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.

How online assessments (quizzes, tests and exams) can help information security awareness and compliance

Posted by John Kleeman

With the rise of data security leakages, most professional organizations are seeking to significantly upscale their cybersecurity to better protect their organization from information security risks. I see an increasing use of online assessments helping information security and thought I’d provide some pointers about this.

There are three main ways in which online quizzes, tests, exams and surveys can aid information security:

  • Testing personnel to check understanding of security awareness and security policies
  • Ensuring and documenting that personnel in security roles are competent
  • Helping measure success against security objectivesNIST logo

Testing on security awareness and knowledge of policies

A cornerstone of good practice in security is training in security awareness. For example, the widely respected NIST 800-53 publication recommends that organizations provide general-purpose and role-based training to personnel as part of initial training and periodically thereafter. If you follow NIST standards, NIST control AT-4 also requires that all security training be documented and records retained.

There is widespread evidence that delivering an assessment is the best way of documenting that training took place, because it doesn’t just document attendance but also understanding of the training. For more explanation, see the Questionmark blog post Proving compliance – not just attendance. The only point of security awareness training is to have the training be understood, so testing to confirm understanding is widespread and sensible.

At Questionmark, we practice what we preach! All our employees have to take a test on data security when they join to check they understand our policies; all employees must also take and pass an updated test each year to ensure they continue to understand.

Ensure that people in security roles are competent

iso 27001The international security standard ISO 27001:2013 requires that an organization determine the necessary competence of personnel affecting information security performance. The organization must also ensures that personnel have such competence and retain evidence of this.

In a large organization with many different security roles, developing and using competence tests for each information security-related role is a good way of measuring and showing competence.  Knowing who is competent in which aspect of security and data protection matters: it ensures that  you are covering appropriate risks with appropriate people. Online testing is an effective way of measuring competence and makes it easy to update competence records by giving periodic tests every six months or annually.

Helping measure information security objectives

PCI logoISO 27001 also requires setting up metrics to measure information security objectives. Results from assessments can be a good metric to use.  Other standards say similar things. For example, the PCI standard widely used for credit card security says in its best practice guide:

“Metrics can be an effective tool to measure the success of a security awareness program, and can also provide valuable information to keep the security awareness program up-to-date and effective”

The PCI guide recognizes that good metrics include “feedback from personnel; quizzes and training assessments”. In my experience, as well as using quizzes and tests to measure knowledge, it also makes sense to use online surveys to assess actual practice by employees and to allow reporting of security concerns.

Testing on information security and data protection is an increasing use case for Questionmark’s trustable SaaS assessment management system, Questionmark OnDemand.  Whichever security standard you are following (ISO 27001, NIST, PCI or one of several others), creating online assessments tailored to measure knowledge of your organization’s policies and procedures using an assessment management system like Questionmark’s can make a useful difference.

Questionmark OnDemand Assessment Management System now HIPAA-compliant

Jamie ArmstrongPosted by Jamie Armstrong

Questionmark recently began offering US OnDemand Service customers the option of entering into an additional agreement for compliance with HIPAA (the US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).

I’d like to provide some brief information on this exciting new development, particularly for those not familiar with what HIPAA is or involves. You can easily find additional information and resources on the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website.

What is HIPAA and what kind of information or data does it cover?
HIPAA is a US federal law that in very general terms regulates access to and handling of “protected health information” (“PHI”) and provides individuals with important rights regarding their health information. PHI includes these categories of information:

  • health information collected from a person;
  • information relating to health conditions or health care provision created or received by an organization such as a health care provider, and;
  • information that either identifies or can reasonably be used to identify an individual.

For example, data gathered or used as part of an assessment using Questionmark OnDemand that relates to past, present or future health or condition may be PHI under HIPAA.

What types of organizations are subject to HIPAA requirements?
HIPAA applies to two main categories of organization having access to PHI. These are known as “covered entities” and “business associates.” A Questionmark customer that is a health plan or health care provider, e.g. a hospital, clinic or health insurance company,  may be a covered entity for HIPAA. Business associates include organizations receiving or maintaining PHI on behalf of a covered entity for functions such as data processing or administration (among other things). Questionmark may be a business associate in providing the OnDemand Service to customers that are either covered entities or business associates performing services for their own covered-entity clients.

What does HIPAA require?
HIPAA requires that covered entities and business associates meet various security, breach notification and privacy requirements. They must meet the requirements applicable to them internally and also have contracts with any third parties that may have access to PHI. This ensures  that these third parties are subject to the same restrictions and conditions. Before offering OnDemand Service customers the option of entering into a HIPAA business associate agreement, Questionmark completed a security and legal review to ensure compliance with relevant HIPAA requirements.

We are interested in obtaining HIPAA-compliant OnDemand Services.  How do we sign a HIPAA business associate agreement with Questionmark?
You can find our HIPAA business associate agreement here. If you’d like to learn more please contact your account manager. Questionmark is committed to safeguarding PHI in accordance with the HIPAA standards and looks forward to discussing your HIPAA compliance requirements.

Important disclaimer: This blog is provided for general information and interest purposes only, is non-exhaustive and does not constitute legal advice. As such, the contents of this blog should not be relied on for any particular purpose and you should seek the advice of your own legal counsel in considering HIPAA requirements.

Seven tips to recruit and manage SMEs for technology certification exams

imagePosted by John Kleeman

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 recent 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 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 programme.

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