How Secure Is Your Event Data?

March 31, 2014

Tradeshow organizers are sitting on top of a plethora of data these days. There is data being collected via registrations and housing systems, social media, surveys and mobile event apps.



The upside to this digital world and the mountain of data that comes along with it is that shows are able to really drill down into what their attendees, exhibitors and sponsors really want from an event.


The downside is that show organizers are sitting on a mountain of data and they have the responsibility of protecting that data. What can show organizers do to protect themselves from a data breach?



One worry is a breach of financial data. We’ve seen this type of breach in the news recently with Target. This is an issue for show organizers in terms of registration and housing transactions.



“Step 1 is find out if your vendors are PCI compliant. If so there’s less chance of having attendee data security issues,” said Brian Scott, CIO of Experient.



Don’t stop at just asking if your vendoris PCI compliant. Ask to see their Report On Compliance (ROC).



Scott said that when a vendor goes through the auditing process for PCI they get a report that says they either are compliant or they are not. An executive summary should be readily available and your vendor should be happy to share that with their customers.



David Mortman, chief security architect and distinguished engineer a tDell/Enstratius, Inc. suggests that PCI is only a baseline. “You also want to ask ‘what other assessments have you done and what have you used to test those?’”



An additional audit is the Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements No. 16 (SSAE 16). This is a basic audit that covers everything from how the vendor is doing patch management to how they are managing their firewalls.

“None of this is a guarantee, but what you’re looking for is, is this organization one that cares about security? Nothing is guaranteed, but the odds are in their favor,” Mortman said.



Mobile event apps are another area of concern. Recently, IOActive discovered what they called "a half-dozen security issues with the RSA Conference mobile event app."

They reported “the highest impact vulnerability had to do with the app being vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks, where an attacker could inject additional code into the login sequence and phish credentials.”



The second issue was the ability for someone to access a file that contained information of every registered user of the application–including their name, surname, title, employer and nationality.



Jay Tokosch, CEO of Core-Apps, said that if someone wants to hack into your app, he or she has all day to do it. It’s not like information stored on servers, where alarms go off when certain suspicious activities are taking place.



Tokosch said, “When our customers say, 'we want the attendee list on the mobile app', I say show me your privacy policy that says you can do that.”



Tokosch admits, “Locking down (an event app) with a password adds a level of frustration. If you want to open it up, then that’s fine but just be aware of what you’re putting on the app. Make the networking feature opt-in."



“Sit down with your mobile app providers and talk about what information you want to put in your app and the best way to protect it,” Tokosch said.



Because there are no guarantees that systems will never be breached, Mortman suggests it’s also important to ask your vendors “if and when you are breached how will you notify me, how quickly will you notify me and how will we work together to resolve this.”



But data security is not only a vendor responsibility. Show organizers concerned about data security with vendors should first ensure their own house is in order. If show organizers are storing any data on their own systems, those systems must be hardened as well.



Scott recommends organizers maintain a policy that addresses information security. Part of that policy should address how you share information with your customers and your vendors, require everyone accessing your systems to have a unique ID and require regular password changes and make sure everyone’s personal computers and laptops are up-to-date on their virus protection.


The important advice here is not to assume data security is in place. You have to ask the right questions and ask for the appropriate documentation of all your vendors. Then ensure your own systems are adequately protected. Once you’ve done all that, cross your fingers and hope the worst does not happen.

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