For any organization that does business in the European Union (EU) in any capacity, it’s no secret that the General Data Protection Regulation is a crucial piece of legislation. Every company that has offices, customers or partners based in the European Union will be affected, and come May 25, 2018, the way we are working with their data will be under strict new guidelines, impacting the way we do business.

It won't take long after the deadline before the gloves come off and the EU cracks down on audits of big tech companies. We're talking about Uber, Google, Apple and so forth. This will be EU's effort to reinforce the severity of meeting GDPR regulations and to show that no business - not even the household names - will be immune to complying with GDPR stands.

After the EU cracks down on the big tech companies, financial institutions and travel companies will be next, as these types of organizations are the most globalized industries, where data flows freely across geographical borders. And regardless of the EU’s efforts, the reality is that many companies won’t meet the May deadline, whether due to lack of resources, laziness or apathy. You better believe that those businesses that don’t get on board – and get caught – will be crushed, as business will come to a grinding halt.

If you are behind -- or gasp! -- aren’t taking action to prepare for GDPR right now, you may be straggling, but you’re not too late. The process may be a beast, but it’s absolutely manageable if you’re organized. Here are four tips to begin your GDPR journey:

  1. Establish a privacy program. This is the first place you should start. If you do this upfront, then when new regulations come out, you have a set baseline of where you are at and can more efficiently fill in the gaps. There will always be new regulations your organization must embrace, so get ahead of the curve while you can. The privacy program must address data flow, data classification, critical systems and encryption.
  2. Hire a Data Privacy Officer. Designating a person to lead the charge on providing the company with best practices on how to approach data privacy is critical. This role helps employees understand where the organization’s data resides and how best to protect it with methods like encryption. Additionally, make sure this person actually has proper certifications by May 2018, and is truly qualified for the position. This role will only continue to increase in importance for companies working in the global market that must remain compliant across borders. Also, make sure you have a privacy attorney either on staff or retainer.
  3. Seek third-party validation for your organization. Any streetwise potential customer or partner will request this while you’re working out the fine print of any contract, so you may as well beat them to the punch. This will also allow for you to protect your business in the event of a breach, so that you are not held liable because of accusations you aren’t GDPR compliant. You have a couple options for obtaining such validation. You can either conduct a rigorous self-assessment, or seek an external audit firm. Most audit firms are still not trained and properly qualified to run a data protection impact assessment.
  4. Hold your partners and vendors to the same standards. While you continue on your journey to GDPR compliance, make sure you also monitor for progress with any partners or vendors your business works closely with. Tell-tale signs include the aforementioned tips — i.e. do they have a privacy program, a Data Privacy Officer and third-party validation? Another clue they are well equipped to handle GDPR regulations is they are a cardholder data environment (CDE), defined by the PCI Security Standards Council as “the people, processes and technology that store, process or transmit cardholder data or sensitive authentication data.”

Most vendors today do not have their entire data flow or infrastructure as a CDE. However, those that do have a distinct advantage as everything is already encrypted and treated as mission critical. In order to confirm this status with a partner or vendor, all you need to do is ask for a Attestation of Compliance for proof, and confirm that they are leveraging data loss prevention software in order to protect their data.
Avoid the Pitfalls

While the process of achieving GDPR compliance is a lengthy one, you still have time. In fact, it may be a bold statement for any organization to come forward at this point and claim it is GDPR compliant. Why? Because most third-party auditors are still wrapping their own heads around the process, and haven’t quite gotten to the point where they can provide validation for their clients.

If you do come across a business making this claim, don’t take the marketing language at face value. Instead, ask one simple question: “Where is their third-party validation?” Most companies will not be able to answer that simple question. In the meantime, you can get a quick evaluation of a cloud-based company’s GDPR readiness from Cloud Access Security Brokers vendors like NetSkope.

Additionally, write off any company that says it is already GDPR compliant because they have another type of certification, such as SOC 2 or HIPAA. While there may be numerous common controls, there are core differences between each that cannot be ignored.

In the coming months, diligence will be key when it comes to not only preparing your own organization for GDPR compliance, but also placing the same standards on vendors, partners and others you do business with. Just remember: breathe, take it one step at a time, and whatever you do, don’t fall for scare tactics.

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