Interoperability is key to securing data at rest

New standards needed for proliferating security strategies

SAN FRANCISCO — Securing data in transit using cryptography has become fairly routine thanks to standardized protocols for data transfers and certificate exchanges. But securing data at rest while keeping it accessible remains a challenge.The problem is not a lack of working technology, but the challenge of interoperability, said Gary Palgon, vice president for product management for nuBridges, a managed file transfer company.

“We’re fine as a solution by ourselves,” Palgon said. But once you move outside the proprietary solution, visibility into the data ends. “We’re using the same algorithms” to encrypt, “but it pretty much stops there.” There is no standardized way for managing and exchanging cryptographic keys that make data useable once it has been encrypted, he said, making the soution immature. 

Customers now are asking vendors that provide managed file transfer systems and services to extend security to their data at rest as well as in transit. “They view us as the ones who organized the different partners and have the information about them,” Palgon said. The industry now is working on standardized schemes to enable end-to-end security and visibility of data by various partners.

NuBridges is using the RSA Conference here this week to announce its plans to form an industry group to foster interoperability for data protection. The work would complement other efforts such as the Cryptographic Key Management Project of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is identifying scalable and usable crypto key management and exchange strategies for use by government. “There is a lot of mindshare going into this,” Palgon said.

A shortage of industry standards for key management does not mean there is no cooperation among companies. Thales, a communications security company, recently announced that it is working with IBM to integrate IBM Tivoli Key Lifecycle Manager into Thales Encryption Manager for Storage to provide a hardened key management system. TEMS already supports the draft IEEE key management standard, and the addition of the Tivoli would enable the ability to manage keys across a broader range of encryption-enabled storage devices and end-points, including IBM’s LTO4 tape and DS8000 disk storage systems.

The goal of the standards effort will be to extend these key management abilities beyond proprietary systems.

Managed filed transfer vendors are involved in the effort. MFT is a practical way to share and use growing amounts of data in an increasingly networked environment. MFT offers a number of advantages over simply e-mailing files from point to point. One is the ability to move large files. Mail servers typically cut off transfers on files around the 10M size, so larger files need another route. But the key element in managed file transfer is the ability to manage. Even on smaller files, an MFT system can provide the ability to track, manage and secure transfers within an organization and between an organization and its partners.

This is particularly important in military logistics, where the movement of materiel must be tracked and protected. GlobalSCAPE, an MFT company, gets about 20 percent of its revenue from government customers, said CEO Jim Morris.

“Our largest customer in government is Army logistics at Fort Lee in Virginia,” Morris said. It owns 20,000 of the company’s CuteFTP agents that allow client computers to use File Transfer Protocol with FTP servers. “The solider in the field can order tires for a Humvee,” he said. The order is aggregated with similar orders, delivered to supply bases, and can be securely tracked until the tires are delivered in the field.

GlobalSCAPE announced at the RSA Conference that it also plans to extend the security of its offerings by adding application whitelisting to block malicious software from its system. It is exploring with CoreTrace Corp., an application whitelisting company, roadmap for including the capability in its servers.

“You could create an environment where only approved applications and executables are allowed to run on a server,” Morris said.

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