I know what’s running through your head right now.

“WTF?!? Mogull’s totally lost it. Isn’t he that data/information-centric security dude?”

Yes I am (the info-centric guy, not the insane bit), and here’s the thing:

The concept that you can run around, analyze, and tag your data throughout the enterprise, then keep it current through changing business contexts and requirements, is totally ridiculous. Sure, we have tools today that can scan our environment and tag files based on policies, but that just applies a static classification in a dynamic environment. I have yet to talk with a customer that really does enterprise-wide data classification successfully except for a few, discrete bits of data (like credit card numbers). The truth is that’s data identification, not data classification.

Enterprise content is just too volatile for static tags to really represent its value.

Even those of you in defense/intelligence don’t really do granular data classification. You just hit things with a big sledgehammer. “Is it Top Secret? Then we keep it totally isolated. What, this bit isn’t Top Secret but it’s on a Top Secret server? Frack it, we’ll just make it all Top Secret and be done with it. Need to pull it out? Go fill out this form.”

This post was inspired by a conversation yesterday where another information-centric wonk criticized the idea that data can be self-describing in any meaningful way, part of my principles of information centric security. While he caught the first point, he missed my meaning in the second point (policies and controls must account for business context) which means that the data self describes in such a way that business context can then be applied to determine value in that situation. I know it sounds like science fiction, but we’re starting to see real-world scenarios, and I’ll be the first to admit this is going to be a big area of advance over the next few years.

Now there is one piece of data classification that isn’t dead (I like sensational headlines just like the next person). That’s the business process of prioritizing information. That’s where you sit down with business executives and determine what information is more valuable than other information for your organization. It will drive all the protective strategies and dynamic protections we talk about when applying information-centric security. That’s absolutely vital to successful information security.

Thus we prioritize and identify information, but this is different than data classification, which is the concept that after these two steps, we can apply static labels as a way of protecting information.

That, my friend, is not only dead, it was never really alive.