It’s difficult to argue that the vast majority of businesses today don’t have an ethical responsibility to adequately protect and secure their customers’ data. However, it’s an even more crucial aspect for organizations with known fiduciary duties to their clients or consumers, such as those in the Finance, Legal, Healthcare, and Insurance sectors. Let’s dig into each of these industries in the United States, look at their unique ethical demands regarding data security, and find some common solutions.
The financial industry includes banks, investment firms, real estate companies, and insurance organizations. According to the International Monetary Fund, it is the sector targeted most by hackers. It makes sense. In a 2020 survey by Verizon Communications, researchers found that 86% of data breaches are primarily for money. Who has more money than the financial industry?
Hackers target these institutions in a variety of ways. One of their most common tactics is attempting to gain access to customer login info. Direct attacks against an organization’s reserves gain immediate attention and mitigation, but hackers can take over a user account and move around smaller sums for much longer periods.
Another method they use is stealing sensitive financial documents. It provides the malicious agents with a treasure trove of confidential data to use for identity theft.
So, what ethical obligation do they have to their clients for securing this data? Since they’re such huge targets, financial institutions tend to employ data protection strategies that are more sophisticated than average. In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission proposed amendments to the Safeguards Rule and the Privacy Rule in the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. Under these proposals:
- Financial institutions would need to safeguard customer data more robustly, such as utilizing encryption for all information.
- Customers could opt-out of data sharing policies between banks and third-parties.
- Banks would require employees to pass multi-factor authentication (MFA) to access client data.
The FTC has not ratified these amendments yet, but they would serve as a much-needed update to the current regulatory framework.
Legal professionals now face an even greater risk to their clients’ personal information. Being the processors of strictly confidential information always put large targets on them. But, the COVID-19 pandemic forced many lawyers out of the office and courtroom and into their den. Working from home is the new normal for legal pros, and that means more cybersecurity risks. Whereas they probably worked in a closed system at the office that IT experts monitored daily, it’s much more challenging to evaluate weaknesses in everyone’s home networks. Coupled with the fact that lawyers, on the whole, aren’t the most technically literate people in the world, and you’ve got a recipe for data breaches.
The American Bar Association gives broad ethical expectations for data security throughout its Model Rules of Professional Conduct. A recent formal opinion published by the organization outlines them in greater detail, specifically for those engaged in a virtual practice. This opinion has the following provisions:
- Lawyers must make “reasonable efforts to prevent inadvertent or unauthorized access [to client data].” Today, a reasonable attempt goes well beyond attaching a confidential document to an email and sending it off with nothing but the hope that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
- Virtual practitioners should look into setting up Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), keeping the computer’s operating systems updated so that security patches stay current, utilizing file encryption, using MFA, setting strong passwords, and changing them regularly.
- Legal professionals must vet software and hardware providers to ensure proper security.
- Lawyers should never use smart speakers (Alexa, Google Home, etc.) or virtual assistants (Siri) when conducting confidential business. These “helpers” listen to every word that is said and can be hacked easily by malicious agents.
Hopefully, The ABA codifies the recommendations given in this opinion into its formal standards.
The medical industry also deals with extremely private, confidential information and is susceptible to drawing attention from hackers. 2020 was an especially bad year for this, as the rise of COVID-19 caused a 55% spike in data breaches compared to 2019. It’s a chilling reminds of how opportunistic threat actors can be. Sensing healthcare providers were stretched to the max and short on resources, they attacked.
Common reasons to target the healthcare industry include stealing patient medical records for resale on the Dark Web, identity theft purposes, or extortion schemes, and ransomware attacks to cripple critical systems until the organizations pay a hefty fee.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services set national regulations about healthcare data security through the HIPAA Security Rule. Here are some of the guidelines:
- Organizations must have physical and technical security measures enacted for hosting sensitive health data. Examples include facility access limits, computer access controls, and strict limitations on attempts to transfer, remove, or delete patient records.
- Technical systems must have automatic log-off settings, file encryption capabilities, regular audit reporting, and detailed tracking logs of user activity.
With COVID cases declining and vaccinations increasing, the healthcare sector could soon return to normal and start allocating more cybersecurity resources. At least for the first time in over a year, there’s cause for optimism.
With cyberattacks on the rise, there’s still much room for improvement in these industries. Organizations should go above and beyond legal requirements if adequate cybersecurity is a priority. Combining the right technical solutions with a plan of ongoing education is crucial. Usually, the weakest links in a network are the employees themselves. Train them regularly on the basics of phishing techniques and how to spot them. You’ll have a more resilient workforce who won’t fall for common scams that can put your organization at serious risk.
Part of the equation is still using suitable technical systems. If your company transfers or stores confidential data, you need to ensure it’s locked down. AXEL Go is a decentralized, private and secure file-sharing and storage platform. It offers industry-leading security features that set it apart from the typical Big Tech applications. It uses blockchain technology, advanced file sharding, the InterPlanetary File System, and military-grade encryption to keep important documents away from hackers. Try AXEL Go and gain access to all of its premium features for only $9.99/mo. It’s the safest way to share and store online.
 Jennifer Elliott and Nigel Jenkinson, “Cyber Risk is the New Threat to Financial Stability”, IMF.org, Dec. 7, 2020, https://blogs.imf.org/2020/12/07/cyber-risk-is-the-new-threat-to-financial-stability/
 “2020 Data Breach Investigations Report”, Verizon, May. 19, 2020, https://enterprise.verizon.com/resources/reports/dbir/?CMP=OOH_SMB_OTH_22222_MC_20200501_NA_NM20200079_00001
 American Bar Association, “Model Rules of Professional Conduct”, Americanbar.org, https://www.americanbar.org/groups/professional_responsibility/publications/model_rules_of_professional_conduct/model_rules_of_professional_conduct_table_of_contents/
 American Bar Association Standing Committee On Ethics And Professional Conduct, Formal Opinion 489, Americanbar.org, March 10, 2021, https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/professional_responsibility/aba-formal-opinion-498.pdf
 “Healthcare Breach Report 2021: Hacking and IT Incidents on the Rise”, Bitglass, Feb. 17, 2021, https://pages.bitglass.com/rs/418-ZAL-815/images/CDFY21Q1HealthcareBreachReport2021.pdf?aliId=eyJpIjoiOE54NGRRTkhCZDY3aUxGMiIsInQiOiJ0RTZ1QVZXbnFPUGRhZXhVbmhyMmVnPT0ifQ%253D%253D