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Sidebar: Legal Niceties

By Mary Brandel
October 3, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - It's clear that an effective response to a data breach requires that IT have close relationships with the legal and public relations departments -- relationships that simply don't exist in many large companies.
But at the very least, IT needs to know whom to call and how to reach them. Without that, "it can really degrade into a Chinese fire drill, where everyone is running around trying to call other people," says Peter Gregory, chief security strategist at VantagePoint Security. The information that IT needs to share includes the nature of the event, what kind of data might have been affected and how it was affected, says Eric Welz, senior solutions architect at Vanguard Managed Solutions. For instance, was data altered or deleted, or was the application unavailable for some period of time?
When discussing a possible security lapse with business people, avoid jargon. "You can say there was an overflow in the database logs, and they'll say, 'Tell me something I can use,'" Gregory says. "It usually takes someone who can talk on both sides of the fence to properly describe the situation in business terms."
Many experts say the sooner you involve attorneys, the better. Scott Sobel, vice president at Levick Strategic Communications, compares the situation to that of a city that assigns a district attorney as soon as a crime occurs. "They advise the cops from the very beginning on how to interview people and how to protect evidence," he says. Similarly, he says, "there should be thought put into a legal model for CIOs and other C-suite executives."
For instance, managers may be tempted to launch their own investigations, asking supervisors to interview IT staffers about what happened. But the information uncovered in those interviews could be considered discoverable evidence -- meaning it would have to be disclosed upon request in court, says Sobel. If an attorney does the interviewing, the information could be protected under the attorney-client privilege.
"You have to resist the urge to fix things immediately," he says. "The sooner attorneys get involved, the better off you are."

Read more about Security in Computerworld's Security Topic Center.

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