DATAx insights: We can't let the data breach chorus become background noise

Marty Greenlow, CEO of Ensighten, offers his thoughts on the essential role today's executives play in shoring up data vulnerabilities across their organizations

13Feb

In 2018, millions of people were affected by data breaches. Most months, the number of reported attacks dwarfed those in 2017 and preceding years, and some of the individual breaches were among the largest in history. It is perhaps no surprise that we also saw increased reports of a newly coined condition afflicting people far and wide: Data breach fatigue. Articles pointed to a growing acceptance among consumers regarding the vulnerability of their data, as well as a disinclination to act in the wake of a breach. In discussing this rising tide of apathy, such articles commonly asked: "Does it matter?"

Let's be clear here: Yes, it matters. Data breaches matter. Organizational efforts to curb data breaches matter. And data breach fatigue matters. One of the reasons data breach fatigue matters is that this condition can strike anyone. Were all witnessing the same rise in data breach headlines and feeling the same sense of overwhelming powerlessness. And while the average consumer might, in fact, be relatively helpless to prevent their data from falling into the wrong hands in this digital age, todays executives play an essential role in shoring up data vulnerabilities across their organizations.

The mounting organizational costs of data breaches

In its strategic predictions for 2019, Gartner noted that, because the benefits of using technology are still being seen as outweighing privacy concerns, few consumers are making changes to their habits in the wake of a breach. According to the firm, "through 2021, social media scandals and security breaches will have effectively zero lasting consumer impact."

Unfortunately, this couldn't be further from the truth when it comes to the organizational side of a data breach. According to research from Juniper Research, the global cost of data breaches will grow to $2.1 trillion in 2019, nearly four times the cost of breaches in 2015. The average cost of a breach in 2020 will exceed $150m, Juniper estimates.

The financial toll of a breach on an organization encompasses both tangible and intangible costs. Tangible costs come in the form of regulatory fines, legal fees and damages, crisis communications and expenses related to shoring up the breaches themselves. The intangible ones, often harder to quantity, can include damage to brand reputation as well as the cost of the business stagnation that results when a company's legal team takes the reins on business decisions in the wake of the breach. The cost of this latter effect can be devastating – and ultimately put a company as a competitive disadvantage from which it cannot recover.

The new proving ground for digital savvy

While the financial effect of a data breach is formidable ­– and will continue to grow as new privacy regulations take effect – the need for executives to take data security seriously goes even deeper. As the threat of data breaches grows, thanks to an ever-growing array of digital touchpoints with consumers, data security and protection of consumer privacy is poised to be the next battleground on which the most digitally savvy of companies distinguish themselves from the corporate luddites.

Data security will never be easy. But all the same, impeccable defense against breaches will become table stakes for companies that want to survive in a digital world. Right now, we're witnessing an alignment of forces – both regulatory and technological – that indicate such an emphasis is inevitable. Over the next five years, were going to see certain companies emerge as leaders in their defense of consumer data, while the rest fall behind.

As an example, think about mobile websites. Five years ago, if the average consumer stumbled upon a poorly optimized mobile experience, the company responsible for the experience was often given a pass. After all, everyone was still "figuring things out." These days, when consumers encounter a broken or poorly optimized mobile experience, they immediately and harshly judge the company behind it as being antiquated and ignorant of consumer expectations. So too will they judge companies that permit the leakage or breach of their data in the future. With the knowledge that breaches are increasingly preventable, data breach fatigue will give way to outrage.

Today's company leaders can't allow the data breach chorus to wash over them and fade into the background. Every breach and every headline should serve as a powerful reminder that the future of their companies depends on their ability to shore up the security of their consumer data. Data security is no longer solely the purview of the IT department. It's an executive matter. 

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