The 4 leading causes of data security breakdowns

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

A string of high-profile data breaches in 2012, from LinkedIn to Global Payments, have kept enterprise data security in the limelight. But most organizations still tend to be reactive and focus on firefighting when it comes to data security, rather than implementing a more effective long-term strategy. Let's examine the four most common pitfalls of this short-sighted approach.

* Lack of standards. Ad hoc security is often based upon multiple "standards" and solutions across disparate functional IT groups. For example, data encryption is often poorly implemented by IT professionals who don't really understand data security requirements. Some organizations are adopting emerging industry standards for encryption like the Key Management Interoperability Protocol (KMIP). However, it is still immature and thus no panacea. This overall lack of IT security standards leads to higher management costs, redundant processes, and greater risk of a data breach.

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* No central control. In a similar fashion, individual security and encryption tools provide their own management consoles for administration, monitoring/auditing and key management. Each ad hoc solution needs to be configured separately and will provide different levels of functionality, sophistication and certification. This creates an operations quagmire. It also introduces varying degrees of risk depending upon each tool and how it is implemented. Of equal concern, CISOs have no central way to assess, monitor, address and report on how effectively these disparate security measures are working. That's because each individual security tool has its own policies, provisioning and management system. This translates into escalating costs and complexity.

* Disconnected management systems. Multiple security technologies each have to be provisioned, managed and monitored separately. Again, with no centralized management or policies, administration must be performed within each tool. The sheer number of management operations increases the risk of configuration errors, which can lead to a security breach or unrecoverable critical file.

* IT misalignment. Ad hoc security tools are often deployed in a manner where functional IT groups have access to and control over these systems. A good example is encryption keys. When multiple encryption solutions are implemented across an enterprise, encryption keys are exposed to numerous IT staff members. This violates a key information security best practice, namely, separation of duties. Since encryption keys are exposed to a wide group of individuals, this greatly increase the risk of an insider attack.

Three-step strategy to centralize security

There are several steps organizations can take to address the shortcomings associated with ad hoc security implementations.

The first is to consolidate core IT management disciplines. These include policy management, configuration management and reporting/auditing. All of these management activities should be controllable from one central location with actual execution occurring throughout the enterprise. In the reverse direction, all management information should flow back to the centralized management repository for storage, analysis, and reporting purposes.

Second, implement distributed policy enforcement. Centralized security policies must be enforced on heterogeneous systems distributed throughout the enterprise. To accomplish this, central management consoles must be able to distribute agents, configure individual systems, securely manage them and log all activities.

Third, deploy tiered administration. This enables enterprises to set and enforce both enterprise and departmental policies and allows separation of duties where security administrators, not functional IT staff, maintain management control over their security domains. For example, a database administrator at a financial services firm can be granted the power to maintain an Oracle database, but not rights to access regulated financial data. This approach protects the confidentiality and integrity of sensitive data by limiting access to security management based on job requirements.

Deploying a centralized enterprise security management strategy will require financial and IT resource investments. However, it will enable organizations to control and share information while managing risk. Most importantly, it will help prevent data security breakdowns that lead to breaches and costly public disclosures.

Vormetric is a provider of enterprise encryption and key management technology.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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