Questionmark is ISO 27001 certified. What this means for you?

Posted by John Kleeman

As you may have seen on our news site, Questionmark has just been certified to the Information Security standard ISO 27001.

What is ISO 27001?Chart showing probability and impact of risks, with high impact and high probability risks in red

ISO 27001 (full name ISO/IEC 27001:2013) is an international information security standard that is widely recognized as credible and authentic in validating that the certified organization has an effective management system for security.

The core of ISO 27001 is risk management. You identify in a systematic way risks to confidentiality, integrity, and availability and then assess their impact and probability. As simplistically shown in the diagram to the right, you decide what risks you can accept and how you can mitigate or otherwise deal with those that you cannot accept.

Subject to risk assessment, ISO 27001 requires you to meet over 100 controls including all the usually expected security controls. It also requires top management commitment and very specific processes to deal with issues that arise and auditing and much more.

ISO 27001 also encourages continual improvement – with all the threats out there, you have to keep making your processes and security better.

Questionmark’s ISO 27001 journey

Security has been central to Questionmark’s mission for decades. We brought out the world’s first secure browser in the 1990s, and our very first post in this blog back in 2009 was about delivering assessments safely and securely.

Last year, we decided that if we were to get external audit and validation of our security, it would both help us become more secure and help customers and other stakeholders feel more comfortable with our service. We’d been aware of 27001 for some time as the most credible security standard out there, and decided to adapt our processes and internal documentation to meet it. And we commissioned BSI, who are leaders in this field, to audit us.

The process to become certified is quite arduous. Including “internal” audits by a consultant and BSI’s audits, we have had eight days of auditing in the last few months. And these can be quite grueling – one of our audit days started with breakfast at 7 am and the auditor left the building just after 7.30pm at night! This definitely puts your people, processes, and technology through their paces. Implementing 27001 has improved Questionmark security and I’d encourage you to respect any organization who is certified as it’s a very credible process.BSI Assurance Mark Template RGB

I’m pleased to let you know that we are now certified by BSI under ISO 27001. Our certificate number is IS 668255. Our scope and certificate of applicability are wide, and we’d be pleased to share these with stakeholders under NDA.

How might it matter to purchasers of assessment services?

ISO 27001 certification gives external validation that an organization has a good quality information security management system.

Anyone can claim to be secure. Anyone can claim to follow standards. It’s hard for someone who is not a security expert to know whether an organization actually has put the effort into people, process, and technology to do the best that can be done to resist threats to confidentiality, integrity and availability.

With all the threats out there to assessment data, we believe it’s helpful to our customers to have assurance that Questionmark has been independently audited and it has been certified that our information security management system complies with ISO 27001.

How could ISO 27001 help assessment providers?

Are you looking to create and deliver secure assessments and keen to protect confidentiality, integrity, and availability?

Although using Questionmark OnDemand will help you do this, I’d encourage some blog readers to think whether it might make sense to implement ISO 27001 yourselves as an organization. That way you will ensure that all your IT and systems are securely managed. There are some work and effort involved, but it will make you as an organization more secure and less likely to suffer breaches and other failures.

I’ve just led Questionmark’s implementation of ISO 27001 and would be happy to share experiences with others in the assessment industry, please feel free to reach out to me.

Seven tips to recruit and manage SMEs for technology certification exams

imagePosted by John Kleeman

[repost from February 8, 2017]

How do you keep a certification exam up to date when the technology it is assessing is changing rapidly?

Certifications in new technologies like software-as-a-service and cloud solutions have some specific challenges. The nature of the technology usually means that questions often require very specialist knowledge to author. And because knowledge of the new technology is in short supply, subject matter experts (SMEs) who are able to author and review new items will be in high demand within the organization for other purposes.

Cloud technological offerings also change rapidly. It used to be that new technology releases came out every year or two, and if you were writing certification exams or other assessments to test knowledge and skill in them, you had plenty of notice and could plan an update cycle. But nowadays most technology organizations adopt an agile approach to development with the motto “release early, release often”. The use of cloud technology makes frequent, evolutionary releases – often monthly or quarterly – normal.

So how can you keep an exam valid and reliable if the content you are assessing is changing rapidly?

Here are seven tips that could help – a few inspired by an excellent presentation by Cisco and Microsoft at the European Association of Test Publishers conference.

  1. Try to obtain item writing SMEs from product development. They will know what is coming and what is changing and will be in a good position to write accurate questions. 
  2. Also network for SMEs outside the organization – at technology conferences, via partners and resellers, on social media and/or via an online form on your certification website. A good source of SMEs will be existing certified people.
  3. Incentivize SMEs – what will work best for you will depend on your organization, but you can consider free re-certifications, vouchers, discounts off conferences, books and other incentives. Remember also that for many people working in technology, recognition and appreciation are as important as financial incentives. Appreciate and recognize your SMEs. For internal SMEs, send thank you letters to their managers to appreciate their effort.
  4. Focus your exam on underlying key knowledge and skills that are not going to become obsolete quickly. Work with your experts to avoid items that are likely to become obsolete and seek to test on fundamental concepts, not version specific features.
  5. When working with item writers, don’t be frightened to develop questions based on beta or planned functionality, but always do a check before questions go live in case the planned functionality hasn’t been released yet.
  6. Analyze, create, deliverSince your item writers will likely be geographically spread and will be busy and tech-literate, use a good collaborative tool for item writing and item banking that allows easy online review and tracking of changes. (See https://www.questionmark.com/content/distributed-authoring-and-item-management for information on Questionmark’s authoring solution.)
  7. In technology as in other areas, confidentiality and exam security are crucial to ensure the integrity of the exam. You should have a formal agreement with internal and external SMEs who author or review questions to remind them not to pass the questions to others. Ensure that your HR or legal department are involved in the drafting of these so that they are enforceable.

Certification of new technologies helps adoption and deployment and contributes to all stakeholders success. I hope these tips help you improve your assessment program.

GDPR is coming. Are you ready?

Posted by Julie Delazyn

Don’t get left behind as the most important change in data privacy takes effect May 2018. The new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) intends to strengthen and unify privacy and data protection and any organization that stores or manages data about Europeans will need to comply.

With eye-watering regulatory fines of up to €20 million or 4% of global annual turnover (whichever is greater), a credible compliance strategy is essential.

Join us for a FREE 45 minute Webinar July 26, 2017, to understand how online assessments can help you meet your GDPR challenges.

The webinar will cover:

  • What the GDPR is and who it impacts
  • Why you should care about GDPR compliance
  • How to overcome the challenges presented by GDPR — including the learning curve for your employees
  • How assessment can help mitigate GDPR risks and aid your compliance strategy
  • Considerations for implementing assessment management software to aid in compliance

We look forward to speaking to you at the webinar!

Can you be GDPR compliant without testing your employees?

Posted by John Kleeman

The GDPR is a new extra-territorial, data protection law which imposes obligations on anyone who processes personal data on European residents. It impacts companies with employees in Europe, awarding bodies and test publishers who test candidates in Europe, universities and colleges with students in Europe and many others. Many North American and other non-European organizations will need to comply.

See my earlier post How to use assessments for GDPR compliance for an introduction to GDPR. The question this blog post addresses is whether it’s practical for a large organization to be compliant with the GDPR without giving tests and assessments to their employees?

I’d argue that for most organizations with 100s or 1000s of employees, you will need to test your employees on your policies and procedures for data protection and the GDPR. Putting it simply, if you don’t and your people make mistakes, fines are likely to be higher.

Here are four things the GDPR law says (I’ve paraphrased the language and linked to the full text for those interested):


1. Organizations must take steps to ensure that everyone who works for them only processes personal data based on proper instructions. (Article 32.4)

2. Organizations must conduct awareness-raising and training of staff who process personal data (Article 39.1). This is extended to include “monitoring training” for some organizations in Article 47.2.

3. Organizations must put in place risk-based security measures to ensure confidentiality and integrity and must regularly test, assess and evaluate the effectiveness of these measures. (Article 32.1)

4. If you don’t follow the rules, you could be fined up to 20 million Euros or 4% of turnover. How well you’ve implemented the measures in article 32 (i.e. including those above) will impact how big these fines might be. (Article 83.2d)


So let’s join up the dots.

Firstly, a large company has to ensure that everyone who works for it only processes data based on proper instructions. Since the nature of personal data, processing and instructions each have particular meanings, this needs training to help people understand. You could just train and not test, but given that the concepts are not simple, it would seem sensible to test or otherwise check their understanding.

A company is required to train its employees under Article 39. But the requirement in Article 32 is for most companies stronger. For most large organizations the risk of employees making mistakes and the risk of insider threat to confidentiality and integrity is considerable. So you have to put in place training and other security measures to reduce this risk. Given that you have to regularly assess and evaluate the effectiveness of these measures, it seems hard to envisage an efficient way of doing this without testing your personnel. Delivering regular online tests or quizzes to your employees is the obvious way to check that training has been effective and your people know, understand and can apply your processes and procedures.

Lastly, imagine your company makes a mistake and one of your employees causes a breach of personal data or commits another infraction under the GDPR? How are you going to show that you took all the steps you could to minimize the risk? An obvious question is whether you did your best to train that employee in good practice and in your processes and procedures? If you didn’t train, it’s hard to argue that you took the proper steps to be compliant. But even if you trained, a regulator will ask you how you are evaluating the effectiveness of your training. As a regulator in another context has stated:

“”where staff understanding has not been tested, it is hard for firms to judge how well the relevant training has been absorbed”

So yes, you can imagine a way in which a large company might manage to be compliant with the GDPR without testing employees. There are other ways of checking understanding, for example 1:1 interviews, but they are very time consuming and hard to roll out in time for May 2018. Or you may be lucky and have personnel who don’t make mistakes! But for most of us, testing our employees on knowledge of our processes and procedures under the GDPR will be wise.

Questionmark OnDemand is a trustable, easy to use and easy to deploy system for creating and delivering compliance tests and assessments to your personnel. For more information on using assessments to help ensure GDPR compliance visit this page of our website or register for our upcoming webinar on 29 June.

How to use assessments for GDPR compliance

Posted by John Kleeman

In about a year’s time, on 25 May 2018, a major new European law, the GDPR, comes into effect. It will update current laws and set new requirements for handling personal data. The GDPR will replace country-specific current data protection laws and will impact any organization anywhere in the world that stores or manages data about people who live or work in Europe. With implementation of the GDPR just a year away, organisations need to prepare themselves now to implement it.

This post explains how an online assessment management system like Questionmark can help your organization comply with the GDPR. We also invite you to a free webinar where you can learn more about how assessments can help you comply.

What will be the fines for failing to comply with the GDPR?

European regulators are suggesting that those who don’t comply will face large fines. The law itself says that fines can be up to €20 million or 4 percent of turnover (whichever is more). The Irish data commissioner has said that there will be no leeway or grace period, and that noncompliant firms will be heavily fined — this under a data protection regime generally considered to be more business-friendly than those in some other countries. Some European regulators are also preparing the ground by issuing high fines under existing data protection regulations. For example, the Italian Data Protection Authority has just issued an €11 million fine.

What is the learning challenge for GDPR?

The GDPR has specific requirements for training personnel and for monitoring the effectiveness of the training. In addition, most companies will be incentivized to train their employees to ensure that personnel understand the GDPR and their own company policies/procedures – since failing to follow the rules will make companies liable for fines.

The GDPR legislation is 88 pages long and the rules are complex. Within most companies, many different departments will be responsible for handling and processing data: HR, IT, sales and marketing, technology and product development and more. All these departments will need to climb the learning curve to know and understand how the GDPR applies to them.

Thus, a key part of the compliance challenge for GDPR will be ensuring that your personnel learn and understand the rules.

How assessments can help

An assessment management system like Questionmark’s lets you:

  • Create quizzes, tests and exams on the GDPR’s or your company’s policies and procedures
  • Deliver them to personnel at home, work or on mobile devices
  • Analyze the results to help you find weaknesses or potential problems
  • Store the results as trustable evidence that your people understand

Trustable, online assessments can help in many ways with GDPR compliance.  They are the best way to help ensure your employees understand the rules and to reduce the likelihood of mistakes that lead to fines. Assessments are also the best way of providing evidence that you did train your personnel well. This evidence could mitigate the amount of a fine, in the event of a privacy misstep.

Questionmark’s webinar

To help you understand more about how online assessments can help you meet your GDPR challenge, we invite you to a webinar presented by myself and Questionmark’s UK Marketing Manager, Chloe Mendonca on Thursday 29th June, 2017.

The webinar will cover:

  • What the GDPR is and who it impacts
  • Why you should care about GDPR compliance
  • How to overcome the challenges presented by GDPR — including the learning curve for your employees
  • How assessment can help mitigate GDPR risks and aid your compliance strategy
  • Considerations for implementing assessment management software to aid in compliance

We look forward to speaking to you at the webinar. Click here to register.

GDPR Webinar Image

 

The Power of Open: Questionmark’s open assessment platform

Posted by Steve Lay

In the beginning there was CVS, then there was SVN and now there’s Git.  What am I talking about?  These are all source code control systems, systems that are used to store computer source code in a way that preserves the complete version history and provides a full audit trail covering the who, what, when and why changes were made.

When we think of open source software we tend to think of the end product: a freely downloadable program that you can run on your computer or even a complete computer operating system in the case of Linux.  But to open source developers, open source is about more than this ‘free beer’ model of sharing software.  Open source software is shared at the source code level allowing people to examine the way it works, suggest changes to fix bugs, enhance it or even to modify it for their own purposes.  Getting the most from sharing source code requires more than just sharing an executable or a zip file of the finished product, open source developers need to open up their source code control systems too.

For years there have been services that provide a cloud-based alternative to  hosting your own source code.  The SourceForge system enjoyed many years of dominance but more recently it’s advertising sponsored model has seen it fall out of favour.

Most new projects are now created on a service called GitHub, which promises  free hosting of open source projects on a service funded by paying customers who are developing projects privately on the same platform.  The success of GitHub has been phenomenal – Google closed down its own rival service (Google Code) largely because of GitHub’s success.  In fact, GitHub is rapidly becoming a ‘unicorn’ with all the associated growing pains.  GitHub makes it easy to collaborate on projects too with its issue tracking system and user friendly tools for proposing changes (known as ‘pull requests’).

With GitHub as the de facto place to publish and share source code, it makes sense for Questionmark to use it to complement our Open Assessment Platform.  We have published source code illustrating how to use our APIs for many years and even publish the complete source to some of our connectors.  Putting new projects on GitHub means providing sample code in the most transparent and developer-friendly way possible.

Questionmark’s GitHub page lists all the projects we own.  For example, when we first brought out our OData APIs we published the sample reportlet code in the OData Reportlet Samples project.  You can experiment with these same examples running live in our website’s developer pages.

Recently we’ve gone a step further in opening up our assessment platform.  We’ve started publishing our API documentation via GitHub too!  Using a new feature of the GitHub platform we’re able to publish the documentation directly from the source control system itself.  That means you always get access to the latest documentation.

Opening up our API documentation in this way makes it easier for developers to engage with our platform.  Why not check out the documentation project.  If you’re already a GitHub user you could ‘watch’ it to get notified when we make changes.  You can even submit issues or send us ‘pull requests’ if you have suggestions for improvement.

With GitHub as the de facto place to publish and share source code, it makes sense for Questionmark to use it to complement our Open Assessment Platform.  We have published source code illustrating how to use our APIs for many years and even publish the complete source to some of our connectors.  Publishing this source code helps our customers and partners by providing working examples of how to integrate with our platform as well as providing complete transparency for our connectors allowing customers to audit the code before they run it on their own systems.  Putting new projects on GitHub means providing sample code in the most transparent and developer-friendly way possible.

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