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Cost-effective data encryption in the cloud

IT Best Practices Alert By Linda Musthaler, Network World
December 11, 2009 11:56 AM ET
Linda Musthaler
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One of the best practices you can implement to secure sensitive data is to encrypt it. This is especially important when the data is most vulnerable, such as when it is being stored or transported on mobile media like a laptop hard disk, a USB stick, a CD or DVD, or when it is attached to an e-mail message. Seeing how many data breaches are the result of a lost or stolen laptop or portable storage device, it should be a given that companies are going to encrypt sensitive data.

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If common sense isn't enough to spur you to encrypt your data, industry, state and federal regulations might be your driving force. HIPAA, HITECH and PCI all require organizations in specific industries to protect sensitive data -- with encryption being the de facto means of protection.

The state of Massachusetts is leaving nothing to chance. The commonwealth has passed the most aggressive state data protection law to date. The regulation known as 201 CMR 17 goes into effect in March 2010, and it requires the encryption of transmitted data and of portable devices that contain sensitive information. 201 CMR 17 applies to all businesses and organizations, regardless of size, that handle information about people from Massachusetts that could be used for identity theft. This could include your company if you have any sensitive information about customers located in Massachusetts.

Despite the effectiveness of encryption in protecting data, many companies choose not to implement it because it can be costly and complicated. Most solutions require the company to install an encryption server and manage the keys. The start-up costs can easily be $10,000 or more -- a hefty sum for a small business.

BitArmor recently introduced a hosted encryption service that reduces the cost and complexity of encrypting sensitive data. The solution is available via the cloud, with BitArmor hosting the encryption server and managing the keys. All you have to do is install a piece of software on the PCs containing data you want to protect. The BitArmor service provides full disk encryption for laptops and desktops; protection for data on removable media; and protection for data that is sent as an e-mail attachment.

There are two things that make BitArmor's solution rather unique. The first is how the solution is deployed in the cloud. BitArmor's competitors typically deploy one host server per customer. For efficiency, BitArmor slices one server to provide isolated services to each of its customers. As you can imagine, fewer servers mean far lower costs, allowing BitArmor to charge a relatively low fee of $5 per device per month. Even small companies can afford this kind of fee.

The second unique aspect of BitArmor's solution is its SmartTag technology. When data is encrypted, it gets tagged with persistent file encryption policies that follow the data no matter where it goes. So, for example, if you encrypt the data when it's on a laptop, and then copy the file to a USB stick, it retains the same encryption policies and properties. Same if you send it as an e-mail attachment, or move it to a backup tape or a data center server. The nice thing about this is that the user doesn't have to think about the encryption -- it's just there.

Linda Musthaler is a principal analyst with Essential Solutions Corporation.

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