Guidance for micro enterprises

Personal Data Security Guidance for Microenterprises under the GDPR

The General Data Protection Regulation (“the GDPR”) significantly increases the obligations and responsibilities of organisations and businesses with regard to how they collect, use and protect personal data.

At the heart of the new law is the requirement for organisations and businesses to be transparent about how they are obtaining, using and safeguarding personal data. This transparency requirement is outlined under article 12 of the GDPR and encompasses the provision of clear, concise information to data subjects and the facilitation of data subjects’ rights.

Additionally the principle of accountability, which is outlined under article 5 of the GDPR, will see organisations and businesses esponsible for demonstrating their compliance with the new law’s principles relating to the processing of personal data.

The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (“the DPC”) has developed this guidance to assist microenterprises implement the appropriate technical and organisational security measures to safeguard personal data they are processing.

A microenterprise is defined as an organisation having fewer than 10 employees and an annual turnover (the amount of money taken in a particular period) or balance sheet (a statement of a company's assets and liabilities) below €2 million.

If your company is a microenterprise engaged in the processing of personal data, as either a data controller or a data processor, you will be subject to the provisions of the new law. A data controller is defined under article 4 of the GDPR as a natural or legal person that determines, alone or jointly with others, the purposes and means of the processing of personal data. The same article defines a data processor as a natural or legal person that processes personal data on a data controller’s behalf.

The GDPR is applicable to the processing of personal data by microenterprises established in and operating outside the European Union (“the EU”). If your company is established in the EU, the provisions of the GDPR are applicable to your processing of personal data in the context of the activities of your EU establishment(s).

If your company is not established in the EU, the new law is applicable to your processing of the personal data of individuals in the EU with regard to the offering of goods or services (regardless of whether payment is involved) and to the monitoring of an individual’s behaviour (in so far as that behaviour takes place within the EU).

The DPC has outlined four key ways to assist microenterprises in securing their Information and Communications Technology (“ICT”) systems under the GDPR.

Know your data

Microenterprises should regularly review the personal data they process and determine what personal data and, in particular, what special categories of personal data they hold.

'Personal data' is defined under article 4 of the GDPR as any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (a “data subject”). An identifiable natural person is one who can be identified, directly or indirectly, in particular by reference to an identifier such as a name, an identification number, location data, an online identifier or to one or more factors specific to the physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural or social identity of that natural person.

Article 9 of the GDPR defines ‘special categories of personal data’, as data relating to an individual’s racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership, genetic data, biometric data, data concerning health, and data concerning sex life or sexual orientation.

Principles you must adhere to with regard to the processing of personal data are outlined in article 5 of the GDPR. When considering your company’s processing, questions to be asked include whether you are processing personal data:

  • according to the principles of lawfulness, fairness, and transparency;
  • for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes;
  • with a view to data minimisation;
  • with a view to ensuring accuracy and, where necessary, that data is kept up to date;
  • such that data are kept in a form which permits identification of data subjects for no longer than is necessary for the purposes of processing; and
  • in a manner that ensures appropriate security of the personal data.

If you outsource the processing of personal data to a data processor (including, for example, to a 'cloud computing' service provider), you should be able to confirm that:

  • the processing is compliant with Article 28 of the GDPR;
  • the processor’s security procedures are adequate; and
  • you have sought and been given assurances regarding the appropriate security measures from the processor.

Determine the Appropriate Level of ICT Security

Article 32 of the GDPR obliges data controllers and data processors to implement the technical and organisational measures necessary to ensure an appropriate level of security in relation to the risks presented by processing. In considering what constitutes an appropriate level of security, you should take into account.

  1. "The state of the art";
  2. "The cost of implementing and the nature of the scope";
  3. "The context and purposes of processing”; and
  4. “The risk of varying likelihood and severity for the rights and freedoms of natural persons".

The DPC has published best practice Data Security Guidance regarding the security of ICT systems. Additional information is also available from organisations such as the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security , and the US-based National Institute of Standards and Technology>super>

Security measures predominately fall under the following headings:

Technical security

Technical security measures protect ICT systems by ensuring that appropriate technology is implemented to secure personal data processing.

Examples of practical technical security measures are:

  • ensuring that all computing devices such as PCs, mobile phones, and tablets are using an up-to-date operating system;
  • ensuring all computing devices are regularly updated with manufacturer’s software and security patches;
  • using antivirus software on all devices;
  • implementing a strong firewall;
  • reviewing vendor supplied software and updating default system, administrator, and root passwords and other security parameters to ensure defaults are not left in place;
  • ensuring data backups are taken and are stored securely in a separate location;
  • ensuring that data backups are periodically reviewed and tested to ensure they are functioning correctly;
  • ensuring that data is collected & stored securely;
  • ensuring that mobile devices (such as laptops and mobile phones and tablets) are encrypted;
  • ensuring that two-factor authentication is enabled for remote access;
  • ensuring that websites have TLS (transport layer security) in place to securely collect personal data via webforms (such as for newsletter subscriptions) or on e-commerce websites.

4European Union Agency for Network and Information Security

5National Institute of Standards and Technology

Physical security

Physical ICT security measures assist organisations with the protection of ICT systems such as facilities, equipment, personnel, resources, and other properties. Examples of ICT equipment that may require protection includes any device which can store information electronically, such as:

The level of protection that should be applied to ICT equipment is based on the business impact level that may result from data being compromised, loss of integrity, or unavailability of the electronic information held on the device, this would also include the loss or unavailability of the device due to a failure.

Examples of practical physical security measures are:

Organisations should also assess the risk arising when devices cannot be secured when not in use. Where an organisation has determined the business impact of the data compromise, loss of integrity or unavailability regarding a device, which is not in use, organisations should ensure that such devices are stored securely.

The DPC also recommends that microenterprises design and implement an asset control policy for ICT equipment. This would include:

Organisational security

Organisational security measures protect ICT systems by ensuring that policies, procedures, training, and audit trail functions are in place.

These measures are mostly documentary in nature, however such policies need not be time consuming nor overly complicated to implement. Any documentation should be written in clear, concise, language, should list the rules that apply to the processing of personal data, and should be readily accessible to employees. Such documentation should be reviewed periodically to ensure that it is accurate and up-to-date.

Examples of practical organisational security measures consist of:

Data Collection and Retention Policies

If your organisation will be holding personal data for longer periods, you should be aware of your obligations under Article 5(1)(e) as both a data controller and a data processor with regard to data retention.

The essence of the storage limitation principle under the GDPR is slightly different to the existing principle under the Data Protection Directive. In summary, personal data should not be retained in identifiable form for longer than is necessary in relation to the purposes for which such data is processed. A pragmatic approach to retention is simply to delete the data once the purpose for which it was processed has ceased.

Data collection and retention should be assessed against business needs and minimised, either by not collecting unnecessary data, by deleting data, or by rendering it anonymous. Microenterprises should:

These policies should be communicated to all employees and periodic reviews should be conducted to ensure that personal data is handled correctly when it is no longer needed for the purposes for which it was collected.

With regard to retention policies, if you intend to further process personal data for the purposes of archiving, scientific or historical research, or statistical purposes, you should ensure appropriate safeguards are in place to ensure the rights and this processing does not impede freedoms of data subjects.

In particular, these safeguards should ensure that technical and organisational measures are in place to ensure respect for the principle of data minimisation.

A documented retention policy should offer guidance and provide a framework for employees to manage information across its lifecycle so that your company complies with the laws and regulations pertaining to data management. A retention policy should apply to both physical and digital formats.

Utilising Data Processors

Microenterprises, due to a lack of in-house expertise, may rely on third party data processors to process personal data on their behalf, such as e-commerce websites, cloud services such as email or online data backup solutions. Microenterprises should:

A practical way for a microenterprise to obtain sufficient guarantees and ensure compliance is to:

Guidance on securing cloud based environments can be found here (create link and make all the text below something that we link out to).


Cloud-Based environments offer many advantages to organisations. However, they also introduce a number of technical security risks which organisations should be aware of such as:

Organisations should determine and implement a documented policy and apply the appropriate technical security and organisational measures to secure their Cloud-Based environments. If organisations do not implement such controls, they may increase their risk of a personal data breach.

Organisations should apply technical security and organisational security measures in a layered manner consisting of but not limited to:

A layered approach to Cloud-Based security mitigates the risk of a single security measure failing which may result in a personal data breach.

Many Cloud-Based providers, such as Microsoft’s Office 365 and Google’s G-suite provide advanced settings and solutions which can assist organisations to appropriately secure their use of Cloud-Based services. These providers, in most cases, also offer best practice guidance to assist organisations in securing their Cloud-Based environments.

Additional information, advice, and best practice regarding security of Cloud-Based environments is also provided by agencies such as the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (“ENISA”), and the US-based National Institute of Standards and Technology (“NIST”)

The DPC has listed five key ways organisations can secure their Cloud-Based environments to mitigate their risk of a personal data breach.

  • Organisations should implement strong password polices to ensure that users accessing personal data within Cloud-Based environments do so in a secure manner.
  • Organisations should implement two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication is an effective way to further enhance Cloud-Based security and is available from most Cloud-Based providers.
  • Organisations should be aware of and document user access privileges within their Cloud-Based environments. User access control is particularly important where group mailboxes or shared folders are utilised. Organisations should also document each user’s specific access requirements and ensure that these are supported by an appropriate change control process.
  • Security measures applied by an organisation must be supported by regular reviews of user access to ensure that all authorised access to personal data is strictly necessary and justifiable for the performance of a specific function.
  • Organisations should not rely on Cloud-Based service providers’ default security settings. Organisations should review the Cloud-Based security features available from the Cloud-Based service provider to ensure that they are applied appropriately and in a layered manner. Examples of security settings and controls provided by Cloud-Based service providers often include:
  • Centralised administration tools
  • Mobile device management
  • Multifactor authentication
  • Login alerts
  • Encryption during message send and receive
  • Encryption of message content
  • Account activity monitoring and alerts
  • Data loss prevention
  • Malware protection
  • Spam and spoofing protection
  • Phishing protection
  • Organisations should also be aware that Cloud-Based services might be publically accessible and organisations should review and implement the appropriate security settings to secure remote access.

Seek assurances from your ICT service provider

  • Organisations may utilise external ICT services providers to implement their Cloud-Based environments. It is vital during such engagements that organisations seek formal assurances from their ICT service provider that the security controls which have been implemented meet an organisation’s specific security requirements and protect the organisation’s personal data.
  • Organisations should proactively engage and conduct regular security reviews with their ICT service providers to ensure the security controls in place are up-to-date and are effective to protect the organisation in an evolving threat landscape.

Clear Policies and staff training.

  • Organisations should ensure that staff receive appropriate training on social engineering attacks, phishing attacks and security threat practices. Such training should be supported by refresher training/awareness programmes to mitigate the risk posed by an evolving threat landscape.
  • Organisations should have clear policies in place with respect to the usage and security of Cloud-Based services, especially where these services are being accessed outside of the organisation corporate network under Bring Your Own Device (“BYOD”) policies.
  • Organisations should have clear “employee leaver” and “succession” policies in place and these should be applied to an organisations Cloud-Based environment.
  • Organisations should have a clear policy in place for data retention and conduct regular reviews to ensure that personal data is not retained longer than necessary or where the original purpose for the use of the personal data has ceased.

Know your data and secure it

  • Organisations should understand and monitor the types of data that is stored in their Cloud-Based environments. Knowing the types of data stored in the Cloud enables an organisation to ensure the appropriate security and access controls are applied to protect the data.
  • Organisations should utilise data classification methods to identify the data which they store and process within Cloud-Based environments. The process of data classification enables an organisation to categorise their stored data in order to determine the appropriate security controls.

Organisations should carefully evaluate Cloud-Based vendors based on the security features they offer and how they specifically meet with their organisational requirements.

Who has access to your data, how is it secured, how often is the data backed up and if the Cloud-Based environment aligns to your organisational policies are all vital questions to ask of both your Cloud-Based service provider and / or the ICT service provider charged with implementing your environment.

Applying the appropriate security measures is not a once off “Set and forget” exercise. Cloud-Based security settings should be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that they are still appropriate and up-to-date.