If a laptop, CD or smart phone is stolen, encryption can be the difference between a data breach and a close call. With so much sensitive corporate and personal information at stake, a clear encryption strategy is a vital part of data protection.
Step one for developing that strategy is to understand just what data and devices need to be protected. For starters, confidential information should always be encrypted, whether it is on BlackBerrys, laptops or disk. Understanding what data should be encrypted requires getting input from various levels of the business. Mistakes can be lethal to the corporate pocketbook - a survey last year by the Ponemon Institute found a breach cost organizations an average of $197 per compromised record in 2007.
After understanding your data, your next focus should be on the devices.
"One of the more important tasks prior to any encryption is an honest inventory of what devices need protecting," said John Dasher, director of product management at PGP.
Corporations are almost always never as homogeneous as they think they are when it comes to their device population, he explained. For example, a company may standardize on Windows laptops, and only approach security for that platform, neglecting the Mac OS X laptops that the executives or IT staff are carrying, he added.
"Recognizing that people are sending sensitive information from their BlackBerry devices needs to be accounted for," Dasher continued. "Knowing that people use their Windows mobile devices as convenient data storage devices means there's data at risk there, not to mention the never ending collection of USB thumb drives that people seem to acquire outside of the purview of IT."
When it comes to choosing and deploying an actual product, enterprises must think through the operational and security effects of what they are about to do, advised Chris Burchett, chief technology officer of CREDANT Technologies.
"Are there compatibility issues with equipment or processes?" Burchett asked rhetorically. "How will you manage native encryption sources in the future? Is data protected during break-fix and repair operations? What processes need to change to support this product? You need to consider backup, patch management, forensics, repair and access recovery at a minimum."
Gartner analyst John Pescatore recommended taking a "Public Key Operations" approach - making key management decisions on related services instead of looking for some general purpose Public Key Infrastructure or Key Management Infrastructure to meet all key management needs.
"For example, business trying to solve PCI-related card data encryption needs should look for a key management product that meets those needs - encrypting card data on servers and often mainframes - and not try to force fit general purpose encryption and digital signing into that," he said. "Similarly, there is rarely if ever a true business benefit from trying to use the same key management system used to manage desktop encryption keys for, say, encrypting remote access sessions or network traffic."
"The real key advice is you are better off having two or three key management approaches that meet business needs now, can react to changes rapidly and don't require huge consulting engagements to implement - it will actually be cheaper in the long run and meet business needs more quickly and more effectively," he added.
The biggest drawback of cryptography is the impact on existing business processes, said Eric Ogren, principal analyst with the Ogren Group. Any solution therefore has to be easy to administer, not impact end-user experiences, and be able to handle disaster recovery scenarios, he said.
"Also, enterprises should realize that security does not end with encryption - whatever is encrypted has to be decrypted to be useful," Ogren said. "So keep an eye on access control, leaving data in the data center with virtualization, regular audits, etc."