Privacy Shield (ex. Safe Harbor), Here Come the Vultures!

You can almost feel it happening, can’t you? Every time there is an introduction of, or a change to some regulation or another, the vultures of the legal, security consulting, and even security product vendors spin up their marketing machines to invent new promises on how they will ‘guide you through the pending minefield’.

The thing is, I in no way blame them. I’ve likened selling security to selling insurance, in that no-one WANTS to buy something that seems to have absolutely no tangible benefit to the bottom line (it does though; How Information Security Enables Transformational Change). This results in a vast majority of organisations taking extreme liberties with the terms ‘reasonable’ and ‘appropriate’, which is as specific as most regulations go in terms of meeting their requirements.

Unfortunately, regulations are written by lawyers, who have a language all of their own. How is an IT Director supposed to translate legal-ese into geek-speak without some help? That’s where a PROPERLY run security program comes in; the translation become almost unnecessary.

I have made statements like this many times; “If an organisation was doing security properly, they would already be [enter regulation name here] compliant.

Bold statement, but think about it this way:

  1. ALL information security and most compliance regimes relate [at least in part] to the protection of data
  2. The principles of information security have not, and will not ever change
  3. NOT doing these basics is the fault of the organisations, not the regulators (except PCI)

The only thing that’s different from one compliance regime to the next is how you report what you’re doing. PCI requires a very detailed (though mostly meaningless) controls-based Report on Compliance, SoX and HIPAA require something else, and the old Safe Harbor just required a SELF-assessment (and you wonder why it failed…).

Regardless, the underlying validation evidence is the same; policies, procedures, standards, operational integrity, incident response and so on. You are either doing these things or you’re not. And let’s be clear, you should be.

“But they’re moving the goal posts!” is a complaint I frequently hear, and is usually the foundation of an excuse to do nothing. Just because YOU don’t know where the goal posts are doesn’t mean they’ve moved. All that really happened is that every time a regulation comes out and they ask for more and more detail / accountability / transparency etc, it further exposes the fact that you weren’t doing things properly in the first place.

The General Data Protection Directive (GDPR) for example is freaking organisations out with its potentially enormous penalties. Penalties for what? Not using data for its original intent? Not obtaining explicit customer consent? Not LOSING the data in a breach? How is ANY of that unreasonable!?

OK, so the above is a gross simplification of the GDPR, but it’s not far off, and frankly, Privacy Shield will be even easier. If your organisation is not in a position to meet the intent of these data privacy regulations, then you are part of the reason they exist in the first place. And if your security program is in such a state that the vultures have easy picking over the carcass of your IT budget, that’s your fault too.

Non-compliance with any regulatory requirement relevant to data protection is just a symptom of the same underlying problem; a crap security program. Fix that, worry about the reporting afterwards.

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