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How to use color coding to maintain privacy and information security

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In a four-part blog series, we have been exploring the many uses and benefits of color coding, including reducing operational downtime and lowering compliance risk. In our final post, we show how color coding can be used to help organizations limit unwanted access to files and preserve the privacy and confidentiality of sensitive records.

In our previous post, we showed how color coding can help you maintain legal compliance through improved practices for records retention and disposition. However, on the road to compliance, these measures only take you part of the way. More is needed, especially when it comes to privacy and information security. Once again, color coding comes to our aid, helping us maintain compliance by safeguarding against various forms of privacy breaches.

Three privacy issues you can prevent with color coding

To illustrate the privacy benefits of color coding, we’ll consider three potential issues: malicious file access, unneeded sharing of sensitive information and breaches of anonymity.

Malicious file access: Keeping records out of the wrong hands requires multiple security measures. Color coding does its part by making it much more difficult for unauthorized parties to locate sensitive information about a co-worker, relative or business rival. In traditional filing systems, files are often labeled and stored based on the name of the person or company. For potential information thieves, this makes them easy to scan and locate. A better alternative is a numerical indexing system supported by color coded labels. In this case, the organization provides authorized staff with the “master index” of numbers and their corresponding names. Without this index, thieves won’t be able to tell which file belongs to which person or company.

Unneeded sharing of information: In our second post in the series, we talked about how color coding prevents misfiles and the consequent loss of productivity. However, there are other potentially serious consequences of misfiles. For example, when an individual’s personal information ends up in someone else’s file, or their file ends up in the wrong location, there is an increased likelihood that staff will access and view that information in error. Or consider the search for a missing record. In those cases, staff will have to pore through multiple files in order to locate the missing item. This unnecessary access to personal information is a compliance risk, and the more information an employee accesses, the greater the risk that they may use or disclose it illegally. By preventing misfiles, color coding keeps this unneeded access to a minimum.

Anonymity breaches: Forget about the contents of the file – the mere fact that a file exists can pose a privacy and confidentiality issue. Consider the case of a health clinic. By labeling files with patient names, it exposes client identities to your entire staff and possibly even to visitors in your waiting room. Depending on the type of clinic, this means you could be exposing details about a patient’s diagnosis or treatment without anyone even opening the file. Other examples of this issue include legal files or those relating to business deals such as mergers and acquisitions. The simple presence of a name on a file can reveal details about the parties to an upcoming deal, which can lead to all kinds of issues like failed deals, insider trading and more. Again, by using a numerical indexing system supported by color coding, you can avoid revealing anything about the file on the label itself.

As we have seen with all the examples so far, color coding is a relatively straightforward fix, but the benefits address some of the most challenging issues facing organizations today. Not bad for a bit of color!

Next Steps

  • Discover more techniques and benefits of color coding in our free white paper.
  • TAB offers multiple products to help you put color coding to use in your organization. Learn more.
  • If you need help designing and implementing a system of color coding, talk to one of our experts.

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