Tag Archives: data loss prevention

Protecting your blackberry

Dealing with DLP and privacy

Dealing with DLP and privacy

It’s a long hot summer here in the Middle East and with 2/3 of  the office out on vacation, you have some time to reflect on data security. Or on the humidity.  Or on a cold beer.

Maybe you are working on building a business case for DLP technology like Websense or Symantec or Verdasys, or Mcafee or Fidelis in your organization.  Or maybe you  already purchased DLP technology and you’re embroiled in turf wars that have put your DLP implementation at a standstill as one of your colleagues is claiming that there are employee privacy issues with DLP and you’re trying to figure out how to get the project back on track after people get back from their work and play vacations in Estonia and brushing up on their hacking skills.

Unlike firewall/IPS, DLP is content-centric. It is technology that drives straight to the core of business asset protection and business process.  This frequently generates opposition from people who own business assets and manage business process. They may have legitimate concerns regarding the cost-effectiveness of DLP as a data security countermeasure.

But – people who oppose DLP on grounds of potential employee privacy violations might be selling sturm and drang to further a political agenda.   If you’re not sure about this – ask them what they’ve done recently to prevent cyber-stalking and sexual harassment in the workplace. 

For sure, there are countries such as France and Germany where any network or endpoint monitoring that touches employees is verboten or interdit as the case may be; but if you are in Israel, the US or the UK, you will want to read on.

What is DLP and what are the privacy concerns?

DLP (data loss prevention) is a solution for monitoring/preventing sensitive outbound content not activity at an endpoint. This is the primary mission. DLP is often a misnomer, as DLP is more often than not, DLD – data loss detection but whatever…Network DLP solutions intercept content from the network and endpoint DLP agents intercept content by hooking into Windows operating system events.  Most of the DLP vendors offer an integrated network DLP and endpoint DLP solution in order to control removable devices in addition to content leaving network egress points. A central command console analyzes the intercepted content and generates security events, visualizes them and stores forensics as part of generating actionable intelligence. Data that is not part of the DLP forensics package is discarded.

In other words, DLP is not about reading your employees email on their PC.  It’s about keeping the good stuff inside the company.    If you want to mount surveillance on your users, you have plenty of other (far cheaper) options like browser history capturer or key loggers. Your mileage will vary and this blog does not provide legal guidance but technically – it’s not a problem.

DLP rules and policies are content-centric not user-centric.

A DLP implementation will involve writing custom content signatures (for example to detect top-secret projects by keyword, IP or source code) or selecting canned content signatures from a library (for example credit cards). 

The signatures are then combined into a policy which maps to the company’s data governance policy – for example “Protect top-secret documents from leaking to the competition”. 

One often combines server endpoints and Web services to make a more specific policy like “Alert if top-secret documents from Sharepoint servers are not sent via encrypted channels to authorized server destinations“. 

In 13 DLP installations in 3 countries, I never saw a policy that targeted a specific user endpoint. The reason for this is that it is far easier using DLP content detection to pickup endpoint violations then to white list and black list endpoints which in a large organization with lots of wireless and mobile devices is an exercise in futility.  

We often hear privacy concerns from people who come from the traditional firewall/IPS world but the firewall/IPS paradigm breaks when you have a lot of rules and endpoint IP addresses and that is why none of the firewall vendors like Checkpoint ever succeeded in selling the internal firewall concept. 

Since DLP is part of the company data governance enforcement, it is commonly used as a tool to reinforce policy such as not posting company assets to Facebook. 

It is important to emphasize again, that DLP is an alert generation and management technology not a general purpose network traffic recording tool – which you can do for free using a Netoptics tap and  Wireshark.

 Any content interception technology can be abused when in the wrong hands or in the right hands and wrong mission.  Witness NSA. 

Making your data governance policy work for your employees

Many companies, (Israeli companies in particular) don’t have a data governance policy but if they do, it should cover the entire space of protecting employees in the workplace from cyber-threats.

An example of using DLP to protect employees are the threat scenarios of cyber-stalking, sexual harassment or drug trafficking in the workplace where DLP can be used to quickly (as in real-time) create very specific content rules and then refined to include specific endpoints to catch forensics and offenders in real-time. Just like inCSI New York New York.

In summary:

There are 3 key use cases for DLP in the context of privacy:

  1. Privacy compliance (for example PCI, HIPAA, US State and EU privacy laws) can be a trigger for installing DLP. This requires appropriate content rules that key to identifying PHI or PII.
  2. Enforcement of your corporate  data governance and compliance policies where privacy is an ancillary concern.   This requires appropriate content rules for IP, suppliers and sensitive projects. So long as you do not target endpoints in your DLP rules, you will be generating security events and collecting forensics that do not infringe on employee privacy.   In some countries like France and Germany this may still be an issue.  Ask your lawyer.
  3. Employee workplace protection – DLP can be an outstanding tool for mitigating and investigating cyber threats in the workplace and at the very least a great tool for security awareness and education. Ask your lawyer.

If you liked this or better yet hated it,  contact  me.  I am a professional security analyst specializing in HIPAA compliance and medical device security and I’m based in Israel and always looking for interesting and challenging projects.

Idea for the post prompted by Ariel Evans.

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skin mounted medical devices

Shock therapy for medical device malware

Israel has over 700 medical device vendors.  Sometimes it seems like half of them are attaching to the cloud and the other are developing mobile apps for all kinds of crazy, innovative applications like Healthy.io ( Visual Input Turned Into Powerful Medical Insight – translation: an app that lets you do urine analysis using your smart phone).

But – let’s not forget that many Medical devices  such as bedside monitors, MRI, nuclear medicine and  catheterization devices all reside on today’s hospital enterprise network.

An enterprise hospital network is a dangerous place.

Medical devices based on Microsoft Windows  can be extremely vulnerable to attack from hackers and malware who penetrate the hospital network and exploit typical vulnerabilities such as default passwords.

More importantly – medical devices that are attached to a hospital network are a significant threat to the hospital network itself since they may propagate malware back into the network.

While a thorough software security assessment of the medical device and appropriate hardening of the operating system and user-space code is the best way to secure a medical device in a hostile hospital network – this is not usually an option for the hospital once the medical device is installed.

Taking a page out of side-channel attacks and using the technique to detect malware, University of Michigan researchers have developed WattsUpDoc, a system designed to detect malware on medical devices by noting small changes in their power consumption.

The researchers say the technology could give hospitals a quick way to identify medical devices with significant vulnerabilities.

The researchers tested WattsUpDoc on an industrial-control workstation and on a compounder, which is used to mix drugs.

The malware detector first learned the devices’ normal power-consumption patterns. Then it tested machines that had been intentionally infected with malware. The system was able to detect abnormal activity more than 94 percent of the time when it had been trained to recognize the malware, and up to 91 percent of the time with previously unknown malware. The researchers say the technology could alert hospital IT administrators that something is wrong, even if the exact virus is never identified.

For the full article see WattsUpDoc

 

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Identify theft with Dumpster Diving

Rejuvinating Your Credit Muscles After a Mail Theft Attack

I have always been amused by calculations of the cost of identify theft and data breaches as I have written here, here, here and here.   Not surprisingly, security product and service vendors like Symantec, Mcafee and Websense are quick to present statistics regarding the damage to companies due to data breaches of personal information as a means of justifying purchase of DLP, anti-virus and  other end-point security products.

However, the real damage is not for companies but for consumers like you and me.

It is highly arguable that companies actually suffer significant financial damage from data breaches (outside of a handful of high-profile cases like CVS and Hannaford).  In fact – the lion’s share of damage from a data breach that leads to identity theft is not borne by the merchant or online web site but by the consumer.

Identity theft is a major challenge in America. The 2012 Identity Theft Report conducted by Javelin Strategy and Research revealed that there was one new identity theft victim every three seconds in 2012. That alarming statistic translates to 12.6 million victims affected in 2012, with losses totaling over $21 Billion. Once a person’s personal information was breached, thieves used their information for 48 days on average (in 2012). Though the amount of time identity thieves have had to use information obtained has fallen (from an average of 55 days in 2011 and from an average of 95 days in 2010), victims should still move as quickly as possible if a breach is suspected. If you or a loved one have been victimized, here are a few steps to help you clear your good name and rebuild your credit:

Alerting The Social Security Administration

Identity theft involving a victim’s Social Security number can be more damaging than you could imagine. If you suspect that someone has obtained your social security number for fraudulent purposes, contact the Social Security Administration as soon as possible at 800-269-0271. By doing so, you place officials at the SSA on alert so that activity involving your social security number can be appropriately monitored and, if necessary, deflected.

Alter Any Accounts Affected

If you login to any online accounts or review statements from your bank and find that you have indeed fallen victim to identity theft, alert those businesses as soon as possible. Close the affected accounts and re-open under a new account.

Often, when accounts are established, you are asked to create a new personal identification number (or PIN) as well as a new password. While you may have established a habit of using certain numbers, if a breach has happened, you will want to avoid using anything that may have also been revealed during the breach. Passwords including the last four digits of your social security number or consecutive numbers (such as 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.) should be avoided. You should also avoid using the name of your spouse or children, your mother’s maiden name as well as easily obtained data such as your date of birth or telephone number. Make your passwords as difficult as possible to guess, When possible, use numbers or punctuation marks in odd places within the password. This may help prevent fraudulent access to your accounts in the future.

Take Steps to Protect Yourself in the Future

One of the leading methods thieves use to get information about potential victims is through “dumpster diving” or sorting through your trash to find identifying information. While many consumers routinely shred their bank statements or other financial documents, many fail to shred the envelopes those statements come in. According to Paige Hansen, Manager of Educational Programs at Life Lock, failing to shred your documents makes the job of a would-be thief easier, as it practically hands them a piece of your identification puzzle. Hansen advises consumers to not only shred, but to be sure they utilize cross-cut shredding techniques which make piecing together those documents virtually impossible.

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Protecting your blackberry

How to Save Your Data and Reputation if You Lose Your BlackBerry

5 years ago, an analysis we did of 150 data breach events showed that over 40% of the data breach events were due to stolen or lost hardware devices (Download the free research article on data breach here Business Threat Modeling Study).

Stolen or lost devices were in a close second place to data being stolen from systems by hackers who exploit system and application software defects (49%).

5 years ago – it was your PC.  Now it is your smart phone.

Your bank account is emptied. Photos of your weekend clubbing showed up on some “drunk and stupid” website. Your contacts are gone and your Facebook friends hate you due to the nasty status updates you appear to be posting from your account. Yes, the world has pretty much ended all because you lost your phone.

But if your device happens to be one of the cell phones from BlackBerry, you just happen to be in luck. BlackBerry offers a host of preventative measures you can take as well as a number of apps and gadgets that can help protect your data and even retrieve your phone. Here are some smart and slick preventative measures to keep in mind before this scenario happens to you.

Password Protection

Protecting your phone with a password is a wise idea. Like most devices, BlackBerry lets you create a password to gain access to your phone’s functions and data, making your phone useless to whomever finds it. If it’s useless to them, they may as well return it, right?

While password protection may seem obvious, Investopedia reports that a Javelin Strategy & Research study says only 38 percent of cell phone users enact it.

Logging out

Log out of your apps when you’re done using them. Leaving access open to anything, even Facebook, is inviting trouble.

BlackBerry Protect

Installing BlackBerry Protect software is another wise move. This free software locates the last known location of your phone if the phone is on and the SIM card is still inserted. The BlackBerry website also notes the software can do a remote backup of the data, wipe your phone clean if you didn’t protect it with a password and even send a “return me for a reward” message to your phone’s screen, wherever it may be.

BlackBerry Protect lets you do regular backups even without a lost phone, as does Desktop BlackBerry Software. You can then restore your backed-up data to your new BlackBerry phone.

Wireless Leash

ZOMM. ZOMM is a handy protection gadget in the form of a wireless leash for your phone. Pair the device with your BlackBerry and you have an automatic alert system that lets you know if you and your phone are ever separated. The ZOMM website recommends taking the wireless leash protection up a notch by downloading the ZOMM app to your PC. The app lets you keep track of the leash itself, the last paired location of your BlackBerry and allows you change audible settings.

Creepy or Useful?

Even though Mashable.com calls this software “potentially creepy,” it doubles as a potential life saver. StealthGenie quietly hangs out in the background of your BlackBerry, secretly collecting data on your phone activity and sending the info to a secure web account. This way you can keep tabs on any texts, calls or other activity that happens after your phone goes missing. Opt for the gold subscription and you can delete phone information remotely and find out if the SIM has been changed.

Not losing your BlackBerry in the first place is, of course, the best option. But if your phone does get lost, your bank account, friends and reputation certainly doesn’t have to go with it.

Guest post courtesy of  Bobby Charles. Bobby is a mobile app designer and tech wizard from the East Coast. He loves writing, Web designing and jogging with his dogs.

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selling security products with fear, ignorance and online marketing

Why security defenses are a mistake

Security defenses don’t improve our understanding of the root causes of data breaches

Why is this so? Because when you defend against a data breach – you do not necessarily understand the vulnerabilities that can be exploited.

If do not understand the root causes of your vulnerabilities, how can you justify and measure the effectiveness of your defensive measures?

Let me provide you with an example.

Conventional IT security practice says that you must install a firewall in front of a server farm.

Firewalls prevent the bad guys from getting in. They don’t prevent sensitive data assets from leaving your network during a data breach.

If you have a dozen servers, running Ubuntu 12.04 with the latest patches, hardened and only serving responses to requests on SSH and HTTPS services not only is there no added value in a firewall but installing and maintaining a firewall will be a waste of money that doesn’t defend against a data breach.

First of all – defenses are by definition, not a means of improving our understanding of strategic threats. Think about the Maginot Line in WWI or the Bar-Lev line in 1973. Network and application security products that are used to defend the organization are rather poor at helping us understand and reduce the operational risk of insecure software.

Second of all – it’s hard to keep up. Security defense products have much longer product development life cycles then the people who develop day zero exploits. The battle is also extremely asymmetric – as it costs millions to develop a good application firewall that can mitigate an attack that was developed at the cost of three man months and a few Ubuntu workstations. Security signatures (even if updated frequently) used by products such as firewalls, IPS and black-box application security are no match for fast moving, application-specific source code vulnerabilities exploited by attackers and contractors.

Remember – that’s your source code, not Microsoft.

Third – threats are evolving rapidly. Current defense in depth strategy is to deploy multiple tools at the network perimeter such as firewalls, intrusion prevention and malicious content filtering. Although content inspection technologies such as DPI and DLP are now available, current focus is primarily on the network, despite the fact that the majority of attacks are on the data – customer data and intellectual property.

The location of the data has also become less specific as the notion of trusted systems inside a hard perimeter has practically disappeared with the proliferation of cloud services, Web 2.0 services, SSL VPN and convergence of almost all application transport to HTTP.

In summary – before handing over a PO to your local information security integrator – I strongly suggest a systematic threat analysis of your systems. After you have prioritized set of countermeasures – you’ll be buying, but not necessarily what he’s selling.

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The dangers of default passwords – 37% of Data Breaches Found to be Malicious Attacks

A malicious attack by malware or spear phishing on valuable data assets like PHI (protected health information) exploits known vulnerabilities  and one of the most common vulnerabilities in medical devices and healthcare IT systems is default passwords.

“Researchers Billy Rios and Terry McCorkle of Cylance have reported a hard-coded password vulnerability affecting a wide variety of medical devices. According to the report, the vulnerability could be exploited to potentially change critical settings and/or modify device firmware. ICS-CERT has been working closely with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on these issues. ICS-CERT and the FDA have notified the affected vendors of the report and have asked the vendors to confirm the vulnerability and identify specific mitigations.” See http://ics-cert.us-cert.gov/alerts/ICS-ALERT-13-164-01

And nothing beats hard coded / default passwords in medical devices as a vulnerability for PHI data leakage exploits, whether its an attack by malware, attack by retrieving sensitive data from stolen devices or a software defect that enables an attacker to obtain unauthorized access and transfer sensitive data from the internal network.

Data Breach Infographic

The World’s Leaking Data Infographic created by LifeLock.com

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Why data leaks

The 6 key business requirements for protecting patient data in networked medical devices and EHR systems:

  1. Prevent data leakage directly of ePHI (electronic protected health information) from  the device itself, the management information system and or the hospital information system interface. Data loss can be protected directly using network DLP technology from companies like Websense of Fidelis Security
  2. Ensure availability of the medical device or EHR application.  When the application goes offline, it becomes easier to attack via maintenance interfaces, technician and super-user passwords and copy data from backup devices or access databases directly while the device is in maintenance mode.
  3. Ensure integrity of the  data stored in the networked medical device or EHR system. This is really ABC of information security but if you do not have a way to detect missing or manipulated records in your database, you should see this as a wake-up call because if you do get hacked, you will  not know about it.
  4. Ensure that a networked or mobile medical device cannot by exploited by malicious attackers to cause damage to the patient
  5. Ensure that a networked or mobile medical device cannot by exploited by malicious attackers to cause damage to the hospital enterprise network
  6. Ensure that data loss cannot be exploited by business partners for financial gain.   The best defense against data loss is DLP – data loss prevention since it does not rely on access control management.

Why does data leak?

Just like theft, data is leaked or stolen because it has value, otherwise the employee or contractor would not bother.  There is no impact from leakage of trivial or universally available information.  Sending a  weather report by mistake to a competitor obviously will not make a difference.

The financial impact of a data breach is directly proportional to the value of the asset. Imagine an insurance company obtaining PHI under false pretenses, discovering that the patient had been mistreated, and suppressing the information.  The legal exposure could be in the millions.  Now consider a data leakage event of patient names without any clinical data – the impact is low, simply because names of people are public domain and without the clinical data, there is no added value to the information.

Why people steal data

The key attack vector for a data loss event is people  – often business partners working with inside employees. People handle electronic data and make mistakes or do not follow policies. People are increasing conscious that information has value – All information has some value to someone and that someone may be willing to pay or return a favor. This is an ethical issue which is best addressed by direct managers leading from the front and by example with examples of ethical behavior.

People are tempted or actively encouraged to expose leaked/lost data – consider Wikileaks and data leakage for political reasons as we recently witnessed in Israel in the Anat Kamm affair.

People maintain information systems and make mistakes, leave privileged user names on a system or temporary files with ePHI on a publicly available Windows share.

APT (Advanced Persistent Threat Attacks)

People design business processes and make mistakes – creating a business process for customer service where any customer service representative can see any customer record creates a vulnerability that can be exploited by malicious insiders or attackers using APT (Advanced Persistent Threat Attacks) that target a particular individual in a particular business unit – as seen in the recent successful APT attack on RSA, that targeted an HR employee with an Excel worksheet containing malware that enabled the attackers to steal SecurID token data,  and then use the stolen tokens to hack Lockheed Martin.

According to Wikipedia, APT attacks utilize traditional attack vectors such as malware and social engineering, but also extend to advanced attacks such as satellite imaging. It’s a low-and-slow attack, designed to go undetected.  There is always a specific objective behind it, rather than the chaotic and organized attacks of script kiddies.

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Five things a healthcare CIO can do to improve security

A metaphor I like to use with clients compares security vulnerabilities with seismic fault lines. As long as the earth doesn’t move – you’re safe, but once things start moving sideways – you can drop into a big hole. Most security vulnerabilities reside in the cracks of systems and organizational integration and during an M&A, those cracks fault lines can turn your local security potholes into the Grand Canyon.

Here are 5 practical things I would recommend to any healthcare organization CIO:

1. Do not rely on fixed controls

Any information security professional will tell you that security countermeasures are comprised of people, processes and technology.  The only problem is that good security depends on stable people, processes and technology. A stable organization undergoing rapid and violent change is an oxymoron.  Visualize your company has ISO 27001 certification but the stock drops by 90% because of an options back-dating scandal at the top, the company fires 900 employees and all of a sudden, the fixed controls are not as effective as you thought they were.  Think about the Maginot Line in WWII.

2. Use common sense when it comes to people

People countermeasures should be a mix of common-sense, background checks (at a depth proportional to job exposure to sensitive assets), and deterrence.  Andy Grove once said

“Despite modern management theory regarding openness – a little fear in the workplace is not a bad thing”.

When a lot of employees are RIF‘d – there is a lot of anger and people who don’t identify with their employer; the security awareness training vaporizes and fear and revenge take over. Some of the security people will be the first to go, replaced by contractors who may not care one way or the other or worse – be tempted by opportunities offered by the chaos. In  a large complex healthcare organization, large scale security awareness training is probably a hopeless waste of resources considering the increasing number of options that people have (Facebook, smartphones..) to do stuff that causes damage to the business.Security awareness will lose every time it comes up against an iPad or Facebook.

Why is  common sense a good alternative to awareness training?

Common sense  is easy to understand and enforce if you keep it down to 4 or 5 rules:  maintain strong passwords, don’t visit porn sites, don’t blog about the business, don’t insert a disk on key from anyone and maintain your notebook computer like you guard your cash.

3. Spend some money on securing your software applications instead of on security theater

It’s a given that business processes need to be implemented in a way that ensures confidentiality, integrity and availability of customer data.  A simplistic example is a process that allows a customer service representative to  read off a full credit card number to a customer. That’s a vulnerability that can be exploited by an attacker.  But – that’s a trivial example – while you’re busy managing processes and using security theater code words – the attackers are attacking your software and stealing your data.

4. Question your defenses 

Technology countermeasures are not a panacea – and periodically you have to step back and take a look at your security portfolio both from a cost and effectiveness perspective.  You probably reply on a defense in depth strategy but end up with multiple, sometimes competing and often ineffective tools at different layers – workstation, servers and network perimeter.

Although defense-depth is a sound strategy – here are some of the fault lines that may develop over time:

  • One – most defense in depth  information security is focussed on external threats while in an  organization undergoing rapid change – the problem is internal vulnerabilities.
  • Second – defense-in-depth means increased complexity which can result in more bugs, more configuration faults and … less security instead of more security.
  • Three – when the security and executive staff is cut, security monitoring and surveillance is suffers – since there are less (or no) eyeballs to look at the logs and security incident monitoring systems. With less eyeballs looking at events – you may have a data breach and only know about it 3 months later – are you still sure defense in depth was protecting you?

5. Invest in smart people instead  (instead of investing in business alignment)

Business alignment is one of those soft skill activities that keep people in meetings instead of mitigating healthcare  vulnerabilities – which requires hard professional skills and high levels of professional security competence. It’s a fact of life that problem solvers hate meetings and rightly so – you should invest in smart people and go light on the business alignment since it will never stop the next data breach of your patients’ data.

Claudiu Popa, president and chief security officer of data security vendor Informatica Corp. told  Robert Westervelt in an interview  on searchsecurity.com that:

…once an organization reaches the right level of maturity, security measures will not only save time and money, but also contribute to improved credibility and efficiency.

This is nonsense – security is a cost  and it rarely contributes to efficiency of a business (unless the business can leverage information security as part of it’s marketing messages) and as  for an organization firing 30% of it’s workforce over night – words like maturity, credibility and efficiency go out the door with the employees.

At that point –  highly competent and experienced security professionals who are thinking clearly and calmly are your best security countermeasure.

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Beyond the firewall

Beyond the firewall – data loss prevention

What a simple idea. It doesn’t matter how they break into your network or servers – if attackers can’t take out your data, then you’ve mitigated the threat.

Data loss prevention is a category of information security products that has matured from Web / email content filtering products into technologies that can detect unauthorized network transfer of valuable digital assets such as credit cards. This paper reviews the motivation for and the taxonomies of advanced content flow monitoring technologies that are being used to audit network activity and protect data inside the network.

Motivation – why prevent data loss?

The majority of hacker attacks and data loss events are not on the IT infrastructure but on the data itself.  If you have valuable data (credit cards, customer lists, ePHI) then you have to protect it.

Content monitoring has traditionally meant monitoring of employee or student surfing and filtering out objective content such as violence, pornography and drugs. This sort of Web content filtering became “mainstream” with wide-scale deployments in schools and larger businesses by commercial closed source companies such as McAfee and Bluecoat and Open Source products such as Censor Net and Spam Assassin. Similar signature-based technologies are also used to perform intrusion detection and prevention.

However, starting in 2003, a new class of content monitoring products started emerging that is aimed squarely at protecting firms from unauthorized “information leakage”, “data theft” or “data loss” no matter what kind of attack was mounted. Whether the data was stolen by hackers, leaked by malicious insiders or disclosed via a Web application vulnerability, the data is flowing out of the organization. The attack vector in a data loss event is immaterial if we focus on preventing the data loss itself.

The motivation for using data loss prevention products is economic not behavioral; transfer of digital assets  such as credit cards and PHI by trusted insiders or trusted systems can cause much more economic damage than viruses to a business.

Unlike viruses, once a competitor steals data you cannot reformat the hard disk and restore from backup.

Companies often hesitate from publicly reporting data loss events because it damages their corporate brand, gives competitors an advantage and undermines customer trust no matter how much economic damage was actually done.

Who buys DLP (data loss prevention)?

This is an interesting question. On one hand, we understand that protecting intellectual property, commercial assets and compliance-regulated data like ePHI and credit cards is  essentially an issue of  business risk management. On the other hand, companies like Symantec and McAfee and IBM sell security products to IT and information security managers.

IT managers focus on maintaining predictable execution of business processes not dealing with unpredictable, rare, high-impact events like data loss.  Information security managers find DLP technology interesting (and even titillating – since it detects details of employee behavior, good and bad) but an  information security manager who buys Data loss prevention (DLP) technology is essentially admitting that his perimeter security (firewall, IPS) and policies and procedures are inadequate.

While data loss prevention may be a problematic sale for IT and information security staffers, it plays well into the overall risk analysis,  risk management and compliance processes of the business unit.

Data loss prevention for senior executives

There seem to be three schools of thought on this with senior executives:

  1. One common approach is to ignore the problem and brush it under the compliance carpet using a line of reasoning that says “If I’m PCI DSS/HIPAA compliant, then I’ve done what needs to be done, and there is no point spending more money on fancy security technologies that will expose even more vulnerabilities”.
  2. A second approach is to perform passive data loss detection and monitor flow of data(like email and file transfers) without notifying employees or the whole world. Anomalous detection events can then be used to improve business processes and mitigate system vulnerabilities. The advantage of passive monitoring is that neither employees nor hackers can detect a Layer 2 sniffer device and a sniffer is immune to configuration and operational problems in the network. If it can’t be detected on the network. then this school of thought has plausible deniability.
  3. A third approach takes data loss prevention a step beyond security and turns it into a competitive advantage. A smart CEO can use data loss prevention system as a deterrent and as a way of enhancing the brand (“your credit cards are safer with us because even if the Saudi hacker gets past our firewall and into the network, he won’t be able to take the data out”).

A firewall is not enough

Many firms now realize that a firewall is not enough to protect digital assets inside the network and look towards incoming/outgoing content monitoring. This is because: 

  1. The firewall might not be properly configured to stop all the suspicious traffic.

  2. The firewall doesn’t have the capability to detect all types of content, especially embedded content in tunneled protocols.

  3. The major of hacker attacks and data loss events are not on the IT infrastructure but on the data itself.

  4. Most hackers do not expect creative defenses so they assume that once they are in, nobody is watching their nasty activities.

  5. The firewall itself can be compromised. As we have more and more Day-0 attacks and trusted insider threats, so it is good practice to add additional independent controls.

Detection

Sophisticated incoming and outgoing (data loss prevention or DLP) content monitoring technologies basically use three paradigms for detecting security events

  1. AD- Anomaly Detection – describes normal network behavior and flags everything else
  2. MD- Misuse Detection – describes attacks and flags them directly
  3. BA – Burglar alarm – describes abnormal network behavior (“detection by exception”)

In anomaly detection, new traffic that doesn’t match the model is labeled as suspicious or bad and an alert is generated. The main limitation of anomaly detection is that if it is too conservative, then it will generate too many false positives (a false alarm) and over time the analyst will ignore it. On the other hand, if a tool rapidly adapts the model to evolving traffic change, then too little alerts will be generated and the analyst will again ignore it.

Misuse detection describes attacks and flags them directly, using a database of known attack signatures and constantly tries to match the actual traffic against the database. If there is a match, an alert is generated. The database typically contains rules for:

  1. Protocol Stack Verification – RFC’s, ping of death, stealth scanning etc.
  2. Application Protocol Verification – WinNuke , invalid packets that cause DNS cache corruption etc.
  3. Application Misuse – misuse that causes applications to crash or enables a user to gain super user privileges; typically due to buffer overflows or due to implementation bugs.
  4. Intruder detection. Known attacks can be recognized by the effects caused by the attack itself. For example, Back Orifice 2000 sends traffic on default port is 31337
  5. Data loss detection – for example by file types, compound regular expressions, linguistic and/or statistical content profiling. Data loss prevention or detection needs to work at a much higher level than intrusion detection – since it needs to understand file formats and analyze the actual content such as Microsoft Office attachments in a Web mail session as opposed to doing simple pattern matching of an http request string.

Using a burglar alarm model, the analyst needs deep understanding of the network and what should not happen with it. He builds rules that model how the monitored network should conceptually work, in order to generate alerts when suspicious traffic is detected. The richer the rules database, the more effective the tool. The advantage of the burglar alarm model is that a good network administrator can leverage his knowledge of servers, segments and clients (for example a Siebel CRM server which is a client to a Oracle database server) in order to focus-in and manage-by-exception.

What about prevention?

Anomaly detection is an excellent way of identifying network vulnerabilities but a customer cannot prevent extrusion events based on general network anomalies such as usage of anonymous ftp. In comparison there is a conceptual problem with misuse detection. If misuse is detected then unless the event can be prevented (either internally with a TCP reset, by notifying the router or firewall) – then the usefulness of the devices is limited to forensics collection.

What about security management?

SIM – or security information management consolidates reporting, analysis, event management and log analysis. There are a number of tools in this category – Netforensics is one. SIM systems do not perform detection or prevention functions – they manage and receive reports from other systems. Checkpoint for example is a vendor that provides this functionality with partnerships.

Summary

There are many novel DLP/data loss prevention products, most provide capabilities far ahead of both business and IT infrastructure management that are only now beginning to look towards content monitoring behind the firewall.

DLP (Data loss prevention) solutions join an array of content and application-security products around the traditional firewall. Customers are already implementing a multitude of network security products for Inbound Web filtering, Anti-virus, Inbound mail filtering and Instant Messaging enforcement along with products for SIM and integrated log analysis.

The industry has reached the point where the need to simplify and reduce IT security implementation and operational costs becomes a major purchasing driver, perhaps more dominant than any single best-of-breed product.

Perhaps data loss prevention needs to become a network security function that is part of the network switching fabric; providing unified network channel and content security.

Software Associates helps healthcare customers design and implement such a unified network channel and enterprise content security solution today enabling customers to easily define policies such as “No Instant Messaging on our network” or “Prevent patient data leaving the company over any channel that is not an authorized SSH client/server”.

For more information contact us.


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Free risk assessment of your web site

With all the news about credit card breaches, there are probably a lot of people scurrying about trying to figure out the cheapest and fastest way to reduce the risk of some Saudi hacker stealing credit cards or mounting a DDOS attack on their web site.

I have written here, here and here about how to reduce the risk of a data breach of a web site.

Not to rain on the media party, but the actual cost to a online marketer of a hacker breaching a web site or defacing the web site could be very low since card-holders are covered by the credit card issuers and as long as the online commerce site continues operation, a temporary revenue dip might be offset by additional visits to the publicity.

Then again, the cost of a data breach to your operation could be very high, especially if you scrimp on security.

So – what is the right answer?

The right answer is the right security for your web site at the right cost to your pocket, not what Symantec says or what Microsoft says but what your risk assessment says.

In order to implement the most cost-effective security for your web site, you need to do a risk assessment that takes into consideration the value of your assets, the probability of attacks,  current vulnerabilities of your web site and operation (don’t forget that trusted insiders may be the more significant vulnerability in your operation) and possible countermeasures, including the cost of said countermeasures.

Sounds complex, right?

Actually – performing a threat analysis of  your web site can be a fairly straightforward exercise using the free risk assessment software provided by PTA Technologies.

You can download the free risk assessment software here and start improving your security today.

Any questions – feel free to reach out to the professional software security consultants in Israel at Software Associates.

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