Big Data security risks: What do we really have to worry about?

Every day, Big Data moves quantities of data that are as hard to manage as to explain. The quantities of data are measured in units such as the petabyte, equal to a thousand terabytes, or the zettabyte, equal to a billion terabytes. To give ourselves an idea, it was calculated that in 2013 the Internet produced, in total, 4 zettabytes of information, and that its annual growth is exponential.

Where does this data come from?

Today, almost any business or person, from any device, is constantly putting information online at an ever-increasing rate. It is estimated that a current iPhone has greater computing capacity than NASA did when they put a man on the moon. Even so, people aren’t just constantly sending data to the web from their devices through social networks, channels of communication such as email or Whatsapp, or device metadata. Data transactions, such as payments or calls, Internet browsing, the Internet of Things, and even security biometrics, with sensors constantly capturing and analyzing all kinds of data, add to the flow of Big Data.

Apart from the irrefutable benefits Big Data provides to businesses, the management of massive quantities of information should set off a few alarms. The first that comes to mind is of privacy: the remote possibility of going down the road to a dystopian society as envisioned by Orson Wells in 1984, where mass surveillance causes a state of political and social repression. A little unlikely, although it makes for good headlines.

What we really have to worry about is...

The truest risk of Big Data is that of security breaches. The increase in data collected and processed comes with a constant increase in security attacks. In 2014 alone the number of people affected by security breaches increased by more than 50%, especially delicate in situations where private, private, or financial information is exposed.

In this interactive graphic about the world’s primary security breaches we can see at a glance that breaches increase every year, not only in number but also in impact, which is to say, in the amount of filtered data.

If we analyze the breaches that have occurred since 2014, the most affected sectors are finance, medical, and service websites, with such shocking cases as those of financial institution Morgan Chase and Ashley Madison.

When data storage systems are hacked, the primary cause is piracy. Other possible causes, such as accidental publication, system errors, and inside jobs, make up a much lower percent than that caused by hackers. Anecdotally, one of the largest recent breaches, which exposed the information of 191 million American voters, was caused by an incorrect configuration.

What is the key to avoiding it?

Big Data is already an inseparable part of the strategy of many businesses, not just large ones. Still, treatment of large quantities of data must be an intrinsic part of Big Data strategies, present from the very beginning of the process.

We have explained the most known cases of security breaches and, in some ways, the most spectacular ones, but the truth is that smaller scale security problems affect many businesses and do not only risk an immediate economic loss, but rather a loss of confidence among clients, who will flee in order to trust their information to businesses that offer them greater confidence and security.

Therefore, systems for security, ID verification, and online fraud detection are key in avoiding breaches, as well as their consequences if they have already happened and someone has tried to make fraudulent use of the exposed information.

In summary, Big Data already forms a part of our lives in one way or another, and as with anything else, knowing the risks is fundamental to being able to use it without negative consequences for our business or users.