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Monday, 2 March 2015

Customer Data: Convenience versus Security

Organisations in both the public and private sector are initiating programmes of work to convert previously physical or offline services, into more digital, on line and automated offerings.  This could include things like automated car tax purchase, through to insurance policy management and electricity meter reading submission and reporting.

Digitization versus Security

This move towards a more on line user experience, brings together several differing forces.  Firstly the driver for end user convenience and service improvement, against the requirements of data security and privacy.  Which should win?  There clearly needs to be a balance of security against service improvement.  Excessive and prohibitive security controls would result in a complex and often poor user experience, ultimately resulting in fewer users.  On the other hand, poorly defined security architectures, lead to data loss, with the impact for personal exposure and brand damage.

Customer Confidence, Brand Damage & Ethics 

Any on line service, needs to provide a layer of confidence to the end user.  The delivery of on line government services for example, could require the collection and storage of deeply personal data such as social security numbers, dates of birth, previous postal addresses, car registration details, health care numbers and so on.  Data, that in the wrong hands, could lead to a proliferation of identity fraud.

A flip side to distilling confidence in the end user, that their personal identifiable information (PII) is being kept secure, is that if (and when) a breach occurs, the potential damage to the service provider will be significant.

An ethical question is also raised - how will the data submitted by an end user be actually used? Initially, there has to be an "exchange of wants", when personal information is asked for.  For example, what does the end user get in return for revealing their email address, data of birth or address?  There has to be a service improvement, increased convenience aspect or price reduction, to make the exchange of information worth while.  But once that exchange has been implicitly agreed upon, the service provider then has an ethical duty to manage that data in accordance to transparent conditions published to the end user.  This would include the redistribution or selling of that data to third parties.

Customer Data Storage - Repositories, Hashes & Migration

There are clearly several physical requirements to how data is transferred and storage.  The use of transport level encryption (SSL/TLS) is a given, as is the symmetric encryption of sensitive data. Password data should be stored using a well known and modern hashing algorithm, possibly along with a salt.

End user or customer data is likely to exist in several different internal service provider repositories, with varying levels of detail.  Customer relationship management (CRM) systems are popular as are marketing and analytics databases, especially in the e-commerce world.  Other authoritative sources of data are likely to exist, most likely in large scale relational databases, with master data management and reporting services integrated into them.  That data may well need to be migrated into a new, highly scalable and highly available directory, possibly after consolidation and data cleansing activities have taken place.

Identifying High Risk Users - Device Printing & OTP

From a service provider perspective, once data has been securely captured and stored, there often needs to be a level of risk analysis integrated into the user login journey.  This can help to identify users of high risk - such as those accessing with stolen credentials or devices or users that have registered with fraudulent details.

Contextual login processes can help here.  This refers to things like identifying trusted networks or devices and mixing with environmental factors such as time.  The key is to identify high risk, then act upon it - perhaps by reducing that users capabilities within the service, or making them go through more rigorous levels of assurance, such as having to supply a one time password (OTP) via a token, mobile or email address.

Frictionless Signup & Login

The introduction of new digital services is a complex process.  Even if the security architecture has been agreed upon and implemented effectively, it cannot interfere with the end user journey from both a signup and login perspective.  Most users now assume a one-click style approach to registration - perhaps through the re-use of social media credentials.  The login approach needs to be equally simple, and seamless across a range of different platforms and devices, from laptops, mobile and tablets.

As more and more organisations go through digital transformation programmes, there needs to be a fine balance between end user convenience and security, that benefits and protects, not only the service provider, but the end user too.

By Simon Moffatt