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The compliance countdown has begun

New regulations governing how European organisations approach data security will be enshrined into law on 25th May, imposing a host of new data security obligations for businesses operating within the EU. Chris Russell, CTO, Swivel Secure, explores the operational implications. 

The aim of the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is to drive the modernisation of Europe’s data security practices and, at the same time, harmonise the national laws that each member state enacted as a result of the now-defunct Data Protection Directive.

Overall, the regulation is a force for good. Nonetheless, it will require European businesses of all sizes to ‘get serious’ about their security, and fast. There is a mere two-year grace period before the rules will be enforced, after which non-compliance becomes a very serious issue indeed – one that could result in fines of up to 4% of a firm’s worldwide annual turnover.

The specific technical requirements of the regulation, concerning the pseudonymisation and encryption of sensitive data, have already been widely documented. Less well discussed, however, is how companies need to adapt their operations and policies to establish a perpetually compliant mode of working.

One requirement, for example, requires the relevant data protection authority to be notified of a data breach within 72 hours of its occurrence. Moreover, under certain circumstances, the data subjects will also have to be notified of a breach. Put another way, to avoid hefty fines, firms will need to ‘own up’ far sooner than many have done in the past. This will put companies on a continuous state of high alert, elevate the data security issue to the Board level almost overnight, and refocus the IT department’s attention on bolstering its network defences.

On initial inspection, this is no bad thing. But there are hidden costs to contend with. Countless firms across Europe are in the midst of migrating their company’s data, business tools and operations into the cloud in a bid to heighten operational flexibility, lower TCO, enable greater departmental integration and unify their communications infrastructures. The Bring Your Own Device revolution, combined with the rising popularity of flexible working initiatives, add yet more gateways for the IT department to protect. The rise of such initiatives has triggered a surrendering of corporate data security control; many of the ‘new network’s gateways now sit well beyond the control of the IT department. Cloud-based user authentication is most commonly delivered as part of the provider’s managed service.

In this way, it is worth considering whether the GDPR’s threat of huge fines could, inadvertently, do more harm than good, by dissuading the Board from pressing on with progressive IT initiatives and hampering each company’s agility and flexibility as a result.

One way through the maze is to apply user authentication policies and tools that are fit for this new multidimensional networked environment and appropriately support the new regulatory environment.

Adaptive risk-based authentication solutions can help establish precisely the right level of visible security as is appropriate to the access being requested.

Here, an appropriate level of ‘friction’ can be integrated into the authentication process; a high risk access request requires a higher degree of validation, for example. Unusual access requests can then also be quickly identified, from a masked IP address, for example, or a device attempting to access from a country far removed from its usual access location.

By building this level of granularity and risk assessment into a firm’s security policies, adaptive authentication tools can then be parameterised to enable a company to achieve the best of both worlds: the new level of access and data protection that the GDPR demands and the flexibility that today’s networked business environment requires.

By taking this strategic and unified approach to authentication, firms can generate a network-wide overview detailing all access to corporate data. This overview makes it far easier to guard against breaches, identify them when they do occur and also to respond effectively, by adding new layers of authentication, for example, or even restricting access under appropriate circumstances. By establishing this level of visibility and auditable transparency, companies will also find that they are better equipped for the greater scrutiny brought about by the new regulatory environment.

As is so often the case with information security, it’s about striking a balance. Fortunately, the tools and best practices are already available for European firms to quickly adapt to the new regulation and continue to evolve their operations at the same time. Those with the vision and agility to begin their adaptation now will be able to turn a regulatory compliance countdown into an opportunity to future proof their organisations’ network defences for years to come.