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RSAC 2010 Guide: Data Security

By Rich

Over the next 3 days, we’ll be posting the content from the Securosis Guide to the RSA Conference 2010. We broke the market into 8 different topics: Network Security, Data Security, Application Security, Endpoint Security, Content (Web & Email) Security, Cloud and Virtualization Security, Security Management, and Compliance. For each section, we provide a little history and what we expect to see at the show. Next up is Data Security.

Data Security

Although technically nearly all of Information Security is directed at protecting corporate data and content, in practice our industry has historically focused on network and endpoint security. At Securosis we divide up the data security world into two major domains based on how users access data – the data center and the desktop. This reflects how data is managed far more practically than “structured” and “unstructured”. The data center includes access through enterprise applications, databases, and document management systems. The desktop includes productivity applications (the Office suite), email, and other desktop applications and communications.

What We Expect to See

There are four areas of interest at the show relative to data security:

  • Content Analysis: This is the ability of security tools to dig inside files and packets to understand the content inside, not just the headers or other metadata. The most basic versions are generally derived from pattern matching (regular expressions), while advanced options include partial document matching and database fingerprinting. Content analysis techniques were pioneered by Data Loss Prevention (DLP) tools; and are starting to pop up in everything from firewalls, to portable device control agents, to SIEM systems.

The most important questions to ask identify the kind of content analysis being performed. Regular expressions alone can work, but result in more false positives and negatives than other options. Also find out if the feature can peer inside different file types, or only analyze plain text. Depending on your requirements, you may not need advanced techniques, but you do need to understand exactly what you’re getting and determine if it will really help you protect your data, or just generate thousands of alerts every time someone buys a collectable shot glass from Amazon.

  • DLP Everywhere: Here at Securosis we use a narrow definition for DLP that includes solutions designed to protect data with advanced content analysis capabilities and dedicated workflow, but not every vendor marketing department agrees with our approach. Given the customer interest around DLP, we expect you’ll see a wide variety of security tools with DLP or “data protection” features, most of which are either basic content analysis or some form of context-based file or access blocking. These DLP features can be useful, especially in smaller organizations and those with only limited data protection needs, but they are a pale substitute if you need a dedicated data protection solution.

When talking with these vendors, start by digging into their content analysis capabilities and how they really work from a technical standpoint. If you get a technobabble response, just move on. Also ask to see a demo of the management interface – if you expect a lot of data-related violations, you will likely need a dedicated workflow to manage incidents, so user experience is key. Finally, ask them about directory integration – when it comes to data security, different rules apply to different users and groups.

  • Encryption and Tokenization: Thanks to a combination of PCI requirements and recent data breaches, we are seeing a ton of interest in application and database encryption and tokenization. Tokenization replaces credit card numbers or other sensitive strings with random token values (which may match the credit card format) matched to real numbers only in a central highly secure database. Format Preserving Encryption encrypts the numbers so you can recover them in place, but the encrypted values share the credit card number format. Finally, newer application and database encryption options focus on improved ease of use and deployment compared to their predecessors.

You don’t really need to worry about encryption algorithms, but it’s important to understand platform support, management user experience (play around with the user interface), and deployment requirements. No matter what anyone tells you, there are always requirements for application and database changes, but some of these approaches can minimize the pain. Ask how long an average deployment takes for an organization of your size, and make sure they can provide real examples or references in your business, since data security is very industry specific.

  • Database Security: Due partially to acquisitions and partially to customer demand, we are seeing a variety of tools add features to tie into database security. Latest in the hit parade are SIEM tools capable of monitoring database transactions and vulnerability assessment tools with database support. These parallel the dedicated Database Activity Monitoring and Database Assessment markets. As with any area of overlap and consolidation, you’ll need to figure out if you need a dedicated tool, or if features in another type of product are good enough. We also expect to see a lot more talk about data masking, which is the conversion of production data into a pseudo-random but still usable format for development.
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