Data Breach a Test to Our Digital Resilience

By: Sonny Zulhuda
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Malaysian public has recently been perturbed by a series of personal data breach one after another. While the investigation is taking place, one can only expect that what has surfaced may only be a tip of an iceberg.
As the country embraces digital economy and aims at a cashless society by 2020, this data security crisis becomes a part of the equation. More digitised information and more synchronised data mean a bigger risk of data breach calamities. As a country, there is no backing out from this equation even though that means we have to learn it hard.
As a consequence, a data breach is not a matter of ‘whether’ but is a matter of ‘when’ it will happen. This requires us to adopt a risk management approach. Failure of managing the risks can be increasingly costly. The problem is, it is too often when we realise there is a data, it may be already too late. The alleged leak and illegal sale of Malaysian telecommunications data are said to have happened years ago. By now, we are already five years too late!
Time is of the essence here. As we start to learn about the breaches that took place, swift actions are warranted. There are few points to consider by all the stakeholders.
Firstly, data users can do the least by keeping the public informed about what is going on.
Even though our PDP law does not oblige data users to notify data subjects about any breach, this is warranted for transparency and trust preservation, and hence their business continuity plan.
Secondly, we should treat this as an issue of national security.
Not only because massive data of the majority of the public is affected, but also because those data come from the telecommunications and financial industries which are deemed among the ten critical national information infrastructures (CNII) as outlined by the Malaysian National Cyber Security Policy (NCSP) 2006. So, data security under this CNII must be given utmost priority. Both public and private sectors must cooperate in dealing with the crises.
Thirdly, it is time to test the mechanism of our law.
These incidents of a personal data breach either maliciously or negligently occurred, will need to be tested against the Personal Data Protection principles enshrined in the Act.¬†The authority needs to speed up the activation of the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) 2010 after some “day-nap”. Other agencies need to help in accordance with the statutory powers granted to each of them.

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The year 2017 is notably the beginning of some successful prosecutions under the Act, which is a crucial milestone in itself. On a positive note, we should take this crisis as an opportunity to also prove our legal mechanism. 

On top of that, what we are facing now is something bigger: it is testing our resilience as a nation. The challenge is more than a damage control: it is to deal efficiently with the massive data crisis like what is happening now.

This is not a one-off duty as data security is a process rather than a result. As Vince Lombardi was once famously quoted, it is not so much about how we fall down, but rather on how to raise back. And by “we” I mentioned in this last paragraph, it is you and me and every one of us the individuals to whom the personal data actually belong to.

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