Welcome to the last part of our series on understanding and selecting a data loss prevention/content monitoring and filtering solution. Over the past 6 entries we’ve focused on the different components of solutions and the technologies that underlie them. Today, we’ll close the series with recommendations on how to run the selection process and pick the right solution for your organization.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6

As we’ve discussed, DLP solutions can protect a wide range of data under a wide variety of circumstances, which makes DLP a particularly dangerous technology to acquire without the proper preparation. While there’s somewhat of a feature consensus among major players, how these features are implemented varies widely from vendor to vendor. I’ve also seen some organizations jump on the DLP bandwagon without having any idea how they’d like to use their new solution. In other cases, I’ve talked to clients complaining about high false positives while failing to turn on features in the product they’ve already bought that could materially improve accuracy.

I’ve probably talked to over 100 organizations that have evaluated and deployed DLP, and based on their experiences I recommend a three phase selection process. Most of this is no different than the average procurement process, but there are a few extra recommendations specific to DLP- especially in the first phase. This process is skewed for larger organizations, so small to mid-size enterprises will need to scale back and adjust to match your resources.

Define Needs and Prepare Your Organization

Before you start looking at any tools, you need to understand why you need DLP, how you plan on using it, and the business processes around creating policies and managing incidents.

  1. Identify business units that need to be involved and create a selection committee: We tend to include two kinds of business units in the DLP selection process- content owners with sensitive data to protect, and content protectors with the responsibility for enforcing controls over the data. Content owners include those business units that hold and use the data. Content protectors tend to include departments like human resources, IT security, corporate legal, compliance, and risk management. Once you identify the major stakeholders, you’ll want to bring them together for the next few steps.
  2. Define what you want to protect: Start by listing out the kinds of data, as specifically as possible, that you plan on using DLP to protect. We typically break content out into three categories- personally identifiable information (PII, including healthcare, financial, and other data), corporate financial data, and intellectual property. The first two tend to be more structured and will drive you towards certain solutions, while IP tends to be less structured, bringing different content analysis requirements. Even if you want to protect all kinds of content, use this process to specify and prioritize, preferably on paper.
  3. Decide how you want to protect it and set expectations: In this step you will answer two key questions. First, in what channels/phases do you want to protect the data? This is where you decide if you just want basic email monitoring, or if you want comprehensive data-in-motion, data-at-rest, and data-in-use protection. I suggest you be extremely specific, listing out major network channels, data stores, and endpoint requirements. The second question is what kind of enforcement do you plan on implementing? Monitoring and alerting only? Email filtering? Automatic encryption? You’ll get a little more specific in the formalized requirements later, but you should have a good idea of your expectations at this point. Also, don’t forget that needs may change over time, and I recommend you break requirements into short term (within 6 months of deployment), mid-term (12-18 months after deployment), and long-term (up to 3 years after deployment).
  4. Roughly outline process workflow: One of the biggest stumbling blocks for a successful DLP deployment is failure to prepare the enterprise. In this stage you define your expected workflows for creating new protection policies and handling incidents involving insiders and external attackers. Which business units are allowed to request data to protect? Who is responsible for building the policies? When a policy is violated, what’s the workflow to remediate? When is HR notified? Corporate legal? Who handles day to day policy violations? Is it a technical security role, or non-technical, like a compliance officer? The answers to these kinds of questions will guide you towards different solutions that best meet your workflow needs.

By the completion of this phase you will have defined key stakeholders, convened a selection team, prioritized the data you want to protect, determined where you want to protect it, and roughed out workflow requirements for building policies and remediating incidents.

Formalize Requirements

This phase can be performed by a smaller team working under a mandate from the selection committee. Here, the generic requirements determined in phase 1 are translated into specific technical requirements, while any additional requirements are considered. For example, any requirements for directory integration, gateway integration, data storage, hierarchical deployments, endpoint integration, and so on. Hopefully this series gives you a good idea of what to look for, and you can always refine these requirements after you proceed in the selection process and get a better feel for how the products work.

At the conclusion of this stage you develop a formal RFI (Request For Information) to release to the vendors, and a rough RFP (Request For Proposals) that you’ll clean up and formally issue in the evaluation phase.

Evaluate Products

As with any products it’s sometimes difficult to cut through the marketing hype to figure out if a product really meets your needs. The following steps should minimize your risk and help you feel fully confident in your final decision:

  1. Issue the RFI: This is the procurement equivalent of pulling the trigger on a starting gun at the start of an Olympic 100 meter dash. Be prepared for all the sales calls. If you’re a smaller organization, start by sending your RFI to a trusted VAR and email a few of the DLP vendors that seem to best match your size (drop me an email for recommendations).
  2. Perform a paper evaluation: Before bringing anyone in, match any materials from the vendor or other sources to your RFI and draft RFP. Your goal is to build a short list of 3 vendors that seem to best match your needs. You should also use outside sources like the Gartner Magic Quadrant or other independent research (and if you’re a Gartner client, don’t forget those inquiry phone calls you’ve already paid for).
  3. Bring in 3 vendors for an on-site presentation and risk assessment: Nearly every DLP vendor will come in and drop a box with some basic rules onto your network in monitoring mode for a few days. You’ll want to try and overlap the products as much as possible to directly compare results based on the same traffic over the same time period. This is also your first chance to meet directly with the vendors (or your VAR) and get more specific answers to any questions.
  4. Finalize your RFP and issue it to your short list of vendors: At this point you should completely understand your specific requirements and issue a formal RFP to the vendors.
  5. Assess RFP responses and begin product testing: Review the RFP results and drop anyone that doesn’t meet any of your minimal requirements (e.g., directory integration), as opposed to “nice to have” features. Then bring in any remaining products for in-house testing. To properly test products, place them on your network in passive monitor mode and load up some sample rule-sets that represent the kinds of rules you’d like to deploy in full production. This lets you compare products side by side, running equivalent rules, on the same traffic. You’ll also want to test any other specific features that are high on your priority list.
  6. Select, negotiate, and buy: Finish testing, take the results to the full selection committee, and begin negotiating with your top choice.

The in-house testing is your last insurance policy in the selection process. Make sure you test the products as thoroughly as possible. A few key aspects to test, if you can, are:

  1. Policy creation and content analysis. Purposely violate policies and try to evade the tool to learn where the limits are.
  2. Email integration.
  3. Incident workflow- with those employees who will be responsible for actual enforcement.
  4. Directory integration.
  5. Storage integration on major platforms to test performance and compatibility for data-at-rest protection.
  6. Endpoint functionality on your standard image.
  7. Network performance- not just bandwidth, but any requirements to integrate the product on your network and tune it. Do you need to pre-filter traffic? Do you need to specify port and protocol combinations?
  8. Network gateway integration

I’ll cover the detailed testing process in future posts, but if you have the capability to really kick the tires, even if only for a few days or a week, I highly recommend you get your hands on a few products and compare them side by side.

If you’ve stuck with me throughout this entire series, you now have a good understanding of the fundamentals of DLP/CMF products and know what to look for during product selection. The Data Loss Prevention/Content Monitoring and Filtering/Content Monitoring and Protection market can be confusing at times, but products provide clear value to those organizations that are prepared for them and choose the right product for their environment and needs.

Thanks, and as always, comments and criticisms are appreciated…