SAN FRANCISCO-How is the data security industry keeping a safe distance ahead of those who revel in stealing information from companies and individuals and using it for their own profit?
The current answer is by continually building more business intelligence, developed and collected by security technology companies, into large databases and the latest security products that keep watch over them. The business intelligence is aimed at making the security products and the databases they protect moving targets that are harder for data pirates to hit.
But the entire data protection business continues to be a slow-moving work in progress.
Enterprise Strategy Group security analyst Jon Oltsik believes that enterprise data security in general is becoming a bit tighter on the surface, but underneath there remains that soft underbelly of liability.
“Information security progress continues to move one step forward and then two steps back,” Oltsik wrote in his blog. “The worst news of all is that this isn’t a technology issue. It really comes down to negligence, ignorance, poor processes, and general laziness. To paraphrase security guru Bruce Schneier, ‘People remain the weakest link in the security chain.'”
Oltsik pointed out another disturbing fact: “Five of the 10 [all-time] biggest data breaches occurred in 2007, including the record setter,” he wrote. “Massachusetts-based TJX now holds the dubious honor for the largest data breach of all time-a whopping 94 million records exposed!”
RSA Security, one of the most respected data security vendors in the world and now a division of IT infrastructure giant EMC, and other security companies have found that while consumers and businesses remain standardized on static username-and-password entry into online services, the industry must continue to innovate new techniques to catch crooks.
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Human error and thievery-not technology-really are the major issues involving data security, RSA President Art Coviello said during a recent visit to eWEEK’s office here.
“Good security requires a fair amount of expense, maybe even a fair amount of frustration on the part of users,” Coviello said while offering an overview of what he sees in the security landscape going forward this year.
“If security is only invoked when and if a risk is identified, then it’s a lot less intrusive,” Coviello said. “In our online solutions for identity [authentication], we’re now looking for patterns of behavior, much as you do in a point-of-sale transaction with a credit card. So we monitor anomalies in credit-card transactions, and stop those transactions when the anomaly shows up.”
This screening of data and user routines for telltale patterns is something called “dynamic security.”
For instance, Coviello said, if you use your credit card today, and then 5 minutes from now this same card is used to try to buy something from an IP address in Moscow, RSA’s software would flag it and immediately put a stop on it.
“If you buy a pair of Nike sneakers online, no big deal. But if all of a sudden you’re buying 500 pair, we’ll probably stop that transaction,” Coviello said. “That sort of thing.”
In the first-generation security world, that kind of transaction likely would not have been discovered.
RSA has extended some of these “dynamic” pattern checks to online banking, Coviello said.
“We look for your IP address and certain idiosyncrasies of your computer, then we look for the types of transactions that you engage in. We then use those consistencies in those transactions to identify you as the correct user,” Coviello said.
Is this “business intelligence” per se, or is it something else? “It’s absolutely that,” Coviello said. “It’s not what I’d call ‘artificial intelligence,’ but it’s a way of taking what’s there and using it to protect people.”
Coviello said RSA is now applying information-centricity directly to all its new security products, adding that no firewall or password-entry system will ever provide airtight data protection from intruders.
Information-centric security binds security directly to information and the people who access it to ensure that they can access only the right information at the right time, when and where they need it.
“We are now protecting well over 100 million online identities,” Coviello said. “But the next step is to bring the security to information itself, and look for patterns in the flow of information and data. Our tools are sophisticated enough-not to do just dictionary-type content-but to actually screen streams and flows of different data.”
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Another example of finding a pattern in the data itself might involve e-mail security, Coviello said. “Our tools can identify a string of credit card numbers. In an e-mail scan, we would certainly ask, ‘Why was a string of credit card numbers headed out of the company in the form of an e-mail?'” Coviello said.
“Ironically, we deployed this within EMC itself. One of our engineering groups sent an e-mail list of numbers-test data that looked like credit card numbers -to one of our technical directors in Europe, and our own internal deployment of the products flagged and stopped the e-mail!” Coviello said with a laugh.
These issues and many more will be examined when RSA, whose software is used by more than 90 percent of the Fortune 500 enterprises, opens its annual users conference here at the Moscone Center in April.
“We’ll talk a lot of about innovation at the show, including dynamic software. But also we’ll be talking about how much security is being built right into IT infrastructure, like embedding encryption into storage platforms and the like,” Coviello said.
“We’ll see some new innovations around static security, like firewalls and standard virus protection also, but those things are just not keeping pace right now.”