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Five Steps To Protecting Intellectual Property

Staying secure means finding out where your sensitive data resides -- and how to protect it

[Excerpted from "Five Steps to Protecting Intellectual Property," a new report posted this week in Dark Reading's Insider Threat Tech Center.]

Intellectual property takes many forms, including design documents, marketing plans, source code, budgets, and communications. IP is the information that differentiates an organization from its competitors, and its loss can have devastating effects.

Companies often make the mistake of underestimating the risks involved, wrongly believing that they don’t have anything worth stealing just because they don’t hold the secret formula for Coca-Cola or the schematics for a microprocessor that will power millions of devices.

How can businesses protect their sensitive data? While essentially a data security and data leak prevention problem, protecting IP theft is also about improving a company’s overall security posture. Organizations have to understand the risks and know what the repercussions would be if the data is lost. Executives and IT managers also have to consider how protecting IP fits in with overall security, because if the two are not in sync, the organization will be exposed to significant risks.

It’s important to note that personally-identifiable information -- such as passwords and credit card numbers -- isn’t the only thing being stolen. Criminals have figured out that stealing any kind of information can be lucrative. Intellectual property is useful to competitors looking for an edge and to nation-states intent on giving local companies and economies a boost.

Security professionals need to understand that thieves can be insiders or outsiders. An insider may be an employee leaving for a job with a competitor, taking files he or she worked on to the new job, or an employee being bribed by criminals to pass along certain types of information.

Employees don’t even have to be malicious to be a threat. Big problems can arise when, for example, someone mistypes a recipient name when sending a file or is ignorant of the implications of sharing certain types of information outside of the company.

Outsiders may use social engineering as a way of tricking users into handing over certain types of information, breaking into computer systems and networks, or infecting computers with malware and harvesting keystrokes and files. Indeed, outsiders can gain a foothold into the network in myriad ways, lurking for weeks, months or years on end, watching what happens and avoiding detection.

Securing IP is a process problem, not a technology one, experts say. Data loss prevention, or DLP, products are designed to track files and block them from leaving the organization, but they aren’t effective unless there are comprehensive policies to identify the data as being sensitive in the first place.

The first step is knowing what you have, experts say. Organizations have to identify and keep track of their crown jewels, says Aaron Titus, chief privacy officer of Identity Finder. An audit is necessary to figure out where sensitive PDF documents, Excel spreadsheets, AutoCAD files and so on are stored.

The second step is prioritization. After all potential files have been identified, the next step is to figure out how sensitive the data really is.

To find out the next three steps in protecting intellectual property -- and for recommendations on how to implement all five steps -- download the free report on protecting intellectual property.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add a Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

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