Enterprise Security and the Importance of Data Protection

McAfee bought Safeboot late last year. CheckPoint bought Pointsec. And now Sophos is buying Utimaco. With all these purchases, look for sophisticated encryption capabilities to be rolled into corporate client security suites over the next few years.

With the regulatory compliance imperative beating down on companies everywhere, I get a lot of pitches for products with the broad goal of protecting data from unauthorized access. There are many different approaches to this in the industry, and some of them are harder to implement than others. My impression, and there's some common sense behind it, is that enterprises are moving fastest on the easiest ones to implement.

What's this easiest method? It's encryption, and especially full-disk encryption. There has been a lot of action in this market.McAfee bought Safeboot late last year. CheckPoint bought Pointsec. And now Sophos is buying Utimaco. With all these purchases, look for sophisticated encryption capabilities to be rolled into corporate client security suites over the next few years. I'm not sure if Symantec has these products already or if they just haven't bought someone yet.

These PKI companies do a lot more than disk encryption, but full disk encryption, especially on notebooks, is the most straightforward thing you can do. It's been tricky and expensive in the past, but I'm told that key management, the tricky part of all this, has gotten a lot better of late. Sophos says that key management was the reason they are buying Utimaco; they've done it right. It's also true that prices have come down in this space. This is naturally because of competition, and I think that Microsoft's Bitlocker probably has something to do with it.

The other reason to deal with encryption first is that just about all visible examples of data compromise are the types that could be addressed by encryption. Consider a generic example: "The Federal Department of Whatever announced that a notebook computer on which the personal records of thousands of taxpayers were stored was left in a cab in Brooklyn last week and has not yet been recovered." In most of these cases I figure the data probably isn't at issue because whoever picks up the notebook will delete all the data and sell the hardware, but obviously there's an issue.

What if the Whatever Department spokesperson could say they are confident any data on the notebook is inaccessible because it's all encrypted with strong encryption (and department policies mandate 2-factor authentication or at least strong passwords)? I haven't heard of a case like this yet and I'm not sure how it would be received in the press and how expert analysts would react to it. And as I've said, it's not just about disk encryption; there have been cases of lost backup tapes, lost USB keys, and of course the TJX compromise was as a result of weak or nonexistent encryption on Wi-Fi.