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The Problem for Today’s Enterprise ...Transfer of Information

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Smoked Salmon and IT Security by Calum Macleod Western European Director for Cyber-Ark Software. For those of you who may be complaining that the postal service stinks I may have the answer – Smoked Salmon and the cloud solution

Three years ago my mother sent me a smoked salmon through the post as a Christmas present and it still hasn’t arrived. Now before you say this all sounds a bit fishy it’s not the first time either. And before the whole postal service goes on strike because they think I’m insinuating something, the reality is that today most of us think twice about sending anything that is valuable through the post. Mind you there are still a few diehards as our recent Cyber-Ark survey discovered. Apparently 12% of those surveyed stated that they would send cash through the post!

And yet many of those who would laugh at the 12% and consider them old relics since we’re all ultra modern and use internet banking and other sophisticated tools. And yet the vast majority of us are still sending highly sensitive information via email and a variety of other antiquated methods that might have been state of the art thirty years ago but today are less secure than the good old postal service!     Over the past few months DLP has become the latest IT Security buzz term and if you haven’t heard about DLP then it simply stands for Data Leakage Prevention or Data Loss Prevention (they can’t seem to decide).  Add to this Endpoint Security or as I heard it referred to recently, “the Stupidity Patch” for those users who tend to forget things like mobiles, notebooks, etc. after a night in the pub. But the problem with most DLP solutions is that they’re all about protecting the perimeter or the endpoint. In other words if I had a better security system in my house, or if the post office had better security to control what left their premises, my salmon would have arrived!

The problem for today’s enterprise is that the transfer of information is increasingly time-critical, like my salmon, and the traditional approaches such as File Transfer Protocol and secure email simply lack the security mechanisms that sensitive data demands, thus making the risk of leakage very possible. And where it becomes really challenging is when you need to share information with business partners. So here are a few suggestions  

1. Do not expose your internal network

The process of transferring files in and out of the enterprise must be carried out without exposing and risking the internal network. No type of direct or indirect communication should be allowed between the partner and the enterprise.

2. Make sure that intermediate storage is secureWhile information is waiting to be retrieved by the enterprise or sent to the business partner, it must reside in a secure location. This is especially critical when the intermediary storage is located on an insecure network, such as the enterprise’s DMZ, outsourced site, or even the internet.

3. Ensure that Data at Rest is protected The cornerstone of protecting storage while at rest is encryption. Encryption ensures that the data is not readable and thus maintains its confidentiality. However solutions that require the user to encrypt the data should be avoided. Select technology that automatically encrypts without asking the user for an opinion!    

4. Protection from data deletion, data lossThe protection of data by encryption is simply one part of the problem. Files may be accidentally or intentionally deleted or changed. Always keep older versions, ensuring an easy way to revert to the correct file content or recover from data deletion.    

5. Protection from data tamperingData inside protected storage must be tamper proof by integrating authentication and access control that ensures that only authorized users can change the data. In addition, to ensure that data manipulation that somehow bypasses the access control doesn’t go unnoticed, digital signatures must be employed to detect unauthorized changes in the files.    

6. Auditing and monitoringComprehensive auditing and monitoring capabilities are essential for security for several reasons. First, it allows the enterprise to ensure that its policy is being carried out. Secondly, it provides the owner of the information with the ability to track the usage of its data. Thirdly, it is a major deterrent for potential abusers, knowing that tamper-proof auditing and monitoring can help in identification. Finally, it provides the security administrator with tools to examine the security infrastructure, verify its correct implementation and expose inadequate or unauthorized usage.

7.End-to-End network protection      Security must also be maintained while the data is being transported over the network. The process of transferring data must be in itself secure. Users that store or retrieve data must be authenticated, sometimes using strong authentication mechanisms. In addition Access control must ensure that users only take appropriate action, and that only authorized actions are carried out. Finally use solutions that provide guaranteed deliver.

Maybe if my mother had not written “smoked salmon” on the label it might have arrived or if the packaging had been more secure it might have been less likely to have been tampered with. It might have just disappeared like the occasional email seems to do. In any case I have now switched to the more reliable route of hand delivery of smoked salmon and apart from an occasional “firewall” at customs my salmon arrives on time.

So if you’re suspecting something fishy is going on with your sensitive data like the 32% or so of companies that suspect that their competitors have access to their confidential data, I suggest looking at a reliable Managed File Transfer solution.