ACS: Law: A Case Study on the Value of Information Security Management

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked by CEOs is: “But what’s the real bottom-line benefit of more effective information security, or of an ISO27001-certificated Information Security Management System?”

One real benefit is the effective information security protects the bottom line. The reason you put money in a bank, is to protect it. The reason that you secure information, is to protect it – and the company that is responsible for the information. 

The recent security breach at ACS: Law has been widely reported. A law firm appears to have broken a basic law (the Data Protection Act), is now apparently under investigation by the Information Commissioner and by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and, in addition to the possibility of a fine of up to £500k, it faces unquantifiable current and future damage to its reputation, brand and future business. It’s not always clear that firms subject to this level of challenge will survive the resulting storms.

So, what might effective information security actually have cost ACS: Law? Well, a Web Application Penetration Test might have set them back £3k; implementation of an ISO27001 ISMS in a firm of this size might only have required an investment of about £10k (with another £3k or so for certification). Of course, effective information security also requires top management commitment as well as the deployment of internal time and resource – but, when you’re implementing an ISMS, you’re in control of the process. When you’re responding to a serious breach, you’re not.

Let me put it another way: an investment of about £20k, plus internal effort, might have been sufficient to prevent financial damages that could be somewhere between 10 and 100 times greater than the investment – or more. That’s the point about ‘unquantifiable damages’.

Prevention, in information security, is always better than cure.