Opinions Tue, 26 Feb 2013

Data Security – How safe are you?

Data Privacy Day (DPD), which is annually celebrated on January 28, aims at increasing and creating awareness of privacy and data protection among individuals, consumers, organizations, and government. It is currently observed in the United States, Canada, and 27 European countries. The original focus was to raise awareness among teens and young adults about the importance of protecting the privacy of their personal information online.

Under EU law, personal data can only be gathered legally on strict conditions, for a legitimate purpose. Furthermore, persons or organizations which collect data and manage your personal information must protect it from misuse and must respect certain rights of the data owners which are guaranteed by EU law.

The question therefore is - how safe is our data in Ghana and what are we doing as individuals, consumers, organizations and government to protect it. With the high usage of computers and the influx of cell phone services, much data has been exchanging hands both knowingly and unknowingly. Most of us give information about ourselves to groups such as government bodies, banks, insurance companies, medical professionals and telephone companies to use their services or meet certain conditions. Organizations or individuals can also get information about us from other sources. Unfortunately, there has not been much education on the importance of data privacy and how it can be protected. It is estimated for example that an average Ghanaian spends about 3 hours a day on Facebook and other social network services exchanging important information about themselves, loved ones, organizations and the government. Others do so through texting. This data, if not well protected, can be used wrongly by the other party. Currently, one of the most prevalent crimes has been identity theft and although it's not yet a big threat in Ghana, one needs to get prepared, especially now that most of the financial institutions are going hi-tech.

Identity theft is the stealing of another person's bank card number (credit card number) for the purpose of borrowing money, making purchases and running up debts. Unfortunately, since many private organizations (banks) and government keep information about individuals in accessible databases, there is an endless opportunity for the thieves to retrieve it and misuse the information. Thus as individuals, it falls to us to protect our personal data.

Organizations and government also need to protect their information systems hardware, software, networks and data resources to ensure quality performance and trust from the general public. An organization's data, especially when it comes to financial information is an asset. If this information falls into the wrong hands, it could lead to serious repercussions and the organization's image and trust from the public will be in jeopardy. Most financial institutions in the US including Bank of America and Wells Fargo are known to have experienced cyber attacks recently. The same is true with government. Last year for instance, the South Carolina Department of Revenue was the victim of a cyber attack and over 4.5 million citizens were affected. These two examples should serve as a warning to the organizations and the Ghana government as a whole.

However, despite the constant threats to data security, there are a number of defensive strategies and tools that individuals, organizations and government can use to protect their data. These include, but are not limited to Encryption, Firewalls, Anti-Virus Software, Biometric Security, User Identification and Passwords, Security Monitors, and Disaster Recovery. These strategies, if implemented properly, will not only secure and limit access to internal data but also authenticate users. Thus with effective security measures in place, fraud, error and loss of data will be reduce if not eradicated.

Finally, the general public needs to be educated about the importance of data privacy and how well it can be protected. We as individuals are also responsible to protecting our own personal information and ensuring that they are safe.

By: Charles Bokor (Boston) octopus.image@yahoo.com

Columnist: Bokor, Charles