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Users: Encryption No Silver Bullet

IT managers caution judgment in deploying encryption and other security methods

NEW YORK –- Encrypting data as it travels across corporate networks could be a distraction from the real security challenges facing organizations, warned IT managers at a security event here today.

Speaking on a user panel on enterprise data protection this afternoon, Warren Axelrod, business information security officer at financial services firm U.S. Trust explained that, in many cases, encryption could be overkill.

"Why would anyone attempt to attack an encrypted file when all they have to do is send out a phishing email or attach a keylogger and get the information that way?" he said. "You have got to worry about the endpoints -- criminals are going to go for the low-hanging fruit."

These sentiments were echoed by fellow panelist and Security Constructs analyst Tom Bowers, a former information security officer in the pharmaceutical industry. "Encryption can solve a lot of problems, but it's not the be-all and end-all," he said, using the example of an unscrupulous employee using a digital camera to take an image of an encrypted file.

U.S. Trust's Axelrod would not reveal what forms of endpoint security he uses within his organization, although he explained his back-end storage philosophy. "I believe in data restriction," he said, explaining that his primary requirement "is to get rid of it as soon as it becomes obsolete."

The exec retains email for three years and IRS-related data for seven years, and he sees data deletion as a great way to minimize security risks. "If you don't, it gets lost, and you have to report it," he said, adding that data deletion also removes a layer of technology from his infrastructure. "If you encrypt it, you have key management problems." (See EMC, Cisco Team for Encryption, A Key to Security, and Encryption's Hard Truths.)

Like Axelrod, other panelists today are also focusing their attention on endpoint security, but warned that some users are making this too complex. "We have a branch of the military that we're working with -- they have a 15-character minimum password and you have to change the last 10 characters every 90 days," said Kevin Gillis, vice president of secure file transfer at vendor Ipswitch. "It's just not practical -- we have seven-digit phone numbers for a reason."

Other users at the event cited the challenges posed by removable media and laptops, something that's become a major headache for IT managers and CIOs. (See Users Confess Security Fears , Users Go for Data Lockdown, Data Destruction, at Your Disposal, and GuardianEdge Goes Portable.) "It’s very easy for us as an IT organization to hold data secure in these nice data warehouses and storage areas," explained Brad Taylor, systems architect at service provider Eplica. "[But] I can take all my financial data from my company, put it on a USB 2.0 drive, and give it to anybody."

A number of vendors, including SanDisk, Lexar, and Seagate, are currently touting solutions, designed to lock down data on laptops and USB drives, which is quickly catching on with IT managers and CIOs. (See CryptoMill, Seagate Partner, CryptoMill, Seagate Partner, Seagate, GuardianEdge Team, and The Virtual Answer to Laptop Security.)

In a show of hands at another of today's panel discussions, around a quarter of the 20-plus audience members confirmed that they are encrypting their laptop hard drives.

— James Rogers, Senior Editor Byte and Switch

  • Lexar Media Inc.
  • SanDisk Corp. (Nasdaq: SNDK)
  • Seagate Technology Inc. (NYSE: STX)
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