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Pragmatic Data Security- Define Phase

By Rich

Now that we’ve described the Pragmatic Data Security Cycle, it’s time to dig into the phases. As we roll through each of these I’m going to break it into three parts: the process, the technologies, and a case study. For the case study we’re going to follow a fictional organization through the entire process. Instead of showing you every single data protection option at each phase, we’ll focus on a narrow project that better represents what you will likely experience.

Define: The Process

From a process standpoint, this is both the easiest and hardest of the phases. Easy, since there’s only one thing you need to do and it isn’t very technical or complex, hard since it may involve coordination across multiple business units and the quest for executive sponsorship.

  1. Identify an executive sponsor to support your efforts. Without management support, the rest of the process will be extremely difficult.
  2. Identify the one piece of information/content/data you want to protect. The definition shouldn’t be too broad. For example, “engineering plans” is too broad, but “engineering plans for project X” is acceptable. Using “PCI/NPI/HIPAA” is acceptable, assuming you narrow it down in the next step.
  3. Define and model the information you defined in the step above. For totally unstructured content like engineering plans, identify a repository to use for your definition, or any watermarking/labels you are certain will be available to identify and protect the information. For PCI/NPI/HIPAA determine the exact fields/pieces of data to protect. For PCI it might be only the credit card number, for NPI it might be names and addresses, and for HIPAA it might be ICD9 billing codes. If you are protecting data from a database, also identify the source repository.
  4. Identify key business units with a stake in the information, and contact them to verify the priority, structure, and repositories for this information. It’s no fun if you think you’re going to protect a database of customer data, only to find out halfway through that it’s not really the important one from a business perspective.

That’s it: find a sponsor, identify the category, identify the data/repository, and confirm with the business folks.

Define: Technologies

None. This is a manual business process and the only technology you need is something to take notes with… or maybe email to communicate.

Define: Case Study

Billy Bob’s Bait Shop and Sushi Outlet is a mid-sized, multi-site retail organization that specializes in “The freshest seafood, for your family or aquatic friends”. Billy Bob’s consists of a corporate headquarters and a few dozen retail outlets in three states. There are about 1,000 employees, and a growing web business due to their capability to ship fresh bait or sushi to any location in the US overnight.

Billy Bob’s is struggling with PCI compliance and wants to avoid a major security breach after seeing the damage caused to their major competitor during a breach (John Boy’s Worms and Grub).

They do not have a dedicated security team, but their CIO designated one of their top network administrators (the former firewall manager) to head up security operations. Frank has a solid history as a network administrator and is familiar with security (including some SANS training and a CISSP class). Due to problems with their first PCI assessment, Frank has the backing of the CIO.

The category of data is PCI. After some research, Frank decides to go with a multilevel definition – at the top is credit card numbers. Since they are (supposedly) not storing them in a database they could feed to any data protection tools, Frank is starting with a regular expression to identify credit card numbers, and then plans on refining it using customer names (which are stored in the database). He is hoping that whatever tools he picks can use a generic credit card number definition for low-priority alerts, and a credit card (generic) tied with a customer name to trigger higher priority alerts. Frank also plans on using violation counts to help find real problems areas.

Frank now has a generic category (PCI), a specific definition (generic regex and customer name from a database) and the repository location (the customer database itself). From the heads of the customer relations and billing, he learned that there are really two databases he needs to worry about: the main transaction processing/records system for the web outlet, and the point of sale transaction processing system for the retail outlets. The web outlet does not store unencrypted credit card numbers, but the retail outlets currently do, and they are working with the transaction processor to fix that. Thus he is adding credit card numbers from the retail database to his list of data sources. Fortunately, they are only stored in the central processing database, and not at the individual retail outlets.

That’s the setup – in our next post we will cover the Discovery process to figure out where the heck all that data is.

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