Et Tu, Data Breach? How Friends Can Betray Data Privacy and Steps to Prevent Threats

September 19, 2023

“Et tu, Brute?” Julius Caesar famously gasped in William Shakespeare’s play, as his friend Brutus stabbed him in the back, completing Caesar’s betrayal by those he trusted most. Like Caesar, many companies today put blind faith in partners and vendors, only to face their own “Et tu, Brute?” moments when data breaches occur. In 2021, 60% of breaches were linked to third parties according to an IBM report. Just as Caesar failed to adequately protect himself from conspirators in his midst, companies risk data disasters by trusting external entities without proper controls. Proper vendor risk management could prevent modern-day data betrayals.

How Third Parties Put Data at Risk

Vendors like marketing firms, payment processors, and IT services often require access to sensitive customer data, employee records, trade secrets, and intellectual property to fulfill their roles. While under contract, these partners become extensions of your company. However, lax security or malicious actions by vendors can lead to unauthorized data access, theft, and leakage. The recent SolarWinds and Accellion breaches show how thousands of companies saw their data exposed when third-party systems were compromised.

These “Et tu, Brute” style betrayals not only result in compliance violations, lawsuits, and regulatory penalties. Above all, they break customer trust in the breached company to safeguard their most sensitive information. Preventing third-party data breaches is essential to upholding privacy commitments and corporate ethics.

Steps to Mitigate Third Party Data Risks

To avoid Caesar’s fate, companies must vigilantly manage vendor relationships with these best practices:

Vet Potential Partners Thoroughly

Rigorously assess vendors’ data security and privacy through audits, questionnaires, and examining their track record. Require cyber insurance and compliance with standards like PCI DSS.

Contractual Protections

Include breach notification and liability clauses, cyber insurance mandates, and indemnity to cover your company’s losses in the event of breach.

Limit Data Access

Provide third parties only the minimum data access required through separation and encryption. Implement least privilege and need-to-know access restrictions.

Monitor Activity

Watch for suspicious access patterns and unauthorized actions through effective monitoring procedures and controls.

Incident Response Planning

Have an incident response plan ready to rapidly notify customers and respond to contain the damage of any vendor-related breach.

Regular Reviews

Continuously evaluate third party relationships and security measures. Phase out excessive access rights and high-risk partnerships.

Concluding Thoughts

In hindsight, Caesar could have prevented betrayal by paying more attention to the conspirators within his circle. Likewise, companies can avoid “Et tu, Brute” moments by thoroughly vetting and monitoring vendors to detect and deter emerging data threats. Trust must be accompanied by verification. With proactive vendor risk management, organizations can place reliance on third-parties without compromising data security and customer privacy. What controls do you have to prevent your next partnership from turning into a data-breaching Brutus?


Referenced Work

IBM. “Cost of a Data Breach Report 2021.” July 2021.