Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Atlassian has security breach, responds with transparency, sees benefits

This past Sunday, Atlassian (makers of Confluence, JIRA, and other popular collaboration tools), experienced a security breach:
Around 9pm U.S. PST Sunday evening, Atlassian detected a security breach on one of our internal systems. The breach potentially exposed passwords for customers who purchased Atlassian products before July 2008. During July 2008, we migrated our customer database into Atlassian Crowd, our identity management product, and all customer passwords were encrypted. However, the old database table was not taken offline or deleted, and it is this database table that we believe could have been exposed during the breach.
Instead of keeping the break-in private, and hoping for the incident to blow over quickly, they emailed their entire customer base the very next day with the gory details:

It turned out that this email alarmed a number of customers who had to no reason to worry (as their accounts were unaffected), which led to another email:

Along with this email, Atlassian went further and posted an extremely detailed postmortem of the entire event, detailing who was impacted, actions you need to take as a customer, lessons learned, and next steps that they are taking to improve for the future. Incidentally, this postmortem would fair very well if run through our postmortem best practices (even though the incident is completely different from a downtime event, for which the best practices were formed).

The Pay Off
Normally, an incident like this should create a large number of very unhappy customers. Instead, thanks to the quick, honest, and transparent response, we see the following reaction:

...and if you think I'm just picking out the positive reactions, compare a Twitter search for "Atlassian" with "positive" and "negative" sentiment. At the time of this writing, there are over 3 pages of positive results, and less than one page of negative (and many of the negative is unrelated to this incident). And this is after a major security breach.

Clearly a case of transparency turning a disaster into an opportunity, and how to take advantage of that opportunity by being open and honest with your users.


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