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Perimeter

12/21/2009
03:10 PM
John H. Sawyer
John H. Sawyer
Commentary
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Paper-Based Breaches Just As Damaging

IT tends to forget about things that aren't electronic. But you remember that stuff called paper, right? Have you considered that printed documents are just as damaging to a company's reputation should they get into the wrong hands as electronic data stored in an Excel spreadsheet or database server?

IT tends to forget about things that aren't electronic. But you remember that stuff called paper, right? Have you considered that printed documents are just as damaging to a company's reputation should they get into the wrong hands as electronic data stored in an Excel spreadsheet or database server?I'll be the first to admit I rarely think about paper. And I hardly ever think about printers unless it's during a penetration test and insecure printers on the network allow me to pivot and gain further access into a target's network. Lessons from my friends' stories about all of the information they've found during dumpster diving should be enough of a reminder, but it was a recent blog entry from Brian Krebs that really drove the point home.

"Paper-based Data Breaches on the Rise" is a great read and contains some surprising statistics. For example, "at least 27 percent of the data breaches disclosed publicly in 2009 stemmed from collections of sensitive consumer information printed on paper that were lost, stolen, inadvertently distributed, or improperly disposed of."

I would have never guessed the number of paper-based breaches to be that high, but, again, people simply don't think of data on paper being at risk like data on computers. But data on paper is just another form of data that needs to be protected by information security policies.

Note that I said "information security" and not "information technology security." That's because people get hung up on the technology part and forget they need to secure ALL information, not just what resides on servers, laptops, and smartphones. And it's not only IT people glossing over the threat of paper breaches: Turns out most state data breach laws focus only on electronic breaches, and so do federal breach notification measures that are in the works.

Securing sensitive information on paper is one of those issues that IT people don't consider because it's not electronic, and, well, paper just isn't sexy. Next time you're putting together plans for a penetration test, make sure you add to your list the tasks of finding unsecured filing cabinets full of sensitive information, dumpster diving, and reviewing print jobs -- I'm betting you'll be surprised at what you find.

John H. Sawyer is a senior security engineer on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are his own and do not represent the views and opinions of the UF IT Security Team or the University of Florida. When John'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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