Building the 21st century vault with layered security
- By John Landwehr
- Nov 18, 2015
Banks build layers of security to protect assets and provide peace of mind to clients. Closed-circuit TV cameras observe customer movement. Security guards watch for suspicious behavior. Panes of bulletproof glass protect tellers. Walls of steel and multiple locks secure vaults and safety deposit boxes. When all of these layers work together; they deter thieves and ensure that the bank’s assets remain protected.
Securing personal information in the digital age requires a similar multilayered approach. No matter where information is located -- on the network or a personal computer -- multiple layers of security must be in place to keep threats at bay. And effective cybersecurity systems merge three dimensions of content security: content management, rights management and continuous monitoring.
On the top level, companies and government agencies need a comprehensive content management solution, including strong authentication and authorization so administrators can manage users and access. For example, whenever a new document is created, the creator identifies the sensitivity level of the content and applies the appropriate access controls or rights management, minimizing insider threats. Problems can become crises when all documents are designated sensitive and everyone has access -- not everything needs the highest level of security. Effective content management solutions help administrators build in safeguards and determine what information really is sensitive.
However, content management only protects data located in the digital vault. Once a document is shared outside the vault, it becomes vulnerable. This is where the second dimension of digital rights management, access control technologies used to restrict access to and usage of content, comes into play. Information sharing is required today, but the potential for insiders to misuse or accidentally access or leak information exists every time someone disseminates content. A level of security is needed to protect the content no matter where it is located. Digital rights management encryption can provide persistent protection, monitor for access and automatically track information as it is shared outside of the organization.
As more Americans expect access to services and files on mobile devices, securing content across platforms is more important than ever. Digital rights management helps establish controls and track information as it is shared -- both inside and outside an organization. A file with sensitive information can now remain better protected if it is emailed and accessed on a smartphone, tablet or desktop.
The third dimension of content security is continuous monitoring. Organizations should be watching for unusual activity; if an employee normally prints five documents per day and suddenly prints 500, system managers should be able to detect that anomaly. Similarly, if an employee downloads 100 documents without opening them, that action should be a red flag that somebody is trying to take a lot of information someplace it probably shouldn’t go. Advanced analytics today are capable of helping administrators pinpoint such suspicious activity.
As helpful as layered security can be to an agency, however, these solutions are not meant to be a panacea. IT administrators need to keep all systems up to date, and users must develop strong passwords, preferably with two-factor authentication. Incident response plans are also still important and necessary to respond to an attack. The quicker an agency can respond, the quicker it can identify the issue and correct it before it becomes catastrophic. Layered security tools are meant to provide multiple lines of defense, contain the damage and make it easier to recover.
Some federal government agencies have adopted layered security frameworks to better protect their data, yet many remain vulnerable. Starting in 2012, the National Defense Authorization Act encouraged the Department of Defense to accelerate the adoption of digital rights management to protect its information. Along with that policy change, the executive and legislative branches are currently considering multiple pieces of legislation and policy improvements that would help mitigate insider threats. The DOD uses data-rights-management technology to prevent the unauthorized export of information from its networks. This is a step in the right direction, and more departments and agencies will hopefully follow the DOD’s lead.
To the general public, data breaches seem to occur on a weekly basis, desensitizing them to the very real threat posed by attackers. Building on the momentum generated by Cybersecurity Awareness Month, now is the perfect time for system administrators to re-evaluate their security controls and determine if a more layered solution is right for them.
John Landwehr is VP and public sector CTO, Adobe.