Think of data as the new uranium rather than the new oil – and treat it like it’s toxic

In May 2017, The Economist famously ran with a front-page headline proclaiming that “The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data.” It focused on big tech’s collection and use of data and argued that the data economy demands a new approach to antitrust rules.

I agree with the idea that data is now about the world’s most valuable resource, but would suggest that it is more like uranium. It has power and energy, but too much of it can be potentially explosive. Indeed, thinking about data as if it were like uranium, might be a good way to approach data protection.

Handling data

You would not expect your staff to handle uranium without caution or without the right protective gear. Nobody treats nuclear fuels the way that Homer Simpson does! Likewise, you need to educate your staff to handle data with equal care and need to equip them with the tools that they need to do so. 

Numerous studies have found that the greatest data protection threat to a business is the one that walks out of the business at the end of each day – your staff. The insider threat, as it is known, outweighs all others.

If your staff was handling nuclear fuel, you’d expect them to do so with the utmost care. But with data, even after extensive education and training programs, the temptation can be to take short cuts or overlook the proper procedures. For this reason, ease of use (making it as easy to do the right thing as it is to do anything else) is as important in security terms as functionality.

The problem is that the cybersecurity arena is exceedingly fragmented, and we are typically expected to understand how to use a number of different tools.

Thankfully, organisations like Lenovo are focusing on exactly this challenge, bringing a selection of best-of-breed security tools from the likes of Intel and Microsoft together into a single integrated portfolio called ThinkShield and making it easy to use.

Unfortunately, the reality is that you can’t always trust users to know the right thing to do. Nor can you oversee their every move. But with ThinkShield, you not only get comprehensive and customisable end-to-end IT security that you can trust to significantly reduce the risk of being compromised, but it’s also in a package that is easy for users to understand and use. It means less business interruption for your staff and less work for your IT admins.

Data concentration

Much of the focus in The Economist was on how much data certain players were collecting and the risks that go with this. It argued that new antitrust rules were needed to address the concentration of data and of power in the hands of a few giant players. 

Again, this makes data far more like uranium than oil – after all nuclear fuels are relatively safe in small quantities. It is only once you have a critical mass that it becomes potentially explosive.

In a recent interview, Edward Snowden suggested that GDPR had been a step in the right direction, but that the real threat came not from data protection, but from data concentration.
Elizabeth Warren’s threats to break up some of the tech giants may never happen, but further regulation both in the EU and the US is most likely and will focus on ensuring nuclear safety in the digital economy.

Cyber response

Anyone in the nuclear industry will be familiar with scenario planning and simulation exercises. They run regular drills to train staff on how to deal with catastrophes such as leakage of nuclear waste. Few firms realise that GDPR mandates the need for “a process for regularly testing, assessing and evaluating the effectiveness of technical and organisational measures for ensuring the security of the processing.” In other words, if you don’t run do scenario planning or run simulation exercises to test how you’d respond to a data breach, then you’re not GDPR compliant.

Obviously, most organisations have in-house information security teams, just as they have legal and PR teams, but when a breach does occur your in-house teams are going to need help – they’re unlikely to have the specialist skills to deal with everything. As a result it is best to work with specialists – my latest venture, The Crisis Team, is a good example – that work alongside your internal teams offering world-leading expertise. After all, when things get serious, you don’t want the B team.

It is also worth including letting these experts support your scenario planning and simulation exercises. It will leverage their expertise and ensure that you develop a mutual understanding and are able to practice working together – something that will come in handy if or when the worst does occur.

Considering all of this, maybe treating your data as if it is toxic, and as if it were uranium, might be a good approach. in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their experiences and use-cases? Attend the Cyber Security & Cloud Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam to learn more.