Long ago, when businesses kept sensitive information locked away in file cabinets and safes, it was relatively cheap and easy to store valuable data and control who had access to it. Today, enterprises invest millions in security, storage, and compliance technologies -- all in the name of increasing visibility into where vital electronic information lives and how it is being defended.
Despite those efforts, most experts and customers admit that in most companies the process of tracking down every piece of valuable company data -- and applying the appropriate tools to shield information from unwanted access or misuse -- remains in its beginning stages.
The heart of the matter is visibility. Enterprises feel uncertain whether today’s technologies are providing an accurate sense of where things stand or are merely creating a false sense of security.
Seeing blind spots
When forensic experts called in by businesses to investigate external data breaches and insider threats tell their stories, the traumatic events that lead to brand-trashing headlines and regulatory punishment are most often based in the business’ lack of knowledge of where its sensitive data is.
Enterprises are improving their ability to safeguard the stockpiles of sensitive information they know about, admit investigators, but many remain blind to additional stores of important data or the flawed processes they use to transmit information electronically. Both problems leave them vulnerable to leaks and attacks.
"In almost every case we've investigated where companies have experienced a serious data breach, the reality is that the companies didn't know they had the information where it was stolen from until it's too late and the data has been taken," says Bryan Sartin, vice president of investigative response at Cybertrust, a provider of managed security services that lists risk assessment among its specialties.
"We end up telling companies where they store their sensitive data after doing forensics when they've already had a breach," Sartin says. "In some cases it's clear that companies are only doing the bare minimum in terms of protection before one of these incidents, but the truth is that even with companies that are employing a lot of sound technologies and process they're still missing a lot of the important data repositories."
Making the job of such professionals even more difficult, Sartin says that clever hackers are already using anti-forensics techniques to hide their footprints and make it harder for investigators to trace ongoing data theft schemes.
Other security breach experts agree that businesses seem overwhelmed by the task of hunting down and protecting valued information.
"It's not that good companies aren't making an effort in this area; it just seems that they can't seem to find a way to locate the information and manage it in a way that allows them to do business and guard the data from every conceivable threat," says Kevin Mandia, chief executive of security service provider Mandiant.