According to a report by California’s attorney general, 18.5 million Californians were victims of cyber intrusions or data breaches in 2013. Remarkably, this was up from 2.5 million in 2012, a seven-fold increase. (Note that two major data breaches at Target and LivingSocial account for much of the increase.) A copy of the report is linked below, and this article summarizes the report.

The study breaks down the cause of the various breaches, with 53% caused by cyber incursions (e.g., hacking and malware), 26% arising from physical loss or theft, and the remainder coming from unintentional errors or deliberate misuse.

This report is yet another sign that the threat of data loss continues to increase dramatically. While the report focuses on breaches affecting consumer information, it has broader application to companies seeking to protect their proprietary information. Measures necessary to enhance data security and protect trade secrets overlap. Network security is at the heart of these efforts, and companies need to be willing to invest significant resources to keep their networks safe.

But network security is not the only area of concern. This report shows that the loss or theft of computers and other storage media presents another significant risk. For companies seeking to protect their trade secrets, this problem presents on various fronts. For example, companies need to make sure that company-issued computers, smartphones, and media have sufficient protections in case they are lost or stolen. Also, and more problematic, companies need to understand how their employees are using company documents and information on their personal devices. Similarly, companies need to keep tabs on how third parties, like vendors and consultants, are protecting shared proprietary documents.

I have frequently written about the need for companies to implement a trade-secrets policy. This policy would address these issues. For example, it could require that all proprietary documents are encrypted. And it could make sure that these documents are disseminated narrowly, to those employees who need them to do their jobs. For those companies that fail to implement and enforce necessary restrictions, the loss of proprietary information may be inevitable.

2014 California Data Breach Report

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