2 September 2016

Anybody who watched the ABC’s 4 Corners Cyber War episode on Monday should be very concerned about our exposure to hackers accessing our sensitive information, whether as individuals or business people.

4 Corners highlighted how weak our cyber defences are against attacks from criminals on our personal information, or against international sabotage at a government level.

Much is made of cyber security, but in the past these attacks have been seen more as a nuisance or a way to earn bragging rights. But it’s important to realise that it is the data and information that these electronic spies are after.

How well do we understand what, where and how our data is stored? A recent global study published by Veritas
showed that of the data owned by Australian businesses, 62% is ‘dark data’, meaning its value has not been identified: it is not known whether it is ‘business critical’ data. This lack of understanding and ownership of data is a greater problem than simply identifying vulnerabilities in IT infrastructure and applications.

We all understand that we need good locks, alarms and insurance to protect assets in our homes. Our household assets are easy to protect because they’re tangible. Data is not. We should be focusing on understanding and protecting the data especially as we know that vulnerabilities will always exist.

Accounting standards rarely permit data to be recognised as an asset on a balance sheet. Nonetheless, there are many of examples of companies recognising their data’s value and spending money to develop and protect it. Coles and Woolworths use data from their FlyBuys and Woolworths Rewards programs to target customers with personalised ads. Another example is companies recovering losses from ex-employees who join a competitor and take the client database with them.

As data becomes more pervasive, companies would do well to grow more aware of the types of data they own, the potential to generate profits and the real risks vulnerabilities.

Don’t be like Bob Dylan:

I must have been mad
I never knew what I had
Till I threw it all away!