Prevent Analytics Data Leakage Before Your Data Privacy Sinks

April 27, 2016 Adam Gilbert

Steven Callahan is an American author, inventor, naval architect, and sailor. In 1981, on a boat he designed and built himself, he set off from Rhode Island to join a transatlantic sailing race that would take him along the European west coast and finish in the Caribbean.

On his way back from the Canary Islands, amidst a violent storm, his vessel was severely damaged by what he believed was a whale. Unable to stay aboard his vessel as it filled with water and was battered about by breaking waves, Callahan escaped into a six-person inflatable life raft.

He was able to salvage some food, navigation charts, a short spear gun, a torch, and solar stills for producing drinking water, but after exhausting the meager food supplies he had salvaged from the sinking sloop, Callahan survived by “learning to live like an aquatic caveman.”

He speared and ate mahi-mahi, triggerfish and flying fish, as well as barnacles he collected and birds he managed to capture. He collected drinking water from the two solar stills and various makeshift devices, which together produced just over a pint of water per day.

While adrift, he spotted nine ships, but from the beginning Callahan knew that he could not rely upon rescue but instead must, for an undetermined time, rely upon himself and maintaining a shipboard routine for survival. He routinely exercised, navigated, prioritized problems, made repairs, fished, and built food and water stocks for emergencies.

On the eve of April 20, 1982, he spotted lights on the island of Marie Galante, southeast of Guadeloupe. The next day, Callahan’s 76th day afloat in the raft, fishermen picked him up just offshore, drawn to him by birds hovering over the raft. During the ordeal, he faced sharks, raft punctures, equipment deterioration, physical deterioration, and mental stress over 76 days and 1800 nautical miles.

The dangers of data leakage

This story mirrors struggles many of us endure. We build or implement something beautiful but as we sail it into various environments, factors beyond our scope and vision create leaks.  Without preventative actions and constant monitoring these leaks will soon sink all the work we sacrificed for. The number one issue for digital marketers and analysts: data leakage.

Simply put, data leakage is the unauthorized transmission of data (or information) from within an organization to an internal or external destination or recipient, and it is a growing concern for many industries.

Deploying data collection systems without a clear data loss prevention plan puts your collected information, and potentially your organization, at great risk.

Consider these data leakage scenarios

  1. An employee leaves the company to work for a direct competitor but maintains access to traffic and revenue data through unknown deployment of analytical tools. Here are some questions you need to ask yourself:

When was the last time you audited the user access or management list?

Can you verify that everyone on the list is a current employee?

If not, when was the last time unauthorized personnel logged into your analytics platform?

2. An agency you partner with deploys tools with questionable personally identifiable information (PII) collection and handling practices, or uses freelancers that you may not know about. You may have signed a nondisclosure agreement with this agency, but some agencies may outsource work to freelancers who haven’t been completely vetted.

3. A tag management system (TMS) is deployed in an effort to consolidate the chain of authority for controlling site tags, but employees may circumvent this process and deploy tags outside of the TMS to meet their own team needs.

4. A third-party vendor deploys tracking on your properties that sells the data it collects to other third-parties, potentially exposing your data to direct competitors. Some tools that are implemented through third-parties may have additional code unknown to you that is sending valuable data to a location you are not aware of.

5. Your organization bans particular technologies on all your digital properties, yet these tags continue to appear sporadically in your reports. I have seen time and time again companies end a relationship with a technology partner, but due to their integration practices, IT could take months of manually searching to find and remove all the third-party code, all the while, data is being transmitted.

Finding and patching your leaks

If you are performing a manual audit of your data security—searching inch by inch through thousands of lines of code on your digital properties for any gaps in security—the first thing you need to do is look for leaks in the most important places such as your high traffic pages, user paths and landing pages. From there, you can dig deeper into the rest of your site. Then go back and do it all over, and then again.

By the time you complete a thorough audit of all your site, there will have been several more updates or changes in company personnel or third-party vendor integrations that now have to be checked.
Or, you could automate the process and ensure that your data is secure and leak free.

Prevent data leakage

Data collection processes need to be monitored constantly and audited regularly and data loss prevention plans need to be implemented to protect your organization’s crucial data.

Automated auditing solutions, like ObservePoint, can detect hundreds of technologies, including the ones deployed on your site, and can be set-up to continually monitor their implementation. Since these solutions identify hundreds of technologies, they can alert you to implementations you may not be aware of and will expose any inaccurately implemented or unauthorized third-party vendors.

These solutions save you time, resources and stress normally dedicated to auditing implementations to protect against data loss, reducing the risks of data leakage and keeping your analytics shipshape.


About the Author

Adam Gilbert

Adam Gilbert has been in Digital Marketing for the past ten years, eight of which he spent at Adobe as a Senior Customer Success Manager working with Fortune 100 companies. He has worked with accounts in all verticals including Hi-Tech, Travel & Leisure, Retail, and Financial Services. Adam now manages the Partner Program at ObservePoint as the Senior Partner Success Manager. Personally, he loves getting out into nature with his family and can regularly be found hiking the many trails in Utah. He uses his passion for the outdoors to run two websites for wilderness survival courses and hiking trails.

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