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How Companies Protect Themselves

So in this perfect storm of sophisticated attacks, limited budgets and growing popularity of data leakage sites, what steps are companies taking to help safeguard their data? As companies begin to understand the potential impact from data loss, they are looking at a myriad of solutions to limiting their risks.

In some cases, the solutions are purely technical solutions and single-faceted, providing only a loose level of protection. Other organizations have taken data leakage prevention to the extremes, developing highly complex and elegant multi-tiered solutions.

The actions taken by an organization boil down to the perceived risk and impact or tolerance to losing data. As an example, an auto parts producer may put minimal controls and effort into data leakage protection since the perceived risk is very low, while a technology company such as Google must commit significant amounts of blood and treasure and implement multiple layers of data loss prevention to ensure the security of their next generation of products.

Regardless of where a company stands on this continuum, it's clear that no one solution fits all.

DLP Tools

It seems that almost weekly vendors are introducing a new data loss prevention (DLP) tool that is marketed to be the "silver bullet for all our data loss prevention needs." The reality is that while many of these tools are highly capable and deliver excellent functionality, they fall short of providing a comprehensive solution to data leakage.

Most DLP solutions fall into one of two camps: either network-based or host-based identification. Network-based solutions monitor packets similar to intrusion detection devices (IDS) looking for evidence of inappropriate content or malicious activity.

In many products, this is done by comparing content to a known signature database. More sophisticated DLP solutions look for specific "meta tags" that are embedded into documents and can contain information such as a data classification for the document. These solutions are very customizable, but still mostly rely on signature-based detection engines.

Host-based solutions work in a very similar fashion. Most host-based DLP solutions track activity to and from an end point. Host-based solutions do a good job inspecting emails, web activity, and file activity to external devices. If a user attempts to copy a file to an external device such as a flash drive or external site, the file is screened by the DLP solution.

Data Owner Reporting

Another tool that organizations are embracing to defend against data leakage is data owner reporting, which forces responsible parties, often senior managers, into reviewing and attesting that the people who have access to data are appropriate and accurate.

Data owner reporting provides two key benefits. The review can provide accountability to all data within an organization and help clearly assign responsibilities. Data owner reporting also helps clean up access creep by forcing managers to review and approve those with access.

A side effect of this process is that business leaders gain a better understanding of risks to data and can provide fodder for managers to request budget dollars.

Separation of Duties

The splitting of roles and responsibilities is a fundamental tenet of information security, but is often overlooked because of budget constraints. Now with the growing popularity of data leakage sites, companies are reevaluating the delineation of roles within their business. The intent is to make sure that no one individual is capable of accessing everything.

This is often a balancing act as companies need to balance the security value of separating the responsibilities of staff members while controlling the increased costs that inevitably comes having a more complex process. In a time of economic recession, this is often a failure point for organizations.

Employee Background Checks

Another tactic organizations are taking to deal with the rising tide of data loss is to reevaluate the staff who have the most access. Most organizations have some form of background check that vets employees before they begin their employment. This usually includes a criminal and reference check and is only performed once.

Now with the increased awareness and sensitivity, organizations are taking the background review process to a new level. Many organizations are moving to a tiered background review model in which people are categorized based on their role and access to data.

While different industries may call the groups by different names, they generally break down into non-sensitive, sensitive, and confidential classifications. Employees who have access to non-sensitive data might only have a background check down once at the time of employment, while those that have access to classified materials have a much more rigorous process.

Many organizations are moving toward reevaluating staff with access to sensitive materials to annually or once every three years. Many companies are also expanding their evaluation to include criminal, medical, and financial reviews.

While many argue that these types of reviews are invasive and inappropriate, they can be effective methods for identifying and mitigating risks.

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