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LHF: Quick Wins with DLP—the Conclusion

By Rich

In the last two posts we covered the main preparation you need to get quick wins with your DLP deployment. First you need to put a basic enforcement process in place, then you need to integrate with your directory servers and major infrastructure. With these two bits out of the way, it’s time to roll up our sleeves, get to work, and start putting that shiny new appliance or server to use.

The differences between a long-term DLP deployment and our “Quick Wins” approach are goals and scope. With a traditional deployment we focus on comprehensive monitoring and protection of very specific data types. We know what we want to protect (at a granular level) and how we want to protect it, and we can focus on comprehensive policies with low false positives and a robust workflow. Every policy violation is reviewed to determine if it’s an incident that requires a response.

In the Quick Wins approach we are concerned less about incident management, and more about gaining a rapid understanding of how information is used within our organization. There are two flavors to this approach – one where we focus on a narrow data type, typically as an early step in a full enforcement process or to support a compliance need, and the other where we cast a wide net to help us understand general data usage to prioritize our efforts. Long-term deployments and Quick Wins are not mutually exclusive – each targets a different goal and both can run concurrently or sequentially, depending on your resources.

Remember: even though we aren’t talking about a full enforcement process, it is absolutely essential that your incident management workflow be ready to go when you encounter violations that demand immediate action!

Choose Your Flavor

The first step is to decide which of two general approaches to take:

  • Single Type: In some organizations the primary driver behind the DLP deployment is protection of a single data type, often due to compliance requirements. This approach focuses only on that data type.
  • Information Usage: This approach casts a wide net to help characterize how the organization uses information, and identify patterns of both legitimate use and abuse. This information is often very useful for prioritizing and informing additional data security efforts.

Choose Your Deployment Type

Depending on your DLP tool, it will be capable of monitoring and protecting information on the network, on endpoints, or in storage repositories – or some combination of these. This gives us three pure deployment options and four possible combinations.

  • Network Focused: Deploying DLP on the network in monitoring mode provides the broadest coverage with the least effort. Network monitoring is typically the fastest to get up and running due to lighter integration requirements. You can often plug in a server or appliance over a few hours or less, and instantly start evaluating results.
  • Endpoint Focused: Starting with endpoints should give you a good idea of which employees are storing data locally or transferring it to portable storage. Some endpoint tools can also monitor network activity on the endpoint, but these capabilities vary widely. In terms of Quick Wins, endpoint deployments are generally focused on analyzing stored content on the endpoints.
  • Storage Focused: Content discovery is the analysis of data at rest in storage repositories. Since it often requires considerable integration (at minimum, knowing the username and password to access a file share), these deployments, like endpoints, involve more effort. That said, it’s scan major repositories is very useful, and in some organizations it’s as important (or even more so) to understand stored data than to monitor information moving across the network.

Network deployments typically provide the most immediate information with the lowest effort, but depending on what tools you have available and your organization’s priorities, it may make sense to start with endpoints or storage. Combinations are obviously possible, but we suggest you roll out multiple deployment types sequentially rather than in parallel to manage project scope.

Define Your Policies

The last step before hitting the “on” switch is to configure your policies to match your deployment flavor.

In a single type deployment, either choose an existing category that matches the data type in your tool, or quickly build your own policy. In our experience, pre-built categories common in most DLP tools are almost always available for the data types that commonly drive a DLP project. Don’t worry about tuning the policy – right now we just want to toss it out there and get as many results as possible. Yes, this is the exact opposite of our recommendations for a traditional, focused DLP deployment.

In an information usage deployment, turn on all the policies or enable promiscuous monitoring mode. Most DLP tools only record activity when there are policy violations, which is why you must enable the policies. A few tools can monitor general activity without relying on a policy trigger (either full content or metadata only). In both cases our goal is to collect as much information as possible to identify usage patterns and potential issues.

Monitor

Now it’s time to turn on your tool and start collecting results.

Don’t be shocked – in both deployment types you will see a lot more information than in a focused deployment, including more potential false positives. Remember, you aren’t concerned with managing every single incident, but want a broad understanding of what’s going on on your network, in endpoints, or in storage.

Analyze and PROFIT!

Now we get to the most important part of the process – turning all that data into useful information.

Once we collect enough data, it’s time to start the analysis process. Our goal is to identify broad patterns and identify any major issues. Here are some examples of what to look for:

  • A business unit sending out sensitive data unprotected as part of a regularly scheduled job.
  • Which data types broadly trigger the most violations.
  • The volume of usage of certain content or files, which may help identify valuable assets that don’t cleanly match a pre-defined policy.
  • Particular users or business units with higher numbers of violations or unusual usage patterns.
  • False positive patterns, for tuning long-term policies later.

All DLP tools provide some level of reporting and analysis, but ideally your tool will allow you to set flexible criteria to support the analysis.

What Did We Achieve?

If you followed this process, by now you’ve created a base for your ongoing DLP usage while achieving valuable short-term goals. In a short amount of time you have:

  1. Established a flexible incident management process.
  2. Integrated with major infrastructure components.
  3. Assessed broad information usage.
  4. Set a foundation for later focused efforts and policy tuning to support long-term management.

Thus by following the Quick Wins process you can show immediate results while establishing the foundations of your program, all without overwhelming yourself by forcing unprepared action on all possible alerts before you understand information usage patterns.

Not bad, eh?

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