WikiLeaks may have exposed some of the inner workings of governments across the world but another repercussion of the story could be the influence it has on businesses, who will be looking long and hard at how to control their internal communications. Sometimes it takes something like the WikiLeaks story to make people sit up and take notice.
There are now many and varied ways in which confidential information can be shared instantly. Legally or not, information travels fast because the nature of publishing has changed.
There is no such thing as a completely secure system. A business generates a huge amount of internal correspondence and documentation, from mundane administration emails to complex plans for growth and productivity, and it is up to companies to understand the risks involved in data breaches and to make their systems as secure as possible. Even the most vigilant businesses, however, should plan for the possibility of confidential data being leaked into the public domain.
In my view, transparency is the best policy. If business leaders are up front with their employees and discuss the danger posed to all organisations by data breaches, they can go on to advise on what information is appropriate to exchange via email or instant messenger tools, and what is not. This process of education should help prevent employees forwarding sensitive material to friends, for example, who may then disseminate the confidences still further. Before they know it, company bosses can be in the midst of a large scale crisis.
It is important to show confidence in your employees to be sensible and help protect the company but, if your business deals with a significant amount of sensitive information, some of that should only be available to staff on a strictly ‘need to know’ basis. Carefully segmented systems ensure that people only have access to what they need to do their jobs effectively and, in the event of a system failing or being breached, limits damage and prevents exposure across the board.
If the worst does happen and data is breached, small business owners must be ready to respond quickly in order to limit damage and regain trust. The likelihood is that, if you don’t run a large, high-profile company, the bad news won’t be splashed over the national media but customer confidence should be the priority, regardless. If the leak is addressed quickly and customers are reassured that everything possible is being done to prevent a similar thing happening again, damage will be minimised.
The WikiLeaks episode has certainly caused a stir in political circles but business leaders will have read the story in a different way; it comes as a salutary warning to companies that tightening the security of internal communications as much as possible should be their first New Year’s resolution.