One of the consequences of the Information Age in which we find ourselves is that individuals and organizations are facing ever-growing threats of data loss, hacking, and security breaches. Despite this, a study conducted by Reid on behalf of Shred-it illustrates that Canadian organizations in both the public and private sector lack awareness about data security breaches and proper protocol around the disposal of sensitive information.
The State of the Industry report published by Shred-It, a leading document destruction and recycling company, has found that “22 percent of small businesses indicate they are either not at all, or not very aware of their industry’s legal requirements for storing or disposing of confidential data.” And while larger organizations are more aware of their legal requirements, the study finds that many of their employees are not aware of data disposal protocol.
The study also indicates that the “financial impact for those businesses that reported being victims of a breach appears to be on the rise, as 15 percent of large businesses who experienced a breach indicated a loss of more than $500,000 (up from just three percent in 2012).” Despite this increase, as many as 42 percent public of sector organizations in Canada do not have anyone in charge of information security.
The tough economic climate could be responsible for the fact that organizations are cutting spending wherever possible, according to Bruce Andrew, VP marketing at Shred-it. “I’m not saying we’ve had a recession, but we’ve had a tough few years economically. And that’s forced businesses to cut costs and prioritize,” he said in an interview. “They tend to focus more on the bottom line, and it’s understandable. But at the same time, I always say to any business person: it’s not the cost of, it’s the cost of not. Because a breach can be very expensive financially, but even more expensive for the reputation and trust of your customers.”
Andrew praised the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Jennifer Stoddart, for her role in trying to raise awareness about data security through seminars and meetings, but he felt that the Office of the Privacy Commissioner needs more clout in its ability to enforce unsafe data disposal practices by levying fines and sanctions onto businesses who are not abiding by Canadian privacy regulations.
Canada is lagging behind the U.S. in terms of legislation around privacy and sensitive data disposal, according to Andrew. “When it comes to the sheer size of legislation, there are a couple of pieces of legislation that they have that we don’t have. Hi-tech and HIPPA laws as it relates to healthcare information and privacy are far more rigid there than they are here, and can be quite serious,” he said. “Protection of patient confidentiality and patient information is far more significant in the U.S. than what we have here, and that may be because we don’t have legislation around it, and therefore don’t track any stats around it. That is a big issue.”
In contrast, Canada has in place the Privacy Act, which relates to the government, and PIPEDA for public sector companies and consumers, although Andrew points out that the regulations are largely toothless because there are no penalties in place to prevent organizations from disposing of sensitive information in unsafe ways.
“If I’m a business, other than my own financial penalty of loss of customer, financial results, and reputation, there’s no sanctioning or fining, and so no threat to me from that side of things. That’s one area where we’re lax and we need to improve,” Andrew said.