Perimeter
7/13/2012
05:32 PM
50%
50%

Data Loss Prevention: What's The Use?

Why deploy data loss prevention technologies if there are ways to circumvent the system?

For years I’ve heard arguments as to why data loss prevention (DLP) tools can’t prevent all incidents of sensitive data leakage. These arguments have been delivered by a variety of customers, analysts, vendors, and just about anyone who likes to take a contrarian view, even if only to stoke the fires of debate.

After the new article "Stealing Documents Through Social Media Image-Sharing" gets a bit of circulation, I'm sure to start hearing this new argument as additional proof of why DLP technologies won't work. The article references SNScat, a newly developed software tool that proves it is possible to exfiltrate sensitive data using steganography, a method of making data appear to be something else, so only the intended recipient is aware of the hidden data. The developers explain that SNScat breaks the subject data into pieces that are, in turn, embedded into the data of image files and uploaded to social media sites. The intended recipient then downloads the image files, uses SNScat to reconstruct the subject data, and voila! The whole effort results in the acquisition of the subject data while leaving no trace of the theft.

The developers of this new tool are not interested in using their software for malicious purposes, of course. They are sharing their efforts with the hope that the marketplace will recognize the need to research and challenge this method of data theft.

Steganography is not new; the method has been around for hundreds of years, but the new twist is in leveraging social media sites as data mules for packing out the hidden data in the images. It's a logical and compelling approach that, unfortunately for data owners, appears to work as long as image sharing is available to end users. It has the potential to make malicious efforts of data exfiltration harder to detect -- and prevent.

With this new development, I expect to hear the DLP cynic's argument to go something like this: "What's the use of deploying data loss prevention technologies when a user can simply use SNScat [or insert any other method du jour here] to covertly steal sensitive data?" This flawed logic says that if a network security technology is not 100 percent effective, it's not worth the cost or effort to deploy.

I cringe every time I encounter this defeatist attitude, especially among information security professionals. If we all followed this same logic in other areas of network security, then we would never deploy any security technologies. We would mitigate exactly zero risk, leaving our networks -- and our sensitive data -- completely open to theft.

If we accept the fact (and we must) that there will always be some way to circumvent some security measures to steal sensitive data, then we must also accept our overarching objective as being the identification and mitigation of as much risk as possible.

As for protecting against the likes of SNScat, companies must weigh the risk associated with allowing users access to social media sites (as well as a long list of other sites) with the benefits. There is a simple solution: Restrict access to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to all but those who may need these services in the performance of their job duties. No doubt it will be an unpopular decision among employees and maybe even executives. But as we all know, desperate times call for desperate measures. Is the security of your organization's sensitive data more or less valuable than company morale?

I have visited companies where I was forced to surrender my camera phone and put electrical tape over my laptop webcam or surrender the device entirely. Thankfully for most of us, this is the exception and not the rule. One thing is certain: If a malicious insider is hell-bent on extracting confidential data from an organization, then there are certainly easier -- albeit less sophisticated and cool -- ways to do it than steganography.

Jared Thorkelson is founder and president of DLP Experts, a vendor-agnostic VAR and consulting practice focused exclusively on data protection. He can be reached at jthork@dlpexperts.com. Jared is president of DLP Experts, a value-added reseller dedicated exclusively to data loss prevention (DLP) and other data protection technologies and services. For over twenty years Jared has held executive level positions with technology firms, with the last six years ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon
Current Issue
Flash Poll
Title Partner’s Role in Perimeter Security
Title Partner’s Role in Perimeter Security
Considering how prevalent third-party attacks are, we need to ask hard questions about how partners and suppliers are safeguarding systems and data.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2014-7896
Published: 2015-03-03
Multiple cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities in HP XP P9000 Command View Advanced Edition Software Online Help, as used in HP Device Manager 6.x through 8.x before 8.1.2-00, HP XP P9000 Tiered Storage Manager 6.x through 8.x before 8.1.2-00, HP XP P9000 Replication Manager 6.x and 7.x before ...

CVE-2014-9283
Published: 2015-03-03
The BestWebSoft Captcha plugin before 4.0.7 for WordPress allows remote attackers to bypass the CAPTCHA protection mechanism and obtain administrative access via unspecified vectors.

CVE-2014-9683
Published: 2015-03-03
Off-by-one error in the ecryptfs_decode_from_filename function in fs/ecryptfs/crypto.c in the eCryptfs subsystem in the Linux kernel before 3.18.2 allows local users to cause a denial of service (buffer overflow and system crash) or possibly gain privileges via a crafted filename.

CVE-2015-0890
Published: 2015-03-03
The BestWebSoft Google Captcha (aka reCAPTCHA) plugin before 1.13 for WordPress allows remote attackers to bypass the CAPTCHA protection mechanism and obtain administrative access via unspecified vectors.

CVE-2015-2168
Published: 2015-03-03
** REJECT ** DO NOT USE THIS CANDIDATE NUMBER. ConsultIDs: none. Reason: This candidate was withdrawn by its CNA. Further investigation showed that it was not a security issue in customer-controlled software. Notes: none.

Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
How can security professionals better engage with their peers, both in person and online? In this Dark Reading Radio show, we will talk to leaders at some of the security industry’s professional organizations about how security pros can get more involved – with their colleagues in the same industry, with their peers in other industries, and with the IT security community as a whole.