EMC tackles inappropriate access to its own data

EMC is one of the biggest names in the world of managing and storing information, but until just a few months ago the company didn't have a good system for governing employee access rights to unstructured data.

The problem area was management of large file sharing environments, where employees deposit Microsoft Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PDFs and other files necessary for group work.

Data owners could assign permission rights to access data, but "we didn't have a clear tool that could give owners up to date reports on who's actually using it," says Roland Cloutier, EMC's chief security officer. "It would have been hundreds of hours of IT systems engineers trying to pull reports on who has access down to the file level of a specific folder."

Naturally, this state of affairs gave some EMC employees permission to access files they shouldn't be allowed to see or don't need. So EMC began using DatAdvantage, a data access control and auditing tool made by Varonis Systems, a vendor that's also one of EMC's business partners.

The product makes it easy to identify high-level trends and look at individual file shares or folders to see who is accessing files and how often, Cloutier says. DatAdvantage generates reports about this usage, recommends changes to access privileges based on analyses of user-access patterns and behaviors, and makes compliance easier for EMC with auditing tools.

Cloutier said the upgrade was not due to a data leakage or any specific incident. "It's part of our ongoing improvements that protect our infrastructure and shareholders," he says.

But DatAdvantage has helped EMC identify employees whose access rights were too broad, and deal with common incidents, like when someone loses a file and management wants to find out who had access to it, or figure out why an employee copied 1,000 files to a USB drive.

"We have found people who had unnecessary access to data -- not willful or purposely getting access to data, but simply because they belonged to a certain group," Cloutier says. "It immediately had an impact in allowing us to reduce access to data to just those who need that access."

When it comes to e-mail management and compliance, EMC uses its own EmailXtender products. But for the unstructured information in file shares, EMC previously managed user access with functions in Windows and Microsoft Active Directory tools that didn't perform up to the company's standards.

EMC examined a number of vendors and found tools that perform single tasks, like reviewing which employees access particular files. Varonis stood out, according to Cloutier, because it has a broad range of functions that make it easier to report on data usage and automate the process of determining access permission based on user need.

"The impact is the ability to actually govern unstructured data. It was not realistically possible [before]," Cloutier says. "[DatAdvantage] has given us a huge increase in our control capabilities, our monitoring capabilities and our response capabilities."

EMC began meeting with Varonis around June and tested the product for a few months before deployment. Now DatAdvantage is installed in two out of six data centers and EMC plans to install it on every server that handles unstructured data, a number totaling 4,000 worldwide.

Cloutier would not discuss how much EMC pays Varonis. DatAdvantage pricing depends on the number of users and starts at US$25,000 for one to 250 users.

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