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Symantec Chairman Calls for Information-Centric Approach to Security

Enterprises need to identify and protect sensitive information as it moves, Thompson says

SAN FRANCISCO -- RSA Conference 2008 -- John Thompson, chairman and CEO of the company that put antivirus products on the map, says AV tools aren't enough anymore.

It's time for the industry to move away from protection of infrastructure and toward an "information-centric" security model, said Thompson, chairman and CEO of Symantec, in his keynote address here yesterday.

"What we need is a fundamental shift," Thompson said. "We need a risk-based approach that addresses data at rest and in motion. I need to know what sensitive information do I have, how is it stored, and how is it used. I need to set rules for archiving and encryption, and those policies must be aligned across the business."

Thompson's comments echoed themes that reverberate through this year's RSA conference: that enterprise security teams need to focus more on data than on infrastructure, and more on business than on security. (See Coviello: Security's a Drag on Business and RSA Takes Suite Approach to Data Leak Prevention.)

Thompson called for improvements in intelligent archiving and content-aware security systems that can distinguish sensitive data and apply distinct policies for its storage and protection. He also called for the evolution of digital rights management technology to help protect companies’ intellectual property at both the legal and logical levels.

“In the next five to ten years, we need to marry security and information in a more complete way,” he said.

Thompson’s remarks were offered in the context of data gleaned from Symantec’s most recent threat report, which suggests that information is becoming a commodity among criminals and that companies should do more to protect it. Symantec estimates that as many as 50 million individuals’ personally identifiable information has been exposed in the past year, and credit card numbers can now be purchased on the black market for as little as 40 cents.

“The number of exposed records has tripled in the last year,” Thompson said. He called for the creation of a federal law that requires companies to disclose details on their security breaches in a timely fashion. “If ever there was a cry for change in public policy, it’s now."

The Symantec research also indicates that, for the first time, there are more malicious applications (65 percent) being spread across the Web than legitimate applications. “I don’t usually make predictions, but if the growth of malware continues at this pace, I predict that technologies such as whitelisting will become more critical."

Reactions to Thompson’s comments at the show were mixed. “John Thompson hit the nail right on the head,” said Jack Danahy, founder and CTO of Ounce Labs. “Companies with a strong commitment to data integrity need to move away from threat awareness and move towards a more information-aware approach that involves concrete, measurable steps to ensure the software systems that control data are developed securely.”

But Vijay Basani, founder and CEO of eiQnetworks, said Thompson and his fellow keynoters may be jumping the gun.

“While no one is going to disagree with the assertion in the keynotes that enterprises need to protect data, what the presenters continue to ignore is that implementing security without addressing the infrastructure is like locking your car while it’s running with the windows open -- it misses the point,” Basani said. “While perimeter-based attacks may now seem out of vogue, if organizations attempt to protect data without addressing infrastructure-level security, they are all but guaranteeing failure.”

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  • eIQnetworks Inc.
  • Ounce Labs
  • Symantec Corp. (Nasdaq: SYMC)

    Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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