Information Security … A Guide For Business #8 Implement Reasonable Security Measures

Ten practical lessons businesses can learn from the FTC’s (business.ftc.gov) 50+ data security settlements.  This is part #8.

#8  Make Sure Your Service Providers Implement Reasonable Security Measures

When it comes to security, keep a watchful eye on your service providers – for example, companies you hire to process personal information collected from customers or to develop apps. Before hiring someone, be candid about your security expectations. Take reasonable steps to select providers able to implement appropriate security measures and monitor that they’re meeting your requirements. FTC cases offer advice on what to consider when hiring and overseeing service providers.

Put it in writing.

Insist that appropriate security standards are part of your contracts. In GMR Transcription, for example, the FTC alleged that the company hired service providers to transcribe sensitive audio files, but failed to require the service provider to take reasonable security measures. As a result, the files – many containing highly confidential health-related information – were widely exposed on the internet. For starters, the business could have included contract provisions that required service providers to adopt reasonable security precautions – for example, encryption.

Verify compliance.

Security can’t be a “take our word for it” thing. Including security expectations in contracts with service providers is an important first step, but it’s also important to build oversight into the process. The Upromise case illustrates that point. There, the company hired a service provider to develop a browser toolbar. Upromise claimed that the toolbar, which collected consumers’ browsing information to provide personalized offers, would use a filter to “remove any personally identifiable information” before transmission. But, according to the FTC, Upromise failed to verify that the service provider had implemented the information collection program in a manner consistent with Upromise’s privacy and security policies and the terms in the contract designed to protect consumer information. As a result, the toolbar collected sensitive personal information – including financial account numbers and security codes from secure web pages – and transmitted it in clear text. How could the company have reduced that risk? By asking questions and following up with the service provider during the development process.