Trends in Data Centric Security [New Series]

By Adrian Lane

It’s all about the data. The need of many different audiences to derive value from data is driving several disruptive trends in IT. The question that naturally follows is “How do you maintain control over data regardless of where it moves?” If you want to make data useful, by using it in as many places as you can, but you cannot guarantee those places are secure, what can you do?

Today we launch a new series on Data Centric Security. We are responding to customer inquiries about what to do when moving data to locations they do not completely trust. The majority of these inquires are motivated by “big data” usage as firms move data into NoSQL clusters. The gist is that we don’t know how to secure these environments, we don’t really trust them, and we don’t want a repeat of data leakage or compliance violations. Here at Securosis we have blogged about NoSQL security for some time, but the specifics of customerinterest came as a surprise. They were not asking “How do I secure Hadoop?” but instead “How do I protect data?” with specific interest in tokenization and masking. An increasing number of firms are asking about data security for cloud environments and HIPPA compliance – again, more focused on data rather than system controls.

This is what Data Centric Security (DCS) does: embed security controls into the data, rather than into applications or supporting infrastructure. The challenge is to implement security controls that do not not render the data inert. Put another way, they want to derive value from data without leaving it exposed. Sure, we can encrypt everything, but you cannot analyze encrypted data. To decrypt within the environment means distributing keys and encryption capabilities, implementing identity management, and ensuring the compute platform itself is trustworthy. And that last is impossible when we cannot guarantee the security of the platform.

Data Centric Security provides security even when the systems processing data cannot be fully trusted. We can both propagate and use data to derive business value while still maintaining a degree of privacy and security. Sounds like a fantasy, but it’s real. But of course there are challenges, which I will detail later in this series. For now understand that you need to actively select the right security measure for the specific use case. This makes data centric security a form of data management, and requires you to apply security polices, transform the data, and orchestrate distribution.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive research effort, but an executive summary of data centric security approaches for a couple emerging use cases. This series will cover:

  • Use Cases: I will outline the top three use cases driving inquiries into data centric security, and specific challenges presented by them.
  • Data Centric Technologies: We will examine a handful of technologies that support data centric security. We will explore tokenization, masking, and data element/format preserving encryption, as well as some other tricks.
  • Data Centric Security Integration: We will discuss how to incorporate DCS into data management operations and deploy these technologies. This is a combination of tools and process, but where you begin your journey affects what you need to do.

Our next post will cover DCS use cases.

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Agreed. Questions around data seem to be the most difficult to answer in today’s corporations. ‘How does the stored data tie to an offering? Who is the owner of the data? Who decides who can access it? How long do we keep it?’ More often than not you hear “Don’t know, but it’s not me”. Once you start moving data around for valid business reasons (analytics, benchmarking, ...), these answers get even more vague, if even possible.
Looking forward to see your approach.

By Marco Tietz

Very interested to read these posts.  We’ve been preaching this for over a year with our partners at Guardtime and their Keyless Signature Infrastructure (KSI) technology.

By Scott Yoneyama

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