Assessing the countless corporate security threats

Data leakage, insider threats, international cyber war just a few of top issues at Security Standard show

Defining the most ominous security threat to businesses today isn't easy; apparently there are just too many to choose from.

At The Security Standard conference held in Chicago this week, industry executives and experts took the stage to discuss the current threat landscape. Decade-old concerns about external threats such as malware infecting a network or intruders causing a data breach were still hot topics, joined by newer concerns about the insider threat.

According to Scott Charney, corporate vice president of Microsoft's trustworthy computing initiative, different types of threats impact different types of companies.

"There are certainly a lot of large companies and government agencies who are very worried about the escalation of nation-state activity in cyberspace," Charney said. "The threats related to financial crimes and identity theft, for a lot of companies, are not just about the threat but compliance: making sure you're in compliance ... and how to prove it."

Your leaking data

Despite recent survey results announced at the conference stating that outsiders still account for more security events at an organization than insiders, significant attention was paid to the issue of data leakage.

Defined as insiders, either by accident or with intent, sending sensitive data -- intellectual property, trade secrets, personally identifiable information belonging to employees or customers -- outside of the company network, data leakage is such a hot topic that it has spawned a sizeable market of anti-data leak companies.

During the conference, Nick Selby, senior analyst and director of The 451 Group's enterprise security practice, looked to shed some light on the true efficacy of these products.

Selby told the audience that while anti-data leak (ADL) tools -- also called data leak or data loss prevention -- are effective in catching the accidental exposure of a company's sensitive information, nothing can truly protect an organization targeted by a talented insider.

"My advice to vendors is to stop saying you're going to fix [the data-leak problem] when you can't; concentrate on mistake avoidance and compliance," he said, adding that 98% of leaked data is the result of "stupidity or accident." While ADL tools can pick up these leaks, they have "no chance...with skilled professionals who have a reason to take something."

Don't suffer the fools

That stupidity factor resonated with attendees at the show.

"Innocent, stupid mistakes by end users; people who don't mean to cause harm, but they are," was the No. 1 security concern for Mary Smith, information security analyst with Decatur Memorial Hospital.

Figuring out how to track what users are sending outside of the network -- particularly remote or nomadic users -- is a significant challenge, said another attendee.

"It's really hard to track all our mobile users and what they're doing," said Susan Gray, information security manager at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, Ill. "I work for a community college, and not only do we have a lot of faculty that never show up on campus, we have students that are accessing the network, so it's really hard to track what they're bringing in and taking out."

Microsoft's Charney mentioned a related security threat; not the theft of data, but the alteration of data.

"In some circles the biggest threat is data integrity, which gets less attention, but there are concerns about people altering the data upon which we're reliant," he said.

One industry analyst said IT security professionals need to consider threats that don't necessarily pertain to their networks.

"I think the biggest threat is the IT security mentality; the idea that risks are IT risks and security is about IT security, when tons of bad things can happen through breaches in physical security or even something as simple as dumpster diving," said Steve Hunt, founder of 4A International, a research firm in Skokie, Ill. "People talk about data-leak prevention, just jump into anybody's dumpster and you could tear down a whole company with what you find in the recycling bin."

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