Are You Doing Enough to Keep Attendee Information Safe?

Author: David McMillin       

Ticket holders for the annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival who are looking forward to spending two weekends in the California desert with some of the biggest names in music may have had their anticipation dampened by a bit of bad news from festival organizers last week. “We recently discovered that unauthorized third parties illegally gained access to the usernames, first and last names, shipping addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, and dates of birth individuals provided to Coachella,” read an email from the festival. “We have taken measures to block further unauthorized access, and reported the matter to the appropriate authorities for further investigation.”

This may not have been the first time festival-goers have received some kind of alert about their accounts being compromised. If they’ve shopped at Target, Home Depot, or a number of other retailers, they’re already accustomed to the reality of doing any kind of business online: Your information is always at risk. However, many consumers — and attendees — may not accept the risk of a data breach as the cost of doing business in the digital age. Instead, they’ll hold it against the organization responsible for leaving the door open for hackers. Cisco’s 2017 Annual Cybersecurity Report revealed that 22 percent of organizations that suffered breaches lost customers, and 23 percent indicated that they lost business opportunities. The findings make it clear that plenty of customers will hold organizations responsible if their data falls into the wrong hands.

MORE: Why Conference Organizers Should Carry Cyber Insurance

A Problem You Cannot Afford to Ignore

For event professionals, the Coachella incident is a reminder that every server with a massive amount of private data represents a potential prize for online hackers. “Hacking and stealing of data at conferences has been professionalized,” Michael Robinson, CCE, senior cyber threat analyst and a professor at Stevenson University, told attendees at the 2015 PCMA Education Conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Your attendees are targets.”

Nearly two years after Robinson’s dire warning, though, many organizations are still failing to take additional steps to shield their attendees from sophisticated hacking attempts. Why? Dollars. Thirty-five percent of respondents in the Cisco report indicated that budget was their “top constraint to adopting advance security products and solutions.”

Data security may not sound like fun priority for an organizer with a limited budget. After all, wouldn’t investing in other areas such as big keynote speakers or lavish networking receptions have a greater impact on the attendee experience? While that may be true, if attendees return home to an email notification that a malicious entity is selling their birthdate and mailing address online, it may cast a pall on those memories. The numbers show that it will create an even bigger challenge for the hacked organization’s budget: Nearly 30 percent of hacked organizations in Cisco’s report lost revenue.

Looking for advice on how to keep your attendees’ information private? Check out “How to Protect Your Meeting From a Data Hack” in Convene. For more insights on the current data security climate, download the complete Cisco report in exchange for your email address.

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