In today’s digital age, the importance of data protection cannot be overstated. With the vast amounts of sensitive data being collected and stored by organizations, it’s crucial to have a proactive approach to identifying and mitigating potential data protection risks. One effective tool for achieving this is a risk register. In this article, we’ll discuss how to design a risk register to identify and mitigate data protection risks in four easy steps.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)’s main purpose is to protect individuals’ fundamental rights and freedoms, particularly their right to the protection of their personal data. In 2020, the world was gripped by the Covid-19 pandemic, which affected us all in many ways. Data Protection was also affected with a rise in data protection risks, which have led to an uptick in cyberattacks, malware, disinformation and data breaches.
Maintaining a data protection risk register can allow you to identify and mitigate against data protection risks, as well as demonstrate compliance in the event of a regulatory investigation or audit. The GDPR Accountability principle requires that you demonstrate the steps you have taken to comply with the regulation. That means having a risk-based approached to strive for compliance with any given organisation will require you to assess a risk based on its likelihood and severity in terms of the rights and freedoms of a natural person.
The accountability principle in Article 5(2) of the GDPR, requires that organisations not only comply with all the data protection principles, but also, that they are able to demonstrate compliance with them. So, what does that mean in practice? In short organisations must implement technical and organisation measures to demonstrate that the processing of personal data is undertaken in accordance with the GDPR.
The role of the DPO is to ensure that their organisation meets their requirements. Having a robust and structured way of managing their data protection risks on an ongoing basis is imperative. Such risks arise from the obligations and standards set out under the GDPR in that organisations must demonstrate:
- They are processing in accordance with the regulation (Article 24)
- Design processing to implement the data protection principles and integrate the necessary safeguards (Article 25)
- Ensure a level of security appropriate to the risk (Article 32)
These are ongoing requirements meaning that organisations must not only monitor, review and up-date their processing to continue to comply with the regulation. Organisations also need to keep themselves up to date on recent decisions issued by the European Courts, fines issued from national supervisory bodies and up to date guidance papers. Your risk register should assess a risk and align it with the principles of the GDPR ensuring that no processing activity undermines those principles.
Four Steps to successful risk management & mitigation
1. Identify Your Organisations Data Protection Risks
The first step in designing a risk register is to identify potential data protection risks. This involves conducting a thorough review of all data processing activities and identifying any vulnerabilities that could lead to a data breach. Examples of potential risks include unauthorized access to data, data loss or theft, and human error.. Conducting regular assessments of the processing activities that take place is a good starting point. Once you understand the processes and data flows that are happening, you can then assess the level of risk each activity presents to your organisation. As a data protection practitioner, your first protocol is to assess the risk against the principles of the GDPR and not in the context of the corporate or stakeholder objectives.
2. Assess the Level of Risk it Presents to Your Organisation
Assessing the risks based on severity to the organisation’s brand/name/impact to data subjects and its likelihood of occurring is a practical way of looking at a risk. These are influenced and determined based on how compliant they are with the seven principles of the GDPR. If a risk is imminent and poses a high risk, then this should be reflected in your risk register. Once potential risks have been identified, the next step is to assess the likelihood and impact of each risk. This involves determining the probability of the risk occurring and the potential impact it would have on the organization if it did occur. For example, a data breach that results in the loss of sensitive customer information would have a significant impact on the organization’s reputation and could result in legal action.
3. Maintaining a Live Risk Register & Develop Mitigation Strategies
After assessing the likelihood and impact of each identified risk, the next step is to develop mitigation strategies to address them. This involves implementing measures to reduce the likelihood of the risk occurring and minimize its impact if it does occur. Examples of effective mitigation strategies include implementing access controls, encrypting sensitive data, and providing regular employee training on data protection best practices.
The most crucial element of the process is to log the risks identified and implementing a plan of action to mitigate those risks at your earliest convenience. Regularly reviewing your risk register and communicating those risks to the relevant individuals/departments will ensure that these risks will be mitigated against. Putting in place the appropriate controls will demonstrate your organisations awareness. Articulating the controls, technical and organisational measures, you put in place is the way in which you can adhere to the accountability principle. At this point, you can confidently show that you have identified risks, assessed those risks and you have found measures/controls contain the risk.
4. Data Protection Reporting and Monitor Mitigation Strategies
The final step in designing a risk register is to implement and monitor the effectiveness of the mitigation strategies. This involves putting the mitigation strategies into action and regularly reviewing and updating them as needed. It’s important to monitor the effectiveness of the strategies to ensure they’re working as intended and to make adjustments as needed.
Finally, it is recommended that you should produce regular data protection reports to summarise the current data protection risks and compliance position to your board and management teams.
Designing a risk register to identify and mitigate data protection risks is a critical step in protecting sensitive data. By following these four easy steps, organizations can take a proactive approach to risk management and reduce the likelihood of a data breach. Remember to regularly review and update the risk register to ensure it remains effective in identifying and mitigating potential data protection risks.
The above can all be achieved by utilising PrivacyEngine, our Privacy Management Software to help streamline your privacy compliance. Privacy Engine already has a bank of over 1000 risks and recommendations that your organisation can avail of. The tool allows you to maintain your risk register and allows you to manage and mitigate those risks overtime. All of which whilst providing detailed evidence trial of your compliance for the regulator.