Feeds

How your IT department is breaking data protection laws

Grid-tools a dream in a compliance nightmare

3 Big data security analytics techniques

Comment Now, here’s a dirty little secret that most of the people that concern themselves with corporate governance and compliance don’t know about.

Leaving aside very small print that may have been inserted into documents that no-one ever reads, the data protection laws mean that personal information may only be used for explicit purposes that support the reasons for which the information was gathered in the first place. For example, if I buy books from Amazon.com, Amazon is entitled to store that information, analyse my reading preferences and use the results to send me targeted offers. However, it is not, without my explicit consent, allowed to pass that information on to third parties for other purposes. Nor is it allowed to use that information in other ways or allows other people to view that data, even within Amazon.

Let’s change the subject. Companies like Amazon are constantly developing new and/or improved applications to better serve both their customer bases and their own internal purposes. This involves an often complex and lengthy development process. Further, it involves the testing of those applications before they go into production so they're certain to work properly. There are a variety of such tests. Some, for example, test the application logic: if I add "a" to "b" do I get "c" as I was expecting, or do I get "d"? Other tests, however, simulate a live environment, and this is where we get back to the data protection act.

If you are simulating a live environment, how does the IT department do that? The simple answer is that it grabs a bunch of data (technically, a sample) from its production database and runs that through the testing process. This isn’t an issue if the application is concerned with stock control but it is an issue if the application deals with individuals, as in a consumer sales application or a human resources application. In these cases, unless you have formal consent from the people whose data you are using, then simply sampling the production system for test data is illegal: you are using the data for purposes for which it was not provided and you are making that information available to people not authorised to see it.

Okay, if you’re a compliance officer, things aren’t quite as bad they seem. Not quite as bad. Most IT departments know that this data can't be used (though I expect some ignore this). It therefore has to be "scrubbed". What this means is that identifying characteristics have to be removed from the data so that it is legal to use it. However, the process of scrubbing is lengthy, complex and expensive — it can often involve many days of consultancy — as a result of which test data is often only partially scrubbed (which means that it is still illegal) at best.

I am pleased to say, however, that help is at hand. Grid-tools has developed a product called DataMaker that generates anonymised test data from the production database (as opposed to the use of test scripts, which is the traditional approach) in order to populate the test environment. You won’t find anything about the product on the company's website, or any of its other products if it comes to that, but I can tell you that the product is currently installed in its first customer site, which is inside a major UK government department that cannot afford to be seen to flout the data protection laws. If you have similar concerns, you could do worse than contact Grid-tools to find out more.

Copyright © 2006, IT-Analysis.com

Top three mobile application threats

More from The Register

next story
Dropbox defends fantastically badly timed Condoleezza Rice appointment
'Nothing is going to change with Dr. Rice's appointment,' file sharer promises
Audio fans, prepare yourself for the Second Coming ... of Blu-ray
High Fidelity Pure Audio – is this what your ears have been waiting for?
Record labels sue Pandora over vintage song royalties
Companies want payout on recordings made before 1972
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Number crunching suggests Yahoo! US is worth less than nothing
China and Japan holdings worth more than entire company
Zucker punched: Google gobbles Facebook-wooed Titan Aerospace
Up, up and away in my beautiful balloon flying broadband-bot
Apple DOMINATES the Valley, rakes in more profit than Google, HP, Intel, Cisco COMBINED
Cook & Co. also pay more taxes than those four worthies PLUS eBay and Oracle
prev story

Whitepapers

SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.