Storing, Sharing ... Secrets

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2011-11-07 Print this article Print


Symantec is in a sensitive position when it comes to both personal and business data. On one hand, the company stores and protects all your digital valuables while enabling you to share some of them for the benefit of you, your business partners, and your friends and family. On the other hand, it keeps your secret data secret and confidential data confidential. All are very different use cases that need varying types of security access.

There's a fundamental set of cross-purposes at play here. The questions about whose data is it, who can access it and for how long, and who gets to remove it are all part of the deal. Both humans and software make these decisions, and they had better be the right decisions-especially if one works in a regulated or confidential-data industry, such as financial services, the military, health care or the government.

Salem is fascinated by the decisions that must be made to answer these questions: Which data should we store? Which should we share? Which should we keep deeply secret, and which should be simply "confidential"? Each of these questions has a software control to match it, set by a company, a user or both in tandem. Symantec is one of the companies that offer this type of control.

How does Symantec develop this control so that it works correctly all the time? The answer is found in good software development.

An 'Information Socialist'

Salem has described himself as an "information socialist," and the term also applies to Symantec in general.

"There are certain people who want to horde information, thinking that they have more control and power," Salem told eWEEK. "The term -information socialist' means you want to share information. We think everybody gets better by having the right information. I've always been a big believer that sharing information is how you actually become successful."

Information socialism goes way beyond technology, he added. It ventures into our lives in general. For example, information stored in social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, FriendFeed and others is IT data that can exist in public forever. Thus, we are all responsible to be careful what we put into public purview. Make no mistake: Those are public forums, no matter what privacy controls may be in place.

"What's interesting about technology is that you want to share information, but there's certain information that you need to keep private for personal reasons, or you need to keep it secure because it's intellectual property that requires confidentiality," Salem said. "So our role here is to help people protect their own privacy and to help people control certain types of information."

Marc Benioff, founder and CEO of and a friend of Salem's, also subscribes to the new-generation "socialist" description of how people are using IT. His Chatter in-house social network, with about 90,000 enterprise customers, is now the largest private social network in the world. Yammer and a number of others are also gaining traction in this space.

"Chatter opens things up, which is what you want, but you don't want to create liability for the business because the wrong information gets out," Salem said. "For example, the SEC tends to frown upon financials getting out before they're reported."

There are still many precautions that need to be taken when operating such internal networks. The access must be airtight, the security layer impenetrable and the storage bulletproof. No system is airtight, you say? You're probably right, but companies like Symantec and its competitors are constantly working to stay ahead of the hacking bad guys.

Chris Preimesberger Chris Preimesberger was named Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis at eWEEK in November 2011. Previously he served eWEEK as Senior Writer, covering a range of IT sectors that include data center systems, cloud computing, storage, virtualization, green IT, e-discovery and IT governance. His blog, Storage Station, is considered a go-to information source. Chris won a national Folio Award for magazine writing in November 2011 for a cover story on and CEO-founder Marc Benioff, and he has served as a judge for the SIIA Codie Awards since 2005. In previous IT journalism, Chris was a founding editor of both IT Manager's Journal and and was managing editor of Software Development magazine. His diverse resume also includes: sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News, covering NCAA and NBA basketball, television critic for the Palo Alto Times Tribune, and Sports Information Director at Stanford University. He has served as a correspondent for The Associated Press, covering Stanford and NCAA tournament basketball, since 1983. He has covered a number of major events, including the 1984 Democratic National Convention, a Presidential press conference at the White House in 1993, the Emmy Awards (three times), two Rose Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl, several NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, a Formula One Grand Prix auto race, a heavyweight boxing championship bout (Ali vs. Spinks, 1978), and the 1985 Super Bowl. A 1975 graduate of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., Chris has won more than a dozen regional and national awards for his work. He and his wife, Rebecca, have four children and reside in Redwood City, Calif.Follow on Twitter: editingwhiz

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