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Security Pros Keys To The Kingdom Leave Encrypted Data At Risk

Survey finds that, if abused, IT pros' access to encryption keys could do some serious damage to their organizations
Talk about the insider threat: Some 40 percent of IT pros worldwide say that the way in which their firms have deployed encryption could allow them to hold their companies’ encrypted data hostage if they were to go rogue or leave the company.

One-third of the 500 IT security pros from around the globe surveyed at the InfoSecurity 2011 conference last month by Venafi say their individual familiarity and access to encryption keys could do some serious damage to their organizations if they were to refuse to relinquish them or to abuse them in any way. Some 40 percent say if they were to leave their firms, they would still have access to enough sensitive information that could hurt their organizations.

The data appears to shed light on how some enterprises are not sufficiently managing and protecting their encryption keys -- and, thus, their sensitive data.

"With all the warnings over the past few years, recent high-profile data breaches, and the financial services regulations, one would have assumed that senior-level management would already have taken steps to address key and certificate management," says Jeff Hudson, CEO at Venafi. "The survey data confirms what we've seen working with our customers and prospects, particularly in the financial services space where there's so much sensitive and regulated data. Organizations fail to address encryption key and certificate management because it's in the hands of a few IT administrators."

Hudson says the mismanagement of encryption is akin to increasing the size of the lock on your door, but leaving the key to the door out in the open. "Increasing the size of the lock on your door or business may make you feel more secure. But the reality is that if the key and lock -- no matter its size or strength -- is left on the transom, under the mat, or distributed willy-nilly out in the open, it doesn’t matter how large or strong the lock is ... the data can be easily accessed."

While 82 percent of the respondents say they use digital certificates and keys, 43 percent say they have been locked out of their encrypted data due to lost keys or departed IT security pros who held the keys.

Interestingly, 24 percent of the respondents in the survey, which was published today, say worries about lost encryption keys is keeping them from investing in encryption and digital certificate technologies.

"The reality is that the world’s Fortune-ranked organizations all utilize thousands and even hundreds of thousands of encryption keys and digital certificates across their global networks. Our research demonstrates that organizations are managing tens of thousands of certificates and encryption keys, with many not even knowing exactly how many they have in their inventories or where they are deployed," Venafi's Hudson says. "Without leveraging best practices and automated management processes, organizations will never gain complete control of their key and certificate inventories, resulting in significant security, compliance, and operational risk that invariably lead to unauthorized access and the kinds of high-profile and costly breaches both Sony and Epsilon recently experienced."

An executive summary of the report by Venafi is available for download here.

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Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer, Dark Reading
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