Help Net Security reports on a new Experian/Ponemon survey, “Consumers confused about data breaches.” Over 60% of respondents had trouble understanding the notification letters or felt the entity did not give them sufficient details.
One take-home message is what I’ve been saying for years: breach notifications need to be written in plain language and include sufficient detail. While overall, my impression is that the quality of notifications has generally increased over the years, and that more consumers are dissatisfied because they’ve become more savvy about what they want to know, there are still many notices that do not answer the questions consumers are likely to have. Here’s my list/opinion as to what elements should be included in plain language:
1. What happened?
If an outsider was involved, what do you know about them? If a contractor or business associate or vendor was involved, where they following procedures you had specified in a contract? If an insider was involved, have they been arrested?
2. How did it happen?
3. When did it (first) happen and for how long did this breach go on?
4. When did you first find out about this?
5, How did you find out?
6. What kinds of information about me are involved?
7. What should I do?
8. What will you do to help restore me to my pre-breach state?
9, What will you do to reduce the likelihood that this or another breach will happen again?
The survey points out that notifications should also include an estimate of risk of harm. That’s something that I’ve had recurring concerns about because many notifications seem to be so reassuring that individuals may not act to protect themselves even though their odds of becoming a victim of fraud or ID theft have increased. Consider even a “crime of opportunity” where a laptop with sensitive data is stolen in a smash and grab. The thief may have no interest in the data, true, but when the thief sells the laptop, can we say the same for the person who purchases it after it’s been inexpertly wiped (if it’s been wiped at all)?