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SDN Journal Authors: Stefan Dietrich, Elizabeth White, Peter Silva, Pat Romanski, Don MacVittie

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@CloudExpo: Article

Don't Stick Your Head in the Sand, Create a Proactive Security Strategy

Preventing data leakage from the cloud

In business, data is currency. It is the oil that keeps the commercial engine in motion and databases are the digital banks that store and retrieve this valuable information. And, according to IDC, data is doubling every two years. But as the overall amount of data grows, so does the amount of sensitive and regulated data. All this data stored by enterprises requires high levels of security. Presently (again, according to IDC) only about a quarter of that data is being properly protected now. Like all currency, data must be protected.

And herein lays a key issue. Too many executives see security as a cost center and are often reticent to invest beyond the bare minimum--whatever keeps the nasty viruses out; whatever is absolutely necessary for compliance. Their thought process is akin to “we haven’t been attacked before…or we don't have a high enough profile for hackers to care” I call this “ostriching” – putting your head in the sand and hoping misfortune never darkens your door.

To substantiate this attitude many organizations look toward on premise-based protection that encrypts or monitors network traffic containing critical information. For the average company, this can be a budget buster and a significant resource drain...that is until they look toward the cloud and explore cloud-based security options.

Yet regardless of deployment options, most security experts will agree the best defense is a proactive strategy.

Data leak prevention (DLP), like most security efforts, is a complex challenge. It is meant to prevent the deliberate and inadvertent release of sensitive information. Too many companies are trying to cure the symptoms rather than prevent them in the first place.

Part of the protection equation is being overlooked. Database management systems must also be a component of a proactive data security strategy. Like the bank vault, it requires strong protections at its foundation. DLP is one part of a comprehensive enterprise data security program that includes comprehensive security best practices for the protection of mission-critical enterprise data repositories. The security must be able to both foil attackers who are financially motivated and won't be deterred by minimalist security and prevent the accidental release of data. Data security will go nowhere without robust, proactive database security.

To properly achieve these goals, organizations need to implement functions that comprise of a variety of solutions. And when used cooperatively, a company can instantly discover who is doing what and when on the network, identify the potential impact and take the necessary steps to prevent or allow access/usage. Just like a bank vault—security cameras follow you to see who you are, you need a password  to get into the vault itself (during business hours!) and your only allowed to open your own safety deposit box (as long as you have the key). Here are four proactive measures you can take:

Intrusion detection (security information and event monitoring): The first step in protection is to know who is proverbially knocking on the door…or sneaking around the back entrance. Activity monitoring and blocking is the first line of defense for your firewall and beyond (this includes BYOD access. And vigilance on the front lines create real time correlation to detect patterns of traffic, spot usage anomalies and prevent internal or external attacks. SIEM actually provides the forensic analysis that determines whether or not any access of a network is friendly/permissible, suspicious or threatening. This analysis is the basis of creating alerts to take appropriate action/alerts to prevent data leakage.

Traffic monitoring (Log Management): Once you know who’s accessing the network, log management looks to make sense of the patterns and historical usage so one can identify suspicious IP addresses, locations, and users as likely transgressors. If you can predict the traffic, then you can create the rules to block sources, prevent access and create a reportable audit trail of activity. But to be proactive, it must be continuous and in real time.  Looking at reams of machine logs days or weeks after might discover breaches and careless users, but it can’t prevent it. It is the proverbial equivalent of chasing the horse that has left the barn.

Provisioning: (Identity Management): One of the best ways of ensuring users only access data to which they are entitled to see or use is through proper delegation of user rights. This is handled through identity management provisioning. In well too many documented cases, a user (typically an employee) leaves the fold, but never relinquishes access to this sensitive information. Just as provisioning gives users certain rights, automatic de-provsioning keeps former employees and other away from certain sections of your database. And when connected to SIEM and Log Management, when and if deprovsioned users try to use retired passwords or accounts, you know about it when it happens!

Authentication and Credentialing: (Access Management) This is more than password management (and making sure these codes are more substantial than “password123” B making sure access is controlled by at least two or more credentialing (multi-factored authentication) For example, a hospital may choose to require authorized personnel to present a log in credentials like a password and a unique variable code to access certain protected/sensitive areas of the network or database. In doing so, they have additional protection against the use of lost or unauthorized credentials. It is another layer of protection that can deflect potential data leakage.

In this assessment, there are at least four individual solutions which require implementation and monitoring. If the executives were unwilling before, how can an IT department muster the leverage to find money or the proposed staffing to deploy this preventive strategy? The good news is they don’t have to do either. Through a unified security model (real time event and access correlation technology) from the cloud combines the capabilities and functionalities from each of these toolsets and creates a strong, cost-effective enterprise platform. It leverages the key features in a single cooperative, centralized  source that enhances visibility throughout the enterprise. All the cost saving benefits inherent with cloud computing are realized and as a security-as-a-service, the need for additional headcount is moot. Part of the service is the live expert analysts watching over your virtual borders 24/7/365.

The additional benefit it’s the ability to leverage existing programs into a REACT platform. If a company previously invested in a Log Management or Single Sign On solution, they can easily integrate the other pieces of the puzzle to ensure a layered, holistic approach. This way all the independent silos are monitored and covered. Because each of the solutions interact and intersect with one another, the seamless communication creates a layered, responsive defense that anticipates, controls and alerts as opposed attempting to put the toothpaste back into the tube. The damage of a breach (whether through user carelessness, internal sabotage or direct attack) is more than just the compliance fines and the blowback of the data currency affected. Substantial and detrimentally impactful as they are, they can’t touch the cost of broken trust. That, in itself, is a driving reason to get ahead on the issue of proactive security.

As enterprise systems are exposed to substantial risk from data loss, theft, or manipulation, unified security platforms from the cloud IS that fine balance of data leakage prevention, protection of IP assets, maintenance of compliance standards versus cost/resource responsibility. It is an accountable way of becoming proactive.

Kevin Nikkhoo


More Stories By Kevin Nikkhoo

With more than 32 years of experience in information technology, and an extensive and successful entrepreneurial background, Kevin Nikkhoo is the CEO of the dynamic security-as-a-service startup Cloud Access. CloudAccess is at the forefront of the latest evolution of IT asset protection--the cloud.

Kevin holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering from McGill University, Master of Computer Engineering at California State University, Los Angeles, and an MBA from the University of Southern California with emphasis in entrepreneurial studies.

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