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Slapdash staff blamed for third of UK's data leak balls-ups

But we're getting better at tackling breach damage

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Careless workers and sloppy contractors caused more than a third of biz data breaches last year, proving that crap staff pose the biggest risk to organisations.

An annual study of data cock-ups found that the average cost of a breach in the UK decreased from £1.9 million in 2010 to £1.75 million in 2011. Improved security to defend against leaks and better readiness to cope with any problems that do occur are credited for the savings.

The Ponemon Institute, which ran the survey on behalf of security biz Symantec, found an uptick in malicious or criminal attacks, up from 29 per cent in 2010 to 31 percent in 2011. These types of breaches tend to be the most costly but are rarer than breaches caused as a result of carelessness or stupidity.

Small firms without dedicated security staff and well-developed policies are more at risk from criminal onslaughts.

The study estimates data breaches cost companies an average of £79 per compromised record. As well as direct costs (spunked on cleanup and consultant fees and the like) the figure includes £37 spent on indirect costs, such as lost business, damage to reputation or churn of existing customers.

Mike Jones of Symantec said: "We’re noticing that companies at risk of data loss are becoming wise to the financial impact of a data breach. These businesses are implementing steps not just to prevent loss but to mitigate the damage, should a breach occur.

"It’s not just direct costs – such as fines from The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) – that need to be considered, although these help to drive the business case for preventative measures, but also indirect costs such as brand impact and disappointed customers leaving the brand."

Jones noted that data breaches have become such a common occurrence that "UK consumers have become somewhat desensitised to data losses" but urged against complacency.

"The cost of data loss still remains high and, in tighter economic times, even a single digit increase in customer churn can be terminal to profitability," he said. ®

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