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Ensuring Compliance With POPIA Is Not An IT Responsibility

As if is not challenging enough that your business must deal with the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) in the year of COVID-19, now enters IT specialists who advise you on compliance, know of things such as spear phishing and worms in their world where cookies are not sugary treats, a crash has nothing to do with vehicles colliding, clouds are not the ephemeral fluffy white cumulus we see floating in the sky, and a dark web is not from a Harry Potter movie.

Our last Thought of the Week addressed a misconception amongst business owners that the task to comply with POPIA is an IT responsibility. This is not accurate, despite the very important part that IT safeguards play in achieving compliance. This is because complying with POPIA is ultimately a people challenge, as we explained previously.

The crashes and leaks that endanger personal information happen at the hands of people. From ongoing training of staff to access control around information and even appointing a Privacy Officer, POPIA has the power to impact almost every aspect of your business, and it has ramifications for a number of your internal processes.

What does POPIA require?

Many headlines around information security failures involve cyber-related technology threats and breaches. In the cyber world, the range of potential scenarios for the loss of personal information is complex. This is indeed why POPIA, in condition 7 (“Security Safeguards”) requires businesses to take “appropriate, reasonable technical and organisational measures” to prevent “loss of, damage to or unauthorised destruction” and “unlawful access to or processing” when processing personal information.

How? By taking “reasonable measures” to do four things”:

1. Identify reasonably foreseeable internal and external risks

Businesses are required therefore to implement a formal, structured approach to identifying risks, which ideally should involve a team effort. Risks may be found in the physical security environment, such as access control to business premises, theft or loss of digital devices and accidental or intentional disclosure or theft of personal information. But it does not end there: Technology risks covers a wide range of possibilities, including action by cybercriminals in a ransomware attack, corruption or loss of data through a malware attack, hacking of your network or individual digital devices and other techniques. Identifying the risk is not enough: each risk needs to be assessed for the potential and likelihood that it might strike at your business and be addressed accordingly.

2. Having appropriate safeguards in place

Once informed of the risks that are likely and reasonably to occur, the identified risks must be addressed. In other words, appropriate safety measures should be devised and implemented to ensure the protection of personal information. These may include physical access control and restraints (including “locking down” vulnerable information); technical measures aimed at addressing accidental and malicious cyber threats (such as sophisticated data loss prevention and endpoint protection systems); training of staff to raise awareness of the threats and appropriate prevention measures; policy amendments or updates as part of an effective governance regime; and an ongoing commitment to maintaining these safeguards.

3. Verify that the safeguards are working

Verification can be as simple as conducting a “clean desk” sweep to check that staff conform to the policy for personal information protection, or more sophisticated including simulated attacks (such as ethical hacking and social phishing); checks conducted by internal auditors or verification agencies.

4. Update your safeguards

Threats to information security are continually evolving in line with the technologies themselves. The challenges of securing personal information for which the organisation is responsible on a multiplicity of smartphones, tablets, flash drives and the like grow and changes daily. It is therefore not a once-off exercise to identify risks, but a complex and difficult ongoing task.

Contact our professionals on 041 363 6044 or for more information or assistance.

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This article is not intended to constitute legal advice and is produced for information purposes only and to provide a general understanding of the legal position relating to the topic. It is recommended that advice relating to the specific circumstances of your situation be sought from our attorneys before acting upon the content of this article. This article was written at a particular point in time and accordingly may not always reflect the most recent legal developments, if any, applicable to the relevant topic. Kaplan Blumberg and its partners and/or employees, are not responsible for any consequences which may follow upon any decision taken to act upon the information provided in this article.

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