SAN FRANCISCOBig data is popping up in many discussions at this year's RSA Conference here: both as a way to solve some of the most pressing security problems as well as a reason why individual privacy is at risk.
The proliferation of devices and services means more and more information is being collected and made available for analysis, Scott Charney, corporate vice president in Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing group, said in his keynote speech Feb. 28. The massive volumes of unstructured data, often called big data, offer businesses enormous potential to improve business operations and develop new products, according to Charney.
While big data analytics can improve health care or let banks better assess the likelihood of a loan prospect defaulting, it can also be tremendously helpful in beefing up security defenses, Charney said. Big data tools can be used to analyze all the information being collected, such as what users are doing, what resources systems are accessing, and what kind of traffic is coming in and out of the network.
"The problem is we have too much security data, and we don't know what to make of it all," Charney said.
RSA Security Chairman Arthur Coviello also touted the benefits of big data during his opening keynote. Analyzing all event information collected across the network from all kinds of systems, not just traditional security platforms, would give organizations "predictive and pre-emptive intelligence" that could be used to determine where adversaries are likely to attack next, he said. Big data lets organizations move away from the patchwork of "siloed" security products that tend to make up traditional security deployments to focus instead on "multisource intelligence" systems that can see the bigger picture, according to Coviello.
While Big data may also provide new insights into the reliability and security of our IT ecosystem, the way it is used will raise important privacy questions, Microsoft's Charney warned. Users are increasingly becoming concerned about how much data is being collected, with whom it is being shared and how it is used.
Geo-location data collected by mobile devices is the perfect example, according to Charney. Organizations can look at geo-location data to analyze customer behavior, market to them more effectively and understand customer preferences. But users are increasingly becoming concerned about ubiquitous tracking.
Even though under the Federal Trade Commission guidelines companies are required to notify users about what data is being collected, ironically, people tend to ignore those notices because it's too much information. Recent cyber-legislation is supposed to make the disclosure process simpler, but there are no actual details yet on how companies will inform users.
In a panel discussion on big data and how it can be used for security, Rich Mogull of Securosis warned against falling into the trap of thinking of big data as a cure-all for all security problems. The technology is still in its early stages and, for many organizations, it is still too soon to be thinking about doing big data analytics on their own. Instead, they should work with providers who have the resources to analyze the data and provide insights, Mogull said.
Businesses can start exploring the technology and approach it as a "science experiment," Mogull suggested.