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Panel: DLP Outlook Hopeful, But No Silver Bullet

Data loss protection technology is getting real, experts say, but it won't stop determined insiders by itself

SAN FRANCISCO -- RSA Conference 2008 -- Data loss protection is rapidly becoming the most important new weapon in the enterprise security arsenal, experts said in a panel here Wednesday. There's just one problem: It can't protect your company from all possible data losses.

In a Symantec-sponsored panel stacked with DLP proponents, it wasn't surprising to see a strong optimism toward the technology, which is designed to monitor, detect, and control the egress of sensitive enterprise data in an organization. But even here, there was a realistic admission that the insider-theft technology has been over-hyped -- and that rumors of its omnipotence might be exaggerated.

"The idea that you're going to be able to protect every piece of data all the time is probably impossible," said Joseph Ansanelli, former CEO of DLP pioneer Vontu and now vice president of DLP at Symantec, which bough Vontu last year. "It's not going to happen."

Rich Mogull, founder of Securosis, a security consulting firm, agreed. "DLP is not going to stop all your leaks. That's not what it's about."

"DLP is a tool," said Craig Shumard, CISO for CIGNA Corp., a Vontu user. "It's one of a number of things you can use to help control the insider threat. But it's not the whole solution."

Instead of looking at DLP as a panacea, panelists said, enterprises should focus on its ability to prevent the egress of specific types of sensitive information that might exit the organization via the enterprise network. "Ask yourself, what are the one, two, or three pieces of information that would put your company at substantial risk if they got out?" Ansanelli advised. "If you can answer that question, that's where DLP can really help."

Equifax, one of the largest credit reporting services in the country and another Vontu user, is a prime example. "We were most concerned about the loss of personally identifiable information, said Tony Spinelli, senior vice president of information security at Equifax. "By focusing our efforts, we were able to achieve a 97 percent reduction in PII going out over the network within a matter of months. We are certain that none of that data is leaving Equifax through network egress."

DLP is particularly effective in stopping the leakage of a clearly defined set of sensitive data, particularly through accident or ignorance of corporate security policy, panelists said. "It's a way to ensure consistent policy enforcement," said Mogull. "It allows you to set one policy and make it work all over the enterprise."

DLP can also help the enterprise to detect behaviors that are out of the norm, Shumard observed. "If you have a user who seldom stays after 5 p.m. and all of a sudden starts downloading 100 files after 9 p.m., you'll know it."

"You can see who's got access to sensitive data," Mogull said. "[With DLP], I know when people are trying to send files out in email. I know when people are putting sensitive documents on portable storage devices."

The key, Mogull says, is to define your "sensitive" data before deploying DLP. "You need to put all of your business people in a room and force them to choose which data is the most valuable," he said. "Once you've done that, you can use DLP to start monitoring that data, to set policies for protecting it, and eventually, to enforce those policies."

But potential DLP users shouldn't expect the technology to block all avenues of insider theft, panelists said. "It's not going to stop a determined thief from copying documents," Mogull said. "It's not going to stop them from walking in with a camera and taking a picture of a document or a computer screen."

But just because a security technology isn't perfect is no reason not to deploy it, Ansanelli said. "If it stops 80 or 90 percent of the egress, that's a lot better than zero, which is where a lot of companies are now."

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  • Symantec Corp. (Nasdaq: SYMC)
  • Vontu Inc.