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Customers at risk as data used in application testing

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More than two-thirds of companies use actual customer data when testing their new applications – potentially exposing those customers to security breaches or identity theft. 

A survey conducted by Compuware and the Ponemon Institute showed an overwhelming majority of organisations surveyed risk compromising critical information by using actual customer data for the development and testing of applications.
The Test Data Insecurity: The Unseen Crisis report found that 64% of European companies surveyed use actual customer data instead of disguised data to test applications during the development process. Of those companies using actual customer data, 63% use customer files and 45% use customer lists.
Examples of the live data often used include employee records, vendor records, customer account numbers, credit card numbers, Social Security numbers and other credit, debit or payment information.
While organisations may think that test data is immune from privacy threats because testing occurs in a non-production environment, these environments are less secure than production environments. Testing data may be exposed to a variety of unauthorised sources including in-house testing staff, consultants, partners and offshore personnel. In fact, 42% of respondents outsourced their application testing, and 60% of those respondents shared live data with the outsourced organisation.
“For many organizations, large customer data files represent an easy, cheap source of data to use when testing applications, but this process introduces a huge element of risk to the challenge of maintaining the integrity of sensitive information, particularly when third parties and offshore resources are involved,” says Dr Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of the Ponemon Institute.
“This study points to a need for greater awareness and accountability over how sensitive data is used within organisations. Common practices as they relate to all uses of live data must be evaluated to assess risk, and safeguards implemented to ensure data security.”
The Test Data Insecurity: The Unseen Crisis report also found that half of the companies using actual customer data for testing purposes do not take steps to protect that information. Other significant findings included:
* 35% of respondents have no way of knowing if the data used in testing had been compromised;
* 17% of respondents reported they do not protect live data used in software development;
* 45% of respondents said that live data that was used in their organisation for testing or development had been lost or stolen; and
* 7% of respondents said they did not know who was responsible for securing test data, 25% believed the development organisation was responsible and 21% said the business units sponsoring the development was responsible, suggesting no clear ownership for sensitive test data.
“Few people realize how much is at risk during the development and testing of applications,” says John Williams, senior vice-president: Product Solutions at Compuware. “All commercial organisations – not just health care and financial institutions – have an obligation to protect the privacy of consumer data."