As the first analyst to ever cover Data Loss Prevention, I’ve had a bit of a tumultuous relationship with endpoint DLP. Early on I tended to exclude endpoint only solutions because they were more limited in functionality, and couldn’t help at all with protecting data loss from unmanaged systems. But even then I always said that, eventually, endpoint DLP would be a critical component of any DLP solution. When we’re looking at a problem like data loss, no individual point solution will give us everything we need.

Over the next few posts we’re going to dig into endpoint DLP. I’ll start by discussing how I define it, and why I don’t generally recommend stand-alone endpoint DLP. I’ll talk about key features to look for, then focus on best practices for implementation.

It won’t come as any surprise that these posts are building up into another one of my whitepapers. This is about as transparent a research process as I can think of. And speaking of transparency, like most of my other papers this one is sponsored, but the content is completely objective (sponsors can suggest a topic, if it’s objective, but they don’t have input on the content).


As always, we need to start with our definition for DLP/CMP:

“Products that, based on central policies, identify, monitor, and protect data at rest, in motion, and in use through deep content analysis”.

Endpoint DLP helps manage all three parts of this problem. The first is protecting data at rest when it’s on the endpoint; or what we call content discovery (and I wrote up in great detail). Our primary goal is keeping track of sensitive data as it proliferates out to laptops, desktops, and even portable media. The second part, and the most difficult problem in DLP, is protecting data in use. This is a catch all term we use to describe DLP monitoring and protection of content as it’s used on a desktop- cut and paste, moving data in and out of applications, and even tying in with encryption and enterprise Document Rights Management (DRM). Finally, endpoint DLP provides data in motion protection for systems outside the purview of network DLP- such as a laptop out in the field.

Endpoint DLP is a little difficult to discuss since it’s one of the fastest changing areas in a rapidly evolving space. I don’t believe any single product has every little piece of functionality I’m going to talk about, so (at least where functionality is concerned) this series will lay out all the recommended options which you can then prioritize to meet your own needs.

Endpoint DLP Drivers

In the beginning of the DLP market we nearly always recommended organizations start with network DLP. A network tool allows you to protect both managed and unmanaged systems (like contractor laptops), and is typically easier to deploy in an enterprise (since you don’t have to muck with every desktop and server). It also has advantages in terms of the number and types of content protection policies you can deploy, how it integrates with email for workflow, and the scope of channels covered. During the DLP market’s the first few years, it was hard to even find a content-aware endpoint agent.

But customer demand for endpoint DLP quickly grew thanks to two major needs- content discovery on the endpoint, and the ability to prevent loss through USB storage devices. We continue to see basic USB blocking tools with absolutely no content awareness brand themselves as DLP. The first batches of endpoint DLP tools focused on exactly these problems- discovery and content-aware portable media/USB device control.

The next major driver for endpoint DLP is supporting network policies when a system is outside the corporate gateway. We all live in an increasingly mobile workforce where we need to support consistent policies no matter where someone is physically located, nor how they connect to the Internet.

Finally, we see some demand for deeper integration of DLP with how a user interacts with their system. In part, this is to support more intensive policies to reduce malicious loss of data. You might, for example, disallow certain content from moving into certain applications, like encryption. Some of these same kinds of hooks are used to limit cut/paste, print screen, and fax, or to enable more advanced security like automatic encryption or application of DRM rights.

The Full Suite Advantage

As we’ve already hinted, there are some limitations to endpoint only DLP solutions. The first is that they only protect managed systems where you can deploy an agent. If you’re worried about contractors on your network or you want protection in case someone tries to use a server to send data outside the walls, you’re out of luck. Also, because some content analysis policies are processor and memory intensive, it is problematic to get them running on resource-constrained endpoints. Finally, there are many discovery situations where you don’t want to deploy a local endpoint agent for your content analysis- e.g. when performing discovery on a major SAN.

Thus my bias towards full-suite solutions. Network DLP reduces losses on the enterprise network from both managed and unmanaged systems, and servers and workstations. Content discovery finds and protects stored data throughout the enterprise, while endpoint DLP protects systems that leave the network, and reduces risks across vectors that circumvent the network. It’s the combination of all these layers that provides the best overall risk reduction. All of this is managed through a single policy, workflow, and administration server; rather than forcing you to create different policies; for different channels and products, with different capabilities, workflow, and management.

In our next post we’ll discuss the technology and major features to look for, followed by posts on best practices for implementation.