COVID-19 Update

How to Keep Office Conversations Private with One Simple Tool

Keeping sensitive information secure goes past the network. Eavesdroppers can be as troublesome as hackers.

CI Staff

2015 may be yet another record year for data breaches, with millions of consumers affected by data losses and thefts. In fact, the Identity Theft Resource Center reports that in the first half of 2015 alone there were 424 data breaches and nearly 130 million personal records compromised.

The average cost of a data breach for a company has increased from $5.4 million to $5.9 million since 2013 – not exactly chump change for the average organization.

Businesses must consider not only the initial cost of remedying a breach and addressing customer concerns, but also implications down the road, including the rate of customer turnover and the PR hits breaches can cause.

Most companies have done a good job at addressing their IT and physical security. They have gated entries, two factor authentication, extensive password combinations and remote wipe capabilities to protect against breaches. But businesses often forget about one important security loophole that comes into play more often than the others: the threat of our voices being overheard when we’re communicating private data verbally.

Every day, sensitive information on pending acquisitions, reorganizations, sales information and employee relations is discussed in boardrooms, offices and conference rooms around the country. More often than not, the information shared within the four walls of a boardroom is not meant to be heard by anyone who isn’t present for the conversation.

Think of it like Las Vegas; what happens there should stay there. Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple. In fact, according to a recent Harris Poll survey, 53 percent of support staff workers have overheard confidential conversations at work.

While company computers can be configured with various firewalls, passwords and authentication measures to protect the information stored and shared within them, conference rooms are more vulnerable. While they may have a door that is physically secure, some requiring a code or keycard to enter, they are often constructed of glass and drywall.

These materials are attractive, but do a poor job of keeping voices from travelling through the walls to those outside of the room. Many huddle rooms don’t even offer doors or walls that go to the ceiling deck to keep sound in.

Organizations can consider a number of options to decrease the chance of sensitive and confidential conversations taking place in their conference rooms or boardrooms from being overheard and compromised. They could get better sound proofing materials or could even consider taking particularly sensitive meetings offsite.

From a technical perspective however, the easiest and least expensive option for securing the area is by getting a sound masking system. For those unfamiliar, sound masking works by adding a low-level background sound (similar to the sound of airflow) to an environment. The introduced masking sound covers up speech in the affected space and makes it less intelligible.

Companies can consider either covering their whole facility with a networked sound masking system that will help protect speech privacy everywhere (with the added bonus of decreasing noise distractions in the coverage areas), or they can consider a spot treatment approach that only protects speech in a certain room from being overheard by employees on the other side of the walls. Some systems even provides LCD signs that light up to let conference room attendees know that the system is working and that their conversations will remain confidential.

When you’re considering security protocols that should be implemented in the coming year, be sure to put protecting employee voices at the top of the threat list and consider ways to ensure overheard confidential conversations don’t come back to bite your business.

Christopher Calisi is the CEO of Cambridge Sound Management.