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Finding the Leaks in Leak Prevention

Data leak prevention tools may not be enough to stop determined bad apples

3:38 PM -- Data leakage, or data extrusion, is a serious problem that has been highlighted recently in security breaches involving TJX and Verus. If you've been living under a rock, then maybe you missed the reports about the problems that have cost one company over $135 million -- and the other its livelihood. (See TJ Maxx Breach Costs Soar by Factor of 10 and Medical IT Contractor Folds After Breaches.)

At the Black Hat conference earlier this month Eric Monti and Thomas Ptacek from Matasano Security shed light on security issues plaguing agent-based data leakage prevention (DLP) products designed to prevent leaks like those that affected TJX and Verus. (See Black Hat: DLP Hack.)

Looking to avoid becoming a breach statistic? If so, then think long and hard about what you're trying to protect -- and whether blocking or simply detecting the leak is good enough. For some organizations, detection without prevention could spell the corporation's doom.

In the DLP market, some products can only detect leaks, while others detect and prevent them, based on policies such user identity, time of day, and application used. Based on a thorough risk analysis, you should be able to decide which reaction is appropriate for your business.

There are also a couple of deployment scenarios that must be considered. Do you want an agent on every desktop? Is a gateway or monitoring device at the edge sufficient? Or, maybe an appliance that sits directly in front of the data source? These are questions best answered through a careful risk analysis and an assessment of your infrastructure.

Unfortunately, in the DLP space, it's impossible to see what is really going on at the desktop level without an agent. I'm a firm believer in minimizing the number of agents in the enterprise, because each agent is one more thing running on your system that could impact performance and security.

Monti and Ptacek focused on flaws in agents for this very reason. They found numerous vulnerabilities in DLP agents that either led to easy circumvention of the detection routines or exploits allowing full remote access to the host. As with any solution of this magnitude, DLP products should be tested thoroughly. Then, when you're finished testing them, test them again.

In the end, it boils down to who you are trying to protect against. If it is the malicious hacker, then you have a fighting chance with some of the solutions available. However, if you are concerned about authorized misuse by your employees, then fire everyone and become a one person company. A DLP solution, no matter how sophisticated, can't prevent an insider from taking screen captures with his camera phone.

— John H. Sawyer is a security geek on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida. He enjoys taking long war walks on the beach and riding pwnies. When he's not fighting flaming, malware-infested machines or performing autopsies on blitzed boxes, he can usually be found hanging with his family, bouncing a baby on one knee and balancing a laptop on the other. Special to Dark Reading

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