Stack creep - from the network layer to the application layer

Last year saw an unprecedented interest in protection of corporate data. With several high-profile losses of intellectual property organisations have started looking for a better way.

For the past 30 years the bastion against data loss has been network devices. We have relied on routers, switches and firewalls to protect our classified data and ensure it’s not accessed by un-authorised persons. Databases were housed on protected sub-nets to which we could restrict access on the basis of IP address, a Kerberos ticket or AD group membership.

But there are a couple of reasons that this approach is no longer sufficient. Firstly, with the relentless march of technology the network perimeter is increasingly “fuzzy”. No longer can we rely on secure documents being used and stored on the corporate network. Increasingly we must share data with business partners and send documents external to the corporate network. We need to store documents on Cloud storage devices and approve external collaborators to access, edit, print and save our documents as part of our company’s business processes.

Secondly, we are increasingly being required to support mobile devices. We can no longer rely on end-point devices that we can control with a standard operating environment and a federated login. We must now support tablets and smartphone devices that may be used to access our protected documents from public spaces and at unconventional times of the day.

As interest in a more sophisticated way to protect documents has risen, so have the available solutions. We are experiencing unprecedented interest in Information Rights Management (IRM) whereby a user’s permission to access or modify a document is validated at the time access is requested. When a document is created the author, or a corporate policy, classifies the document appropriately to control who can read it, edit it, save it or print it. IRM can also be used to limit the number of downloads of a document or time-limit access rights. Most solutions in this space support AD Rights Management and Azure Rights Management; some adopt their own information rights management solution with end-point clients that manage external storage or emailing.

Before selecting a solution companies should understand their needs. A corporate-wide secure document repository solution for company staff is vastly different from a high-security development project team sharing protected documents with collaboration partners external to the company. A CIA approach to understanding requirements is appropriate:

Confidentiality – keep secret Typically encryption is deployed to ensure data at rest is protected from access by unapproved persons. Solutions to this requirement vary from strong encryption of document repositories to a rights management approach requiring document classification mechanisms and IRM-enabled client software.
Integrity – keep accurate Maintaining a document’s integrity typically involves a digital signature and key management in order to sign and verify signatures. Rights management can also be employed to ensure that a document has not been altered.
Availability – secure sharing Supporting business processes by making protected documents available to business partners is at the core of Secure information sharing. Persons wanting accesses to confidential information should not have to go through a complex or time-consuming procedure in order to gain access to the required data. Rights management can provide a secure way to control permissions to protected documents while making appropriate data available for business purposes.

Never has there been a better time to put in-place a secure data sharing infrastructure that leverages an organisation’s identity management environment to protect corporate IP, while at the same time enhance business process integration.


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