Data privacy not really a big part of Big Data

Big Data is an economic juggernaut as well as a ripe opportunity to forfeit your profitable data privacy. Businesses and consumers should consider the potential costs – and what they hope to get in return. 

Not so long ago, the internet was a very different place. Users were advised never to give out their names or addresses, to avoid talking to people they don’t know and to keep all personal identifiers secret. Data privacy was something we were thinking about constantly, especially when it came to sensitive information. Cyberspace was thought first and foremost to be a place filled with strangers where we must tread with caution.

Today, we’ve swung too far in the other direction. We all but depend upon the internet to connect, to make ourselves public, to be seen by as many people as possible all over the world. Entire sites exist to promote us, and the sort of things we used to carefully consider before disclosing, we now sign away without a second thought, completely unaware of what we are putting on display.

Distracted from Data Privacy

In fact, a recent study conducted by a professor I respect highly (Allesandro Acquisti at Carnegie Mellon University – read the NY Times article) shows how incredibly easy it is to convince consumers to give up private data that, were we thinking clearly, we’d staunchly refuse.  What exactly does it take? Distraction. If we are distracted in the moment of making the decision to share our sensitive data (whether it’s a text, email or a special offer by the website requesting our info), we are far more likely to give more information than if we were not distracted. What is our online experience if not distracted!? In addition, the way in which online retailers ask for our information influences our willingness to give more than we should.

When was the last time you actually read through all of the “Terms and Agreements” that popped up when you joined Facebook or Twitter? This has happened slowly, and it’s been so gradual a change that most of us don’t even question it. Worse, many of the giants of social media have become so dominant that we often can’t afford to not be connected, as both professionals and individuals: many have become resigned to think of sharing their private information as a poison apple they have to bite. 

A report by the World Economic Forum recently highlighted the current use of personal data and proposed possible solutions to combat data abuse, such as penalizing applications that overstepped their bounds. The authors behind the paper posed that data could still be collected as long as there were proper checks in place preventing it from being exploited. It’s a topic of much debate right now, as companies and advocates battle to see the best way to ensure user security while pleasing marketers. Meanwhile, there are hackers, botnets and cyber-criminals waiting in the wings to exploit security gaps for their own purposes.

On the other hand, we can’t deny the benefits that come from sharing personal information either. Millions have used the ability to connect and share to gain fame and financial success. There are also some sectors, particularly healthcare, where transmitting personal details electronically could greatly improve or even save lives, all of which makes the role of proper data privacy protection even more essential.

It’s a time where we can’t afford to be lax or ignorant when it comes to the vagaries of the internet. Proper data privacy training can be the difference between an organization that’s safely protected from outside threats and a sitting duck.

John Sileo is a data privacy expert and keynote speaker on social media exposure, cyber security and identity theft. His clients included the Department of Defense, Pfizer, Visa and Homeland Security. See his recent media appearances on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.

Google drove by your house and took down your information without you knowing…

It's not just hackers that make a habit of scooping your information. Google has had a notoriously dodgy record when it comes to user internet privacy – and some think it might have finally gone too far. 

At this point, most of us accept that the marketplace is watching us all the time, or else we remain blissfully ignorant. Ads that respond to your browsing history are one thing, though: a company driving through your neighborhood and stealing your data is another. Thirty-eight states brought a case against the internet search giant recently for violating data privacy. Google has been charged a $7 million fine and will supposedly take efforts to stay further from user information. In the meantime, this action should serve as a reminder of how available your passwords, email conversations, and messages are.

What did Google do, exactly? Well, in creating its Street View mapping system, it sent wired cars traveling down roads and through neighborhoods across the country to take pictures. But while it was doing that, it was also pilfering data from the unencrypted routers of businesses and families, who remained completely oblivious. And though the company has said it's sorry, the impending arrival of "Google Glass" which will effectively stick a recording device on everyone's face, has privacy advocates worried, especially since Google already racked up a fine from the FTC of more than $22 million last year. Remember: every email, call, and text you send is being monitored. 

Businesses, medical centers, homes – how many go by every day with their information exposed?

The danger isn't just that our online privacy is at risk. It's that we don't know it is, or even worse, we don't care. Those who plunder your digital storehouse can take advantage of your apathy or cluelessness. It's up to us to make sure we take the right precautions and not lose our passion for protecting our assets – and our money. 

John Sileo is an online privacy expert and keynote speaker on digital security, identity theft and social media. His clients included the Department of Defense, Pfizer, and Homeland Security. See his recent media appearances on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.  

Geolocation Data Lets Thieves Know When To Rob You

Take a moment to think about the last time you “checked in” somewhere on a social media site or were tagged in someone else’s status update. People often do this to share the cool things they see or do on vacation or their day off work.

In that moment you just took, did the term “geolocation data” spring to mind? If not, it should have – along with data security. Geolocation data includes all these tags and check-ins, where you are announcing to the world where you are and what you’re doing. Companies use this information to tailor advertisements and other marketing materials to target specific audiences.

Now, we can debate the ethical practices used by these organizations to gather our personal information until the chickens come home to roost, but there are others out there who clearly have nefarious machinations in mind. That check-in at a concert you’re having a blast at tells the online world that you are not home and now might be a good time to break into your house and steal everything you own.

What about that housewarming party you set up an event for on Facebook with your address? Now would-be thieves have a map to your unguarded possessions. And all those photos you posted from that party gave them a clear view of the layout of your home and what goodies they can expect to pilfer.

We post so many details about our lives on the Web on a daily basis, giving no thought to online privacy and its real world implications, that it’s a cakewalk for someone to put the pieces together and victimize you.

So here’s some advice. The next time you head out on vacation, don’t announce it to the world on social media sites beforehand or check-in at all the cool places you’re visiting along the way. Wait until you’re back at home to tell people how your trip went and post pictures.

Data privacy isn’t just about protecting files on your hard drive, it’s about protecting your online and physical world, because they are inextricably linked.

John Sileo is an online privacy expert and keynote speaker on social media privacy, identity theft and fraud. His clients included the Department of Defense, Pfizer, and Homeland Security. See his recent work on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.

7 Steps to Secure Profitable Business Data (Part II)

, , ,

In the first part of this article series, we discussed why it is so important to protect your business data, including the first two steps in the protection process. Once you have resolved the underlying human issues behind data theft, the remaining five steps will help you begin protecting the technological weaknesses common to many businesses.

  1. Start with the humans.
  2. Immunize against social engineering.
  3. Stop broadcasting your digital data. There are two main sources of wireless data leakage: the weakly encrypted wireless router in your office and the unprotected wireless connection you use to access the Internet in an airport, hotel or café. Both connections are constantly sniffed for unencrypted data being sent from your computer to the web.Strategy: Have a security professional configure the wireless router in your office to utilize WPA-2 encryption or better. If possible, implement MAC-specific addressing and mask your SSID. Don’t try to do this yourself. Instead, invest your money in proportion to the value of the asset you are protecting and hire a professional. While the technician is there, have him do a thorough security audit of your network. You will never be sorry for investing the additional money in cyber security.To protect your data while surfing on the road, set up wireless tethering with your mobile phone provider (Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile) and stop using other people’s free or fee hot spots. Using a simple program called Firesheep, data criminals can “sniff” the data you send across these free connections. Unlike most hot-spot transmissions, your mobile phone communications are encrypted and will give you Internet access from anywhere you can make a call.
  4. Eliminate the inside spy. Most businesses don’t perform a serious background check before hiring a new employee. That is short sighted, as much of the worst data theft ends up being an “inside job” where a dishonest employee siphons information out the back door when no one is looking. In the consulting work we have done with breached companies, we have discovered the number one predictor of future theft by an employee – past theft. Most employees who are dishonest now were also dishonest in the past, which is why they no longer work for their former employer.Strategy: Invest in a comprehensive background check before you hire rather than wasting multiples cleaning up after a thief steals valuable data assets. Follow up on the prospect’s references and ask for some that aren’t on the application. Investigating someone’s background will give you the knowledge necessary to let your gut-level instinct go to work. More importantly, letting your prospective hire know in advance that you will be performing a comprehensive background check will discourage dishonest applicants from going further in the process (watch the video for further details). I personally recommend CSIdentity’s SAFE product, which is a technologically superior service to other background screen services.
  5. Don’t let your mobile data walk away. In the most trusted research studies, 36-50% of all major data breach originates with the loss of a laptop or mobile computing device (smart phone, etc.). Mobility, consequently, is a double-edged sword (convenience and confidentiality); but it’s a sword that we’re probably not going to give up easily.Strategy: Utilize the security professional mentioned above to implement strong passwords, whole disk encryption and remote data-wiping capabilities. Set your screen saver to engage after 5 minutes of inactivity and check the box that requires you to enter your password upon re-entry. This will help keep unwanted users out of your system. Finally, lock this goldmine of data down when you aren’t using it. Either carry the computer on your person (making sure not to set it down in airports, cafes, conferences, etc.), store it in the hotel room safe, or lock it in an office or private room when not using it. Physical security is the most overlooked, most effective form of protection.
  6. Spend a day in your dumpster. You have probably already purchased at least one shredder to destroy sensitive documents before they are thrown out. The problem tends to be that no one in the business uses it consistently.Strategy: Take a day to pretend that you are your fiercest competitor and sort through all of the trash going out your door for sensitive documents. Do you find old invoices, credit card receipts, bank statements, customer lists, trade secrets, employee records or otherwise compromising information? It’s not uncommon to find these sources of data theft, and parading them before your staff is a great way to drive the importance of privacy home. If your employees know that you conduct occasional “dumpster audits” to see what company intelligence they are unsafely throwing away, they will think twice about failing to shred the next document. In addition to properly disposing of new documents, make sure that you hire a reputable on-site shredding company to dispose of the banker’s boxes full of document archives you house in a back room somewhere within your offices.
  7. Anticipate the clouds. Cloud computing (when you store your data on other people’s servers), is quickly becoming a major threat to the security of organizational data. Whether an employee is posting sensitive corporate info on their Facebook page (which Facebook has the right to distribute as they see fit) or you are storing customer data in a poorly protected, noncompliant server farm, you will ultimately be held responsible when that data is breached.Strategy: Spend a few minutes evaluating your business’s use of cloud computing by asking these questions: Do you understand the cloud service provider’s privacy policy (e.g. that the government reserves the right to subpoena your Gmails for use in a court of law)? Do you agree to transfer ownership or control of rights in any way when you accept the provider’s terms of service (which you do every time you log into the service)? What happens if the cloud provider (, Google Apps) goes out of business or is bought out? Is your data stored locally, or in another country that would be interested in stealing your secrets (China, Iran, Russia)? Are you violating any compliance laws by hosting customer data on servers that you don’t own, and ultimately, don’t control? If you are bound by HIPAA, SOX, GLB, Red Flags or other forms of legislation, you might be pushing the edges of compliance.

By taking these simple steps, you will begin starving data thieves of the information they literally take to the bank. This is a cost-effective, incremental process of making your business a less attractive target. But it doesn’t start working until you do.

John Sileo, the award-winning author of Privacy Means Profit, delivers keynote speeches on identity theft, data security, social media exposure and weapons of influence. His clients include the Department of Defense, Pfizer, Homeland Security, Blue Cross, the FDIC and hundreds of corporations, organizations and associations of all sizes. Learn more at


7 Steps to Secure Profitable Business Data (Part I)

, , , ,

Everybody wants your data. Why? Because it’s profitable, it’s relatively easy to access and the resulting crime is almost impossible to trace. Take, for example, Sony PlayStation Network, Citigroup, Epsilon, RSA, Lockheed and several other businesses that have watched helplessly in the past months as more than 100 million customer records have been breached, ringing up billions in recovery costs and reputation damage. You have so much to lose.

To scammers, your employees’ Facebook profiles are like a user’s manual about how to manipulate their trust and steal your intellectual property. To competitors, your business is one poorly secured smartphone from handing over the recipe to your secret sauce. And to the data spies sitting near you at Starbucks, you are one unencrypted wireless connection away from wishing you had taken the steps in this two-part article.

Every business is under assault by forces that want access to customer databases, employee records, intellectual property, and ultimately, your bottom line. Research is screaming at us—more than 80% of businesses surveyed have already experienced at least one breach and have no idea of how to stop a repeat performance. Combine this with the average cost to repair data loss, a stunning $7.2 million per incident (both statistics according to the Ponemon Institute), and you have a profit-driven mandate to change the way you protect information inside of your organization. “But the risk inside of my business,” you say, “would be no where near that costly.” Let’s do the math.

A Quick and Dirty Way to Calculate Your Business’s Data Risk

Here is a quick ROI formula for your risk: Add up the total number of customer, employee and vendor database records you collect that contain any of the following pieces of information – name, address, email, credit card number, SSN, Tax ID Number, phone number, address, PIN – and multiply that number by $250 (a conservative average of the per record cost of lost data). So, if you have identifying information on 10,000 individuals, your out-of-pocket expenses (breach recovery, notification, lawsuits, etc.) are estimated at $2.5 million even if you don’t lose a SSN or TIN. And that cost doesn’t necessarily factor in the public relations and stock value damage done when you make headlines in the papers.

In an economy where you already stretch every resource to the limit, you need to do more with less. Certain solutions have a higher return on investment. Start with these 7 Steps to Secure Profitable Business Data.

  1. Start with the humans. One of the costliest data security mistakes I see companies make is to only approach data privacy from the perspective of the company. But this ignores a crucial reality: All privacy is personal. In other words, no one in your organization will care about data security, privacy policies, intellectual property protection or data breach until they understand what it has to do with them.Strategy: Give your people the tools to protect themselves personally from identity theft. In addition to showing them that you care (a good employee retention strategy), you are developing a privacy language and framework that can be easily adapted to business. Once your people understand opting out, encryption and identity monitoring from a personal standpoint, it’s a short leap to apply that to your customer databases, physical documents and intellectual property. Start with the personal and expand into the professional. It’s like allowing people to put on their own oxygen masks before taking responsibility for those next to them. For an example of how the Department of Homeland Security applied this strategy, take a look at the short video.
  2. Immunize against social engineering. The root cause of most data loss is not technology; it’s a human being who makes a costly miscalculation out of fear, obligation, confusion, bribery or sense of urgency. Social engineering is the craft of manipulating information out of humans by pushing buttons that elicit automatic responses. Data thieves push these buttons for highly profitable ends, including spear-phishing, social networking fraud, unauthorized building access, and computer hacking.Strategy: Immunize your workforce against social engineering. First, when asked for information, they should immediately apply a healthy dose of professional skepticism. Train them to automatically assume that the requestor is a spy of some sort. Second, teach them to take control of the situation. If they didn’t initiate the transfer of information (e.g., someone official approaches them for login credentials), have them stop and think before they share. Finally, during this moment of hesitation, empower them to ask a series of aggressive questions aimed at exposing fraud. When we do this type of training, whether it is for the Department of Defense, a Fortune 50 or a small business, the techniques are the same. You have to make a game out of it, make it interesting, interactive and fun. That’s how people learn. For an example of fraud training in action, visit

You will notice that the first 2 Steps have nothing to do with technology or what you might traditionally associate with data security. They have everything to do with human behavior. Failing to begin with human factor, with core motivations and risky habits, will almost certainly guarantee that your privacy initiatives will fail. You can’t simply force a regime of privacy on your company. You need to build a coalition; you need to instill a culture of privacy, one security brick at a time.

Once you have acknowledged the supreme importance of obtaining buy-in from your employees and training them as people first, data handlers second, then you can move on to the next 5 Steps to Secure Profitable Business Data.

John Sileo, the award-winning author of Privacy Means Profit, delivers keynote speeches on identity theft, data security, social media exposure and weapons of influence. His clients include the Department of Defense, Pfizer, Homeland Security, Blue Cross, the FDIC and hundreds of corporations, organizations and associations of all sizes. Learn more at