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Letting Customers Chase Your Thieves Gets Something More Valuable Than A Nabbed Thief: A Loyal and Happy Customer

Written by Mark Rasch
November 8th, 2011

Attorney Mark D. Rasch is the former head of the U.S. Justice Department’s computer crime unit and today serves as Director of Cybersecurity and Privacy Consulting at CSC in Virginia.

Do you need help tracking down the cyberthieves who periodically attack? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. But if you set up a mechanism to let your customers try and help, you might get something much more valuable than a captured thief: lots of happy and loyal customers. Sound strange? It is. But it’s also true.

Consider this true story: About a week ago, my wife’s E-mail provider notified her that she was a baaaaad girl. Apparently she had sent out a bunch of spam in violation of the Terms of Service. Of course, it wasn’t her, and I notified the provider of this fact. Fine. End of story, right? I think not. What happened next, or more accurately what didn’t happen next, is a cautionary tale about the nature of the relationships between IT vendors and customers (like merchants) and the relationships between merchants and their customers.

It also presents an opportunity for merchants, ISPs and others to enlist the help of their customers with respect to data breaches, vulnerabilities and other incidents and to not look at them as merely passive “victims.” If you have a little faith in your customers, you can empower them to help you with inquiries and, effectively, crowdsource your data breach investigation.

Typical consumer notifications contain both bare-bones and boilerplate information about the nature and scope of the breach and response. You know: “Dear customer, We have discovered that on (insert date here) we suffered a breach which may (or may not) have compromised your (insert nature of information here). We have been cooperating with law enforcement and do not believe that your information is at risk, but we are providing the number of the three credit reporting agencies in case you feel like overreacting and panicking…” Or something like that.

In fact, on September 1, California Governor Jerry Brown signed SB24 into law which, like laws in several other states, mandates that data-breach notifications include information like the date of the breach, a general description of the breach incident (if that information is possible to determine at the time the notice is provided) and information about what has been done or what can be done to minimize harm resulting from the breach. Stuff you should be including in the breach notifications anyway.

But none of these things helps the consumer help you, except to the extent that they mitigate harm. They don’t help you find and prosecute the bad guys. And as the recipient of several of these notices, I want to find the bad guys. So do many of your customers. So why not let them help you?


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2 Comments | Read Letting Customers Chase Your Thieves Gets Something More Valuable Than A Nabbed Thief: A Loyal and Happy Customer

  1. Tom Mahoney Says:

    I absolutely agree with you. Anything less than getting your customers involved is like watching someone get beaten in front of your house while you do nothing.

    If more merchants and customers got involved, I think we’d see a less cyber-crime. As you mentioned, privacy issues and all the other excuses are tossed around and anonymity runs wild.

    Merchants, service providers, and all the others need to share information. It’s proven to make things happen. Programs like Ethoca’s FraudStop have proven it.

  2. Biff Matthews Says:

    Unfortunately, no one of importance, the merchant much less the police or card issuers and associations, are interested in pursuing these criminals. Criminals know this so they continue to operate with reckless abandon. UNTIL someone in one of those entities or who is high profile is compromised, then it’s Katie, bar the door.
    If you remember the article about how one broken window leads to another then to more vandalism and crime you see how important it is to pursue, apprehend and punish to the greatest extent possible the small time hacker you send a strong message that this activity will not be tolerated at any level, hence diminishing the overall problem. Yes it takes investing a dollar on dime issue but dime make dollars and dollars left unprotected leads to hundreds of dollars of problem.

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