the recent British Airways data breach fine has shown, failure to comply can be costly.

Article 32 further requires measures to be implemented to ensure a level of security appropriate to the risk  including “the ability to ensure the ongoing confidentiality, integrity, availability and resilience of processing systems and services”. Other GDPR provisions, including article 24 and article 25, demand similar requirements. As threats to complying with these articles emanate from malicious activity, mistakes, process weaknesses and software application vulnerabilities, it is clear that cyber security is an essential element of GDPR compliance.

Although many organisations rely on the IT department, the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) or the Senior Information Risk Officer (SIRO) to lead implementation of cyber security controls, DPOs need a good understanding  of this topic to most effectively discharge their responsibilities and ensure compliance. 

What is Cyber Security?

The first step is to understand what cyber security is and what it is not. Various definitions exist. Most people associate cyber security with digital services, computerised devices and other forms of information technology. Protection against accidental and malevolent activity, unauthorised data access and preservation of services are fundamental cyber security goals but there’s more. 

Cyber security touches the very heart of how we live work and play within the fourth industrial revolution as highlighted by the founder of the World Economic Forum. Boundaries between work and home life have never been so blurred.
Government engagement around the world is increasingly conducted via digital services and individuals can barely avoid interacting with online services on a daily basis. 

While numerous standards and frameworks exist to help drive best practice, each organisation needs to contextualise what cyber security means for itself. A survey of the most common standards and frameworks will be left for a later blog (some are highlighted further down in this article), yet every organisation should scope and detail its own meaningful definition of cyber security. High level definitions can be utilised if required to achieve this from respected organisations such as the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) or the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

However, it’s a myth to think cyber security is a standard or a framework of itself and that only technology is involved. People utilise technology and digital services by means of a process or procedure. Therefore, effective cyber security comprises people, process and technology and many breaches could have been avoided given changes to either of these three areas. The remainder of this blog introduces cyber security under each of these headings.

People

It is often stated that people are the greatest weakness when it comes to cyber security, but it doesn’t have to be this way – they can be the strongest defence. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has performed leading research around people centric cyber security which organisations can benefit from. Staff know the issues they face better than anyone else and should be included in the risk analysis. By understanding productivity roadblocks, working pressures and specific training needs, new ways of working can be formulated to minimise breaches and security mistakes. 

For example, some groups could possibly opt to use enterprise collaboration applications (e.g. Microsoft Teams) to eradicate or decrease emails being sent to the wrong recipients. Watch the NCSC video or read the transcript for more information on developing people centric cyber security.

Security awareness training conducted well can be effective and significantly help prevent data and security breaches. Nonetheless, developing a security culture takes an organisation to the next level as staff develop their own sense of how to best protect the organisation and personal data. Culture change isn’t an overnight occurrence.
Focused effort and dedicated resources are required but the results will be worth it. 

Developing a security culture involves engaging with staff and seeking their input.
Small group sessions, organisation wide campaigns and open communication forums are some of the many approaches to transform cultures. Useful reading on the human aspects of cyber security can be found in the Cyber Security Culture Guidelines: Behavioural Aspects of Cyber Security report by  the European Union Agency for Cyber Security (ENISA).

It is important to ensure security measures and controls don’t hinder staff productivity or increase the likelihood that they will circumvent organisation policies. As the NCSC video above states, “if security doesn’t work for people, it doesn’t work”.

Process

Earlier this year I was asked to advise on a serious data breach where sensitive data had been disclosed. It so happened the breach could have been avoided if either processes, staff action or if different technology had otherwise been deployed. The role of policies, processes, guidelines and procedures in cyber security shouldn’t be underestimated, especially with large contingents of remote workers during a pandemic. (Read about the data protection challenges of remote working here)

Start by reviewing your organisation’s cyber and/or information security policies if they exist. Consider when the last updates were made and read the documents several times, making notes on their suitability or any glaring gaps. Check if any standards or frameworks are in use such as the ISO 27000 Information Security Family or the NIST Cyber Security Framework. Many others exist too. If so, familiarise yourself with the associated literature and determine where you can begin to get involved. 

Alternatively, you could be the staff member who introduces standards and frameworks into your organisation. You’ll likely need senior management support and the suggestion may have been considered previously. Either way, established best practice can help organisations review processes and streamline cyber security risk assessments. As mentioned previously, be sure to engage with staff who’ll likely see many process security risks for their departments that are blind to others.

At the very least, view the NCSC Risk management guidance which explains and recommends various concepts behind risk assessments. Combining cyber security risk assessments with Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIAs) may also be an option in some cases. However, remember that while cyber security is essential for personal data protection, it extends to protecting the entire organisation too.

Technology

The use and maintenance of technology and digital services by staff, contractors and third-party suppliers forms the basis of technological aspects of cyber security. Online services, cloud computing and connected devices, or any other internet mediums through which data flows, are all cyber security concerns. Technology includes devices found in “smart homes” fitted with a degree of automation and the so-called Internet of Things (IoT), where numerous gadgets are connected online through a local network. Governments around the world are attempting to offer advice to mitigate the cyber risks associated with IoT devices. The UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) published a  Code of Practice for Consumer IoT Security in 2018, although widespread adoption is in its infancy.

Technology is also used to strengthen cyber defences through a number of security applications, which deliver varying levels of protection depending on how often they are updated. Basic anti-virus programs have long since been accompanied by a suite of new security applications many of which are connected to cloud-based detection engines which rely on Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve performance. Nonetheless, a sound risk management methodology should always be established prior to investing in new protective technologies – benefits of the expected decrease in risk need to ideally be measurable and potential loss ought to supersede or equal expenditure. 

A great way to bring an organisations’ technical cyber security controls to a baseline standard is by adopting Cyber Essentials, a UK government backed scheme designed to guard against the most common cyber threats. Cyber Essentials outlines 5 control themes – firewalls, secure configuration, user configuration, malware protection and patch management. Organisations can become certified to Cyber Essentials in two ways – self-certification and Cyber Essentials Plus, where hands-on technical verification is carried out by an independent certified body.

Putting it all Together

Although this blog has described the people, process and technology aspects of cyber security separately, in reality all three areas need to be considered simultaneously.
A cyber security risk methodology should always form the heart of any cyber security defence strategy as part of overall business risk management. Those responsible for cyber security should also ensure they keep themselves updated as the security landscape has been changing rapidly, both in terms of malicious or accidental attacks and defences. The good news is that with a concerted effort, organisations can adequately protect themselves and their staff.

Olu will be examining this subject further in our Cyber Security for DPOs workshop in November. A few places left. Our GDPR Essentials E learning course is ideal for training frontline staff. In just over 30 minutes they will learn about the key provisions of GDPR and how to keep personal data safe.

About actnowtraining

Act Now Training Ltd specialise in information law. We have been providing training and consultancy services globally for over 17 years. We have an extensive GDPR and FOI course programme from live and recorded webinars, accredited foundation through to higher level certificate courses delivered throughout the country or at your premises.
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1 Response to Cyber Security and GDPR Compliance

  1. Pingback: The British Airways Data Breach Fine | Blog Now

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