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    How Data Theft Is Changing the Way Organizations Behave

    There was a time when organizations could regard hackers as a fairly minor annoyance. But those days are gone forever.

    In fact, the trickle of data theft, breaches and spills that we’ve been accustomed to is steadily growing in volume. What’s more, the increasingly large amounts of stolen data have finally captured the attention of CEOs and other corporate leaders. In response, organizations are starting to change their behavior in ways large and small.

    In this post, I’ll discuss some of the positive changes in corporate behavior that we’re seeing — and then share some thoughts about what’s not changing, but should.

    Changes for the better

    A clearer view of data. One of the most obvious positive impacts of the increasing incidents of data theft is the fact that many CEOs are starting to realize how their organizations have neglected data — or at least haven’t given it the level of attention that was needed. CEOs are starting to dig more deeply into their data, especially following data breaches. This is turning up new questions and insights — such as connections between problems in data quality and negative impacts to Profit & Loss. In essence, corporate leaders are starting to appreciate the real extent of problems in their data that have been hiding in plain sight.

    More rigorous data valuation. Data theft is also causing new thinking and discussions about determining the value of data as an asset. Oddly enough, this development is being driven in part by the field of business insurance. Some organizations that have been hacked have had to determine the dollar value of lost data, so that they can make claims against their policies. By and large, it seems that insurance companies have been fine with those calculations — at least, so far. But my sense is that eventually they will start demanding that calculations of data value be done with more rigor. One positive change we’ve seen is that some organizations are starting to think more critically about data valuation.

    Recognition of emerging needs. Certain new types of cyber threats — in particular, advanced persistent malware — have caused some technologists to reassess their strategies, and look for more robust approaches. These malicious programs are by far the most advanced ever seen, and can easily bypass standard encryption and end-of-chain solutions. As their name suggests, the programs are highly persistent, and once your organization is infected, it’s very hard to determine exactly where the malware has traveled through your enterprise. For organizations that already can’t accurately account for their own data, how will they account for every instance of an essentially invisible piece of code that’s floating across the organization? Some technologists are starting to realize that the problem is much bigger than they can deal with using current strategies, and that instead they need a new organization, such as an Office of Data, to effectively address the problem.

    Areas of resistance

    The old way of thinking. While some organizations are taking steps in the right direction in response to hacking incidents, it’s not happening everywhere. One source of resistance is the contingent of “old-school” data architects who are seeing the current wave of thefts as validation for the need to dust off their own favorite solutions from the past. From my perspective, in doing so, they’re failing to recognize that there are fundamentally new aspects to today’s data theft — and at the same time, that there are far more effective approaches that have been developed in recent years.

    Funding as usual. Another related area of pushback is technology funding. Many organizations are still funding projects that approach data theft in ways that are frankly archaic. Until they change their behavior of allocating capital and prioritizing certain kinds of projects and doing things the old way, they’ll never get better at fixing data breaches and maintaining data protection.

    Keep your eyes on the prize

    I’m not one to recommend change for its own sake. The problem with the traditional approaches to technology just mentioned is that they don’t help the CEO address the fundamental challenge that faces them. Most CEOs now have a dual mandate, with opposing goals: to protect the organization’s data against hackers, but also to leverage the data so that their own data scientists can derive the maximum value from it.

    The good news is that there are effective approaches — for example, wrapping one’s data in metadata and adding a data intelligence layer that can provide access to legitimate users, but also be on guard against suspicious access and users. Some of the latest work being done in topological mathematics (aka, “shape of data”) holds a great deal of promise in this type of solution.

    It’s fairly obvious that thieves will never go away, and that hackers will not stop looking for ways to create mischief. But organizations can learn from their own, and others’, mistakes to make themselves better equipped to spot infiltrators early on — and at the same time, continue to leverage their data to the greatest possible extent.

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