FTC opens their nationwide tour to promote Start with Security

It’s not the latest group on tour with a band name and album name that needed a lot more thought.  Earlier this year, the FTC announced that they would be releasing guidance for businesses on data security.  In June, they did just that, releasing a guide called Start with Security: A Guide for Business.  It’s subtitled “Lessons Learned From FTC Cases” for a reason — it uses the 50+ FTC enforcement actions on data security to provide ten lessons companies should learn when approaching to security to avoid others’ missteps that led to enforcement actions, and practical guidance on reducing risks.  The lessons are:

  1. Start with security.  The FTC has long advocated the concept of “privacy by design,” meaning companies should bake an understanding of and sensitivity to privacy into every part of the business, making it part of the design process for new products and processes.  The FTC is advocating a similar concept of “security by design.” Guidance:  don’t collect personal information you don’t need (the RockYou enforcement action); don’t use personal information when it’s not necessary (Accretive and foru International); don’t hold on to information longer than you have a legitimate business need for it (BJ’s Wholesale Club).
  1. Control access to data sensibly.  Keep data in your possession secure by controlling access to it – limit access to those with a need to know for a legitimate business purpose (e.g., no shared user accounts, lock up physical files). Guidance: don’t let employees access personal information unless they need to access it as part of their job (Goal Financial); don’t give administrative access to anyone other than employees tasked administrative duties (Twitter).
  1. Require secure passwords and authentication.  Use strong password authentication and sensible password hygiene (e.g., suspend password after x unsuccessful attempts; prohibit common dictionary words; require at least 8 characters; require at least one upper case character, one lower case character, 1 numerical character, and 1 special character; prohibit more than 2 repeating characters; etc.)  Guidance: require complex and unique passwords (Twitter); store passwords securely (Guidance SoftwareReed ElsevierTwitter); guard against brute force attacks (Lookout ServicesTwitter, Reed Elsevier); protect against authentication bypass such as predictable resource location (Lookout Services).
  1. Store sensitive personal information securely (“at rest”) and protect it during transmission (“in motion”). Use strong encryption when storing and transmitting data, and ensure the personnel implementing encryption understand how you use sensitive data and can determine the right approach on a situation-by-situation basis.  Guidance: Keep sensitive information secure throughout the data life-cycle (receipt, use, storage, transmission, disposal) (Superior Mortgage Corporation); use industry-tested and accepted methods (ValueClick); make sure encryption is properly configured (FandangoCredit Karma).
  1. Segment your network and monitor who’s trying to get in and out.  Be sure to use firewalls to segment your network to minimize what an attacker can access.  Use intrusion detection and prevention tools to monitor for malicious activity.  Guidance: segment your network (DSW); monitor activity on your network (Dave & Buster’sCardsystem Solutions).
  1. Secure remote access to your network. Make sure you develop and implement a remote access policy, implement strong security measures for remote access, and put appropriate limits on remote access such as by IP address and revoking remote access promptly when no longer needed.  (The compromise of a vendor’s system via phishing, leading to remote network access, is how the Target breach started.)  Guidance: ensure remote computers have appropriate security measures in place, e.g., “endpoint security” (Premier Capital LendingSettlement OneLifeLock); put sensible access limits in place (Dave & Buster’s).
  1. Apply sound security practices when developing new products. Use “security by design” to ensure data security is considered at all times during the product development life-cycle.  Guidance: Train engineers in secure coding (MTS, HTC America, TrendNet); follow platform guidelines for security (HTC AmericaFandangoCredit Karma); verify that privacy and security features work (TRENDnetSnapchat); test for common vulnerabilities (Guess?).
  1. Make sure your service providers implement reasonable security measures. Make sure you communicate your security expectations to your service providers and vendors, and put their feet to the fire through contractual commitments and auditing/penetration testing. Guidance: put it in writing (GMR Transcription); verify compliance (Upromise).
  1. Put procedures in place to keep your security current and address vulnerabilities that may arise.  Data security is a constant game of cat-and-mouse with hackers – make sure to keep your guard up.  Apply updates to your hardware and software as they are issued, and ensure you are spotting vulnerabilities in, and promptly patching, your own software. Have a mechanism to allow security warnings and issues to be reported to IT.  Guidance: update and patch third-party software (TJX Companies); heed credible security warnings and move quickly to fix them (HTC AmericaFandango).
  1. Secure paper, physical media, and devices.  Lastly, while the focus these days seems to be on cybersecurity, don’t forget about physical security of papers and physical media.  Guidance: securely store sensitive files (Gregory NavoneLifelock); protect devices that process personal information (Dollar Tree); keep safety standards in place when data is en route (AccretiveCBR Systems); dispose of sensitive data securely (Rite AidCVS CaremarkGoal Financial).

As this guidance is based on what companies did wrong or didn’t do that led to FTC enforcement actions, it will be interesting to see how the FTC treats a company that suffers a data breach but demonstrates that they used reasonable efforts to comply with the FTC’s guidance.  I suspect the FTC will take a company’s compliance with this guidance into consideration when determining penalties in an enforcement action. The guidance is very high-level, so companies must rely on their IT and Legal teams to determine what steps, processes and protocols need to be implemented in alignment with the FTC’s guidance.

In addition to publishing the guide, the FTC has embarked on a conference series aimed at SMBs (small and medium-sized businesses), start-up companies, and developers to provide information on “security by design,” common security vulnerabilities, secure development strategies, and vulnerability response.  The first conference took place September 9 in San Francisco, CA; the second will take place November 5 in Austin, TX.

The FTC also announced a new website at which they’ve gathered all of their data security guidance, publications, information and tools as a “one-stop shop”.  You can find it at http://www.ftc.gov/datasecurity.

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