Simplify My Data Leak Prevention

data_theftA little while back I wrote a post about how important it is to stop making technology so hard (feel free to have a look back here) and that successful technology delivers what people need.

How do we do that? by giving them technology that just simply works, I’ve written a few times about the OAP Internet Virgins show on Sky, here in the UK, which gave older folk an iPad and taught them how this simple bit of well designed technology could work and how it truly changes lives in a host of these cases.

Well I also said i’d give some examples of where I’ve seen simplification of technology have real benefit, however since that promise, times have been hectic, traveling, presenting, doing press and video interviews, a podcast debut and my actual job, all that got in the way of my good blogging intentions!

Well in the midst of all that was a presentation I was asked to do by Microsoft to the Institute of Financial accountants, the topic of which was data security. The idea been to give these predominantly small business owners some tips on how to secure their most critical business asset, their data. Just because these where small businesses, it doesn’t make their data any less critical than the very largest enterprise. However these guys potentially have a much bigger problem, they are financial services people not IT people and the idea that they need complex technology solutions to stop them losing critical data would mean that, in reality, they never would have that option and that’s not the way it’s supposed to work, technology should be an enabler and help us do things better, smarter, easier and shouldn’t be bound by budget, or in-depth IT skills.

Well what have all these things go to do with making things simpler?

Take a bow Office365, Microsoft do lots of really good stuff on their cloud platforms, across 365 and Azure, it’s what you’d expect from a hyperscale cloud provider. One of the things that cloud does is help to greatly simplify IT deployment, need a new server, go to the portal click go and up it comes, need storage, select what you need and like technology magic these things appear, the behind the scenes technology is very complex, but to you the user, it looks a doddle and that is exactly how it should be.

How does that relate back to our our finance friends?

During our event we focussed on a number of areas that you should look at as part of a data leak prevention strategy.

data protection areas

Now some of those things are practical things you can do, sole trader or huge corporate, but some of these areas are more tricky.

If we wind back 5 years or so, how many businesses of all sizes, found some or all of the above areas a real challenge, both technically and commercially.

Technology to address all of these things of course has been around for ages, but let’s just pick on one area and show how cloud and Office365 specifically has made something so much simpler, both technically and commercially.

I remember sitting in a presentation a few years ago showing the power of information rights management (IRM) in a Microsoft infrastructure, for those not familiar, this is a really powerful ability, where you can start building rules into your document work flows and applications to stop important and sensitive information being shared in ways it shouldn’t.

Let’s give an example, how many of us have accidentally emailed the wrong person thanks to auto addresses? I know i have, now normally you are emailing something relatively harmless, but a few months back, I was accidentally sent someone’s personal financial information, as I shared the first name of their financial adviser.

How do we stop that? Well that’s what IRM is there for, IRM would either have rules in the document or rules in exchange that would stop information leaving the safety of your internal systems by mistake.

Brilliant, so why don’t lots of people do it? Because it’s to hard, it’s complex and expensive to set up on-prem.

“But I’d love that kind of capability” I hear you shout, well step forward the bright world of cloud based service, specifically in this case Office365 and Azure.

As we look in our 365 management portal, what’s this handy little option?

rights management

When we click into manage, we get the opportunity to activate rights management, if it’s not already running, and when you click activate – that’s kind of it, your organisation now has rights management enabled for it’s Office365 estate.

What does that mean?

We can now add data security policies to a whole range of documents and emails, so yes, there is a bit of configuration (don’t be afraid to ask for some skilled advice here) but to get you started there is a range of preconfigured templates ready to roll.

ILM Templates

Once enabled, then you have ILM implemented and usable in your business productivity applications.

ILM in Word

There it is, now sat as an option in Word, where you can simply add rights management controls and apply protection templates to your sensitive company info.

Enabling this in your organisation also opens up capabilities into tools like Exchange and SharePoint Online.

For me this is a great example of how cloud technology can hugely simplify, what in reality, is a complex bit of technology too setup.

That is the power of well built cloud (whether that’s private, public or hybrid), making technology deployment quick and easy to deliver and in many businesses allowing you to enable technology that, in a more traditional model, would be too complex or expensive.

It is this kind of approach that is revolutionising the IT industry at the minute, and for all of us in the industry we need to understand this, whether we create applications, architect them or even consult on them. To meet the challenges in the modern business regardless of how complex and challenging it may be behind the scenes.

There’s the challenge for us all!

Like I said at the beginning of this, when working with our financial services friends, their data is just as important as everyone else’s and they shouldn’t be excluded from solutions to their business challenges by complexity and cost, now should they!

If you’re looking for Information Rights Management as part of your data leak prevention strategy, hopefully this post has given you some ideas of how this is not out of your reach either technically or commercially by utilising cloud services where appropriate.

Any questions, feel free to give me a shout on Twitter, LinkedIn or via the comments section here and we can swap some ideas.

Thanks for reading.

Want to know more – try these

What is Azure Rights Management (Technet Article)

What is Azure Rights Management Overview (Short Video)


More data security onions or Data Security is like a great big onion-Part 2

more onions

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about some security events we’d been running and how in between the sessions exploring I’d covered where each solutions sat and the problems that we were trying to solve.

A few people suggested that a post about the multiple layers of data security problems we where addressing would be useful, this lead to what turned out to be a popular post, with a very tenuous music link, Data security is like a great big onion part one (feel free to have a read) and as we all know, data security is one heck of a big tear inducing onion, with lots of layers, so big in fact that it needed two posts to deal with just the bit we covered during our events.

Since then, we’ve run our final event in the series and now I’ve finally had the chance to write part two of this onionesque data security post.

By way of a quick recap, the event we ran brought together 6 leading data security vendors  to look at the challenges that our day to day usage of our data brings, what those problems are and how we address them.

We where not covering the more “traditional” data security tools anti-virus, firewall, anti-spam etc. not because we feel they are any less important, but we had to assume that our attendees, as probably with most readers of this BLOG, already deal with that problem with well established solutions. The areas we looked at where some of the problems we don’t necessarily consider.

The areas covered fell into these categories;

In part one we dealt with the initial core parts of the challenge, understanding who’s accessing our data, how we ensure compliance in our key systems and how to manage encryption on all of our devices, (feel free to check part one out if you need too)

So now let’s move a little further outside of the core and out to our edge devices, as we look at three further challenges.

The Endpoints

One of the most overlooked areas we find in securing data is those plethora of end point devices, we often see these devices remain relatively unmanaged and uncontrolled in many environments.. but why!?

Think of the risk, it’s great securing our core data and our line of business applications, however once the data gets out to the endpoints, where that unstructured data spends most of it’s time, it really is only as secure as the endpoint it sits on and today of course, how many of those endpoints sit within the safety of our network?

Of course the mobility and the range of devices makes it hard to secure them and besides, if we are securing the data in the core, is the endpoint really that big a risk?

Our friends at Lumension where happy to share exactly why it is such a problem;

The main challenge out on the endpoints, was not one of lack of AV, but almost that organisations believe that in itself that is enough, but the challenge of protecting these devices is as multi layered and oniony (sure that is a word!) than anywhere else, the threat comes from unauthorised software, unauthorised devices, lack of patching and of course the inability to look for behaviours outside of what we understand, especially if we are relying on signature based AV or application blocklisting.

Over 90% of cyber attacks exploit known security flaws for which a remediation is available” – Gartner

Lumension covered some key areas, as they looked at the importance of patching, understanding of behaviour and also some really smart technology around software application control, and anyone who’s used group policy to manage that, knows any smart tech is a big help!

Having full and smart control of our endpoints is hugely important and something that does tend to get overlooked more than it should, but something our attendees really grabbed and took away from the event.

Edge Data

At last we are right out at the extremities of where we put our data, the outer layer of our big juicy onion.

One of the huge changes in IT usage over the last 10 years (at least) has been the massive increase in technology mobility, today we have our data on laptops, tablets, smartphones, heck even watches, and our users have an expectation that we can give them access to data on all of these devices all of the time.

Our guests from Druva shared a really interesting statistic with us;

Recent figures from Gartner and IDC suggested that 28% of corporate data now resides only on endpoint devices.

Gartner and IDC suggested that 28% of corporate data now resides only on endpoint devices

82074d1272615744-gordon-browns-face-palm-yesterday-priceless-trading-during-election-run-up-brown_facepalmYep, i did repeat that, read that statement again, 28% of corporate data residing only on endpoint devices. Think about what we’ve done so far with our onion, we’ve controlled out data access in the core, we’ve added compliance to our corporate apps, we’ve encrypted, we’ve controlled the endpoints, all of these really good things, however we’ve got people in our organisations running around with key data, only on their mobile devices, heck it’s a good job those devices never go missing with that data on!

Of course the reality is, this is extremely high risk, we risk permanent data loss, potential for easy breach and a real problem when it comes to compliance – if we want to search all the data we have, then how do we pick that data up when its only hidden away on someone’s tablet?

It goes without saying then, that it’s a critical element of our overall strategy that we take care of all of these areas and that we have a strategy that allows us to;

  • Captures and Centralises our data
  • Ensures we have strong rules and controls on data at the edge to avoid data loss
  • Making sure we can analyse and discover all of our data out at the edge
  • All of this while ensuring this is a simple and unobtrusive process for each of our client devices.

Quite a challenge, but one we really have to take…unless you want to be having face meet palm at high speed!

Pesky Users

The last layer of this challenge (or the first layer if you came to the Manchester event!) was all pesky kidsaround the people, yep those pesky kids…I mean users!

That brought up our final speakers NETconsent who posed some very interesting questions around the human factor in information security.

We’ve said all along the issue of data protection is multi layered and, of course, so are the solutions, there isn’t a magic bullet out there that is going to cure it for us with one press of a button. However what is also the case is that without our users understanding why we are securing the data and how to make sure they use our systems and data in a way that keeps it secure, we are probably wasting our time.

I’ve recently done some work with a local organisation about data leak prevention and one of the very first questions we asked was;

What buy in do you have for data security?

Because if you don’t have buy in from the leadership of your organisation, then your data protection strategy is never going anywhere, it’s equally important however, that not only your leadership buys in but that there is an understanding of why you have a data security strategy across all levels of your business, because if you are putting strategies and solutions in place, that may appear to users as an inconvenience, regardless of how minor, then if everyone across the business doesn’t understand how to adhere to your policies and maybe even more importantly why data protection is important at all, you really are fighting a losing battle.

In reality the only way we achieve all of this is a mixture of things it’s having buy in, having technology to help implement our policies is of course key, however none of this delivery and enforcement can be done, without documented policies and user education, which is a huge task, to manage the process and measure the effectiveness is very difficult to many organisations.

Our Partners from NETconsent shared a range of techniques and solutions to ensure that we have a controlled and centralised repository, that we ensured our documentation and training was up to date and that we could measure the effectiveness of all of this.

Well none of us want to be saying “my data would of been secure if it wasn’t for those pesky users!”

Sliced and Diced

chopped%20onionSo there it is, our data security onion sliced and diced, hopefully if you’ve been able to follow this post all the way through, you’ve not shed too many tears!

As I said right back at the beginning, data security is a huge problem, one that’s ever changing, even the stuff I’ve covered in these two lengthy posts, are only looking at a subset of the areas that you should consider and of course the threat is ever evolving, even with these things in place, don’t rest on your laurels thinking you have your data secured, you need to keep looking at the ever changing landscape and the threats it contains, to ensure you keep your data secure and safe and that it isn’t wandering out of your organisation and you only find out when it’s to late.

Hope you enjoyed this onion related set of posts and I hope that it’s given you some food for thought (collective groan!) and at least has helped a couple of you to develop some new areas of your data security strategy.