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The Risk of Data

 Gathering data is simply a part of the job for many people. But within a daily, weekly or monthly routine, do we give much thought about the value of information we gather and combine? Many of us work with data which, when compromised, could cause serious harm to the organization owning it or could potentially have a very negative impact on a person’s privacy. To make us think about the potential value of combined information such as reports, we would like to offer a couple of examples that apply to each of us from day to day, regardless of our work environment. Consider these examples from the perspective of the customer and realize the ‘Risk of Data’ and why it is so important to protect it.

We can open a phone book or go on line to do a search on an individual. A person’s name is a matter of public record as is an individual’s street address and phone number. However, add to this very public information about a person, his or her mother’s maiden name. Think about this in the context of certain services that we use on a daily basis e.g. a bank. Banks have a rigorous security protocol before giving us access to our account. While the pieces of information i.e. the name, the address, the mother’s maiden name have no particular value by themselves, the combination of them has suddenly become potential for crimes like identity theft or fraud.

Another example is that while statistical information about health issues may be public, combining health information with names makes the data sensitive. It is important to store or handle such data in a secure way because its disclosure would mean an invasion of privacy and can cause damage if stolen by someone with malicious intent.

Identity theft is a growing problem and should be every one’s concern. Food for thought: It is not a good idea to keep potentially sensitive information stored within an email account or on a hard drive. Remember not to leave hard copies of such information around your work area; to keep personal files separate from work files and to lock your computer.