Prevent your data from becoming the next WikiLeaks headline

WikiLeaks demonstrates what happens when organizations don't have policies and tools in place to protect sensitive data.

WikiLeaks is making as many waves as it is headlines these days--challenging the balance between the right to free speech and the need to defend national security interests. In a recent Forbes interview Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, revealed that the site is expanding beyond government intelligence to begin unveiling corporate secrets as well.

While most computer and network security efforts are geared toward an "us vs. them" mentality of protecting data from outside attacks, the reality is that the threat from inside--from authorized employees--is actually much greater. Whether intentional or inadvertent, whether sabotage or honest mistake, the risk of leaked data is significant.

Solera Networks is well aware of the threat posed by WikiLeaks and the rise of information leaks in general. A survey by Solera Networks found that most organizations are not prepared to protect sensitive data. IT departments are not equipped to identify the source or scope of cyber attacks or information leaks.

A Solera Networks spokesperson elaborated via e-mail, "The survey found that 96 per cent of those surveyed recognize the importance of real-time situational awareness--yet only about 19 per cent say they have any capability to determine the extent of a breach or leak. In-depth interviews from the survey further indicate that only a fraction of the supposed prepared group can gather enough information from an attack to prevent it again in the future."

A McAfee blog post by John Dasher explains, "While technology can't put a genie back into a bottle, it can provide an organization the tools needed to deal with this type of problem going forward. Data Loss Prevention (DLP) technology can block attempted USB thumb drive use, or send up alarm flares when an otherwise "normal," authorized user suddenly copies hundreds of MBs of sensitive information to their laptop in preparation for a hasty defection to a competitor or sharing with the likes of a WikiLeaks."

McAfee is certainly not the only game in town either. Trend Micro recently acquired Mobile Armor to extend its data protection capabilities, and smaller companies like Zecurion offer tools to help monitor and secure sensitive corporate data--as well as provide the forensic evidence to track when and where the data went.

Although there is increasing recognition of the insider threat, and a rise in the variety of tools available to guard against information leakage, there is no silver bullet. McAfee's Dasher clarifies, "While IT departments might well be able to protect regulated data that is clearly identifiable (e.g., credit card numbers, SSNs, and other PII), they are not typically in a position to identify the very information that makes the business competitive and insures its very survival--its intellectual property. No, protecting sensitive information is truly a business problem, rather than a straight technology problem."

Effective information protection requires a fair amount of upfront investment to classify data, identify what is sensitive or confidential or not, and create policies and rules to govern it. But, once that initial effort is completed, the reward is that sensitive information can be better monitored and protected--especially with the right tools in place--and you can make sure your company isn't the next WikiLeaks victim.

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
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