Human error, weak legislation and poor awareness harming corporate document discipline

Small-business owners believe there would be no repercussions from a data breach

Lock up your data and lock down your people: the human factor has clinched its position as the top threat to information security facing businesses today, according to a new survey that also channeled demands for greater government regulation of cybersecurity and found many small-business owners remain ignorant of the impact a data breach would have on their business.

The 2016 Australian Information Security Tracker, conducted by Ipsos on behalf of document-security vendor Shred-It, included 1002 Australian small-business owners and 101 C-suite executives and found that human error was creating persistent security issues around both processes and the protection of business documents.

Although some 46 percent small business owners and 38 percent of C-suite executives named human error as the biggest source of a potential data breach, 29 percent of SMBs had either never trained their staff on information-security policies, or didn't have these policies in place.

Fully a third of respondents said their businesses had no documents that would cause their businesses harm if stolen. “The issue of employee error is understandably a large concern to businesses in Australia,” said Shred-It national sales manager William White in a statement.

“Deceptively simple actions such as leaving paperwork containing client information on your desk or throwing old invoices in the recycling bin could potentially have a damaging impact on any organisation.”

National Broadband Network (NBN) builder NBN Co recently made headline news after the Australian Federal Police raided the offices and homes of Labor staffers to recover documents that were allegedly taken from sources inside the company.

The event created headaches for management and a political storm in the media as the raids fell within the election period. Despite the clear repercussions from such a breach, some 40 percent of SMB owners believed a data breach would not have a significant impact on their business.

C-suite executives were far more attuned to the potential damage from a breach, with just 3 percent saying they believed a breach would not have a serious impact on their business. This, despite figures repeatedly suggesting that the cost of data breaches is growing significantly and that businesses can't expect customer apathy to gloss over the reputational damage from such breaches.

SME owners were also largely unaware of the potential financial penalties of a data breach under Australia's recently revamped Privacy Act, with just 12 percent of SMEs and 46 percent of C-level executives aware that such breaches can have financial implications. Surprisingly, fewer C-suite executives said they were 'very aware' of legal requirements around storing, keeping and disposing of confidential data this year – 52 percent – than last year, when 67 percent said they were aware of their requirements.

The survey identified broad support for greater involvement of government in improving information security through legislation, with 53 percent SMEs saying the government's security policy was mostly good but could still be better.

Some 34 percent of C-suite executives said they would like to see improvement in the government's information-security commitment this year, up from 19 percent a year ago. And some 39 percent of large organisations said additional legislation would put additional pressure on their organisations to change information-security policies.

“Leaked confidential information can not only hurt a company’s reputation but also put them on the wrong side of the law,” said White. “Businesses must understand the responsibility they have to ensure their employees fully understand how to handle and dispose of information. An educated workforce is one of the first steps to ensuring your organisation is protected from data thieves.”