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6 steps for GDPR compliance

Dec 04, 20174 mins
Data and Information SecurityGovernmentRegulation

GDPR law applies to all companies that collect and process data belonging to European Union (EU) citizens. You have every reason to fear it because failure to comply will be costly.

Unicorn GDPR IDC
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The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is in the news these days — for good reason. This sweeping new law applies to all companies that collect and process data belonging to European Union (EU) citizens, even if this is done outside of the EU. This includes companies with operations in the EU and/or a web site or app that collects and processes EU citizen data. 

Key areas of the legislation cover privacy rights, data security, data control, and governance. The good news is the law will be pretty much identical in all 28 EU member states, meaning they only have to comply with one standard. However, the bar is set high and wide — forcing most companies to invest considerable resources to becoming compliant.

Failure to comply with GDPR could result in a hefty fine. If a company is found guilty of a breach that compromises an EU citizen’s data, the penalty could be up to 20 million euros or four percent of an enterprise’s worldwide revenue, whichever is larger! Putting that in perspective: a large enterprise could be fined hundreds of millions of euros for a single breach.

In addition, two pain points are conspicuous: a requirement to notify EU authorities within 72 hours of a breach, and another to prove your company’s security approach is state-of-the-art.

What’s mandated by GDPR

Since all of the GDPR requirements have not been finalized, some organizations have adopted a ‘wait-and-see’ approach. Let’s consider the new obligations being introduced by this regulation:

Data control

To preserve subjects’ privacy, organizations must:

  • Only process data for authorized purposes
  • Ensure data accuracy and integrity
  • Minimize the exposure of subject identities, and
  • Implement data security measures.

Data security

Data security goes hand-in-hand with data control. GDPR puts security at the service of privacy. To preserve subjects’ privacy, organizations must implement:

  • Safeguards to keep data for additional processing
  • Data protection measures, by default
  • Security as a contractual requirement, based on risk assessment, and encryption

Right to erasure

Subject data cannot be kept indefinitely. GDPR requires organizations to completely erase data from all repositories when:

  • Data subjects revoke their consent
  • A partner organization requests data deletion, or
  • A service or agreement comes to an end

It is worth noting, however, that subjects do not enjoy a carte blanche right for their data to be erased. If there are legal reasons — specified in the regulation — an organization can retain and process a subject’s data. Exceptions are few, however.

Risk mitigation and due diligence

Organizations must assess the risks to privacy and security, and demonstrate that they’re mitigating them. This requires they:

  • Conduct a full risk assessment
  • Implement measures to ensure and demonstrate compliance
  • Proactively help third-party customers and partners to comply, and
  • Prove full data control

Breach notification

When a security breach threatens the rights and privacy of a data subject or subjects, organizations must:

  • Notify authorities within 72 hours
  • Describe the consequences of the breach, and
  • Communicate the breach directly to all affected subjects

 6 steps to GDPR compliance

To prepare for GDPR, organizations can use this six step process:

1. Understand the law

Know your obligations under GDPR as it relates to collecting, processing, and storing data, including the legislation’s many special categories.

2. Create a road map

Perform data discovery and document everything — research, findings, decisions, actions and the risks to data.

3. Know which data is regulated

First, determine if data falls under a GDPR special category. Then, classify who has access to different types of data, who shares the data, and what applications process that data.

4. Begin with critical data and procedures

Assess the risks to all private data, and review policies and procedures. Apply security measures to production data containing core assets, and then extend those measures to back-ups and other repositories.

5. Assess and document other risks

Investigate any other risks to data not included in previous assessments.

6. Revise and repeat

Repeat steps four to six, and adjust findings where necessary.

For CSOs, GDPR provides a good opportunity to upgrade the organization’s security capabilities to both meet the regulation’s requirements and improve overall security vis-a-vis data confidentiality and privacy.


Leslie K. Lambert, CISSP, CISM, CISA, CRISC, CIPP/US/G, former CISO for Juniper Networks and Sun Microsystems, has over 30 years of experience in information security, IT risk and compliance, security policies, standards and procedures, incident management, intrusion detection, security awareness and threat vulnerability assessments and mitigation. She received CSO Magazine’s 2010 Compass Award for security leadership and was named one of Computerworld’s Premier 100 IT Leaders in 2009. An Anita Borg Institute Ambassador since 2006, Leslie has mentored women across the world in technology. Leslie has also served on the board of the Bay Area CSO Council since 2005. Lambert holds an MBA in Finance and Marketing from Santa Clara University and an MA and BA in Experimental Psychology.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Leslie K. Lambert and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.