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Q&A: ChoicePoint CISO on data breach

By Jaikumar Vijayan, Computerworld
June 24, 2005 08:13 PM ET

Computerworld - The massive data compromise at ChoicePoint earlier this year has made the Alpharetta, Ga.-based data aggregator something of a target for those calling for tougher data protection laws. In an interview with Computerworld, Rich Baich, ChoicePoint's chief information security officer, talked about the breach, the measures that have been put in place since then and the lessons inherent for other CISOs.

You have in the past said that what happened at ChoicePoint was not really a security breach. Then what was it?

It all comes down to how you define a breach and how you define an incident. This was fraud. Someone fraudulently provided authentication to the system. It's no different than credit card theft and credit card fraud. Those are never referenced as IT-related issues though they happen millions of times every year. In fraud terms, it's called an account takeover. And that's what occurred. All I was trying to do was educate the press more than anything else that this was not what everyone would call a traditional hack.

So has the press got it now?

I see it's much better now because we're at 65-plus incidents (reported) so far this year, I believe. There are a couple that are being referenced as hacks that are truly hacks and the rest are fraud or lost tapes. There was one time people were screaming, "Rich, you're a victim of social engineering" and that "you're in charge of all the information because you're the information security officer." Well, am I in charge of the mailroom when someone loses mail? Because that's information as well. And that's all I am trying to say. People are trying to point to a person when we really need to be looking at things as an industry.

But wouldn't better IT controls have helped?

Sure. As an industry I think we have gotten better with our fraud analytics tools. There's technology that can do geographic IP locations. (Such tools) can help mitigate the risk. Then again, a very intelligent adversary can figure out a way around that by bouncing off proxy servers and different things. But there is some technology that can help mitigate the risk -- not stop it.

So are you doing anything differently now?

Yes, we absolutely are. We are looking at our entire credentialing process, the entire business process and how it's being done. We are looking at putting additional technologies in place and the way we do business with others. We actually went down to an even better level by looking at the type of data they need. Do they need stuff that relates to PII (personally identifiable information), or do they not? If your job function doesn't require that, then you don't get it.

What's the take-away from that whole incident? What's your advice for CISOs?

If you are going to have this role at a time when there is really no firm guidance, make sure you have selected a model to implement. ... I think today when people ask, "Are you providing adequate security?" that is such a big, open question and it may be interpreted by so many different people in so many different ways. I think if you have selected a model and you are implementing a program around that model I think you can be successful, regardless of what happens.

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