By Linda Rosencrance
August 16, 2006
Loss of confidential data -- including intellectual property, business
documents, customer data and employee records -- is a pervasive problem
among U.S. companies, according to a survey released yesterday by
Ponemon Institute LLC and Vontu Inc., a San Francisco-based provider of
data loss prevention products.
Eighty-one percent of companies surveyed reported the loss of one or
more laptops containing sensitive information during the past 12 months,
according to the survey, which queried nearly 500 information security
One of the main reasons corporate data security breaches occur is
because companies don't know where their sensitive or confidential
business information resides within the network or enterprise systems,
Larry Ponemon, chairman of the Ponemon Institute, said in a statement.
"This lack of knowledge, coupled with insufficient controls over data
stores, can pose a serious threat for both business and governmental
organizations," Ponemon said. "Moreover, the danger doesn't stop at the
network, but includes employees' and contractors' laptop computers and
other portable storage devices."
Ponemon, whose research firm is based in Elk Rapids, Mich., is also a
columnist for Computerworld.
Other findings of the study include the following:
* Handheld devices and laptops ranked highest among storage devices that
posed the greatest risk for sensitive corporate data, followed by
Universal Serial Bus memory sticks, desktop systems and shared file
* Sixty-four percent of companies surveyed reported that they have never
conducted an inventory of sensitive consumer information.
* Sixty-four percent also reported never having taken an inventory of
* Eighty-one percent of respondents reported that protecting sensitive
"data at rest" is a priority this year, and 89% predicted that it will
be a priority next year. The survey defines data at rest as all
electronic information found on storage devices within an
organization's IT infrastructure.
Asked "How long would it take to determine what actual sensitive data
was on a lost or stolen laptop, desktop, file server or mobile device?"
the most frequent answer was "never," according to the survey.
More than 53% of respondents believed that their companies would be
unable to determine what sensitive or confidential information resided
on a USB memory stick if it was lost or stolen.
And approximately 49% of respondents said that their companies would be
unable to determine what lost data resided on a handheld or comparable
mobile device, according to the survey.
"Corporations are clearly struggling with the challenges of identifying
and protecting sensitive data, as well as developing successful
strategies for securing confidential information stored among the myriad
devices that make up today's data networks," said Ponemon. "Our findings
point to the shockingly high risk to both business and consumers of
undiscovered confidential data, but we believe that the data also serve
as a compass to help point organizations toward effective solutions to
this vexing problem."
According to Pete Lindstrom, an analyst at Spire Security LLC in
Malvern, Pa., organizations can take the following steps to protect
1. Identify your most significant data elements. That's often
personal information, but it could also be intellectual property,
financial data or something else.
2. Determine where this data exists on your network, and where it is
most likely to leak. Laptops are the typical answer here, but
e-mail is another possibility. And some people are concerned about
backup tapes or laptop outputs such as USB drives and CDs.
3. Monitor the network and possibly the endpoint for this
information, and take appropriate action. In the beginning, this
is simply logging. You could also prevent/block it, or even better
4. Encrypt data in the places where it is most likely to rest.
5. Plan your rights management strategy now. Data is ubiquitous.
In the future, organizations will have another option for data
encryption, said Stephen Northcutt, president of the SANS Institute, a
Bethesda, Md.-based cybersecurity training and certification company.
"The newest laptops and desktops are shipping with something called the
Trusted Platform Module, and it's a chip that's designed for secure
storage so it was built to play very nicely with [public-key
infrastructure]," Northcutt said. "It's really a thing of the future.
The laptops are shipping now, the software is available now, but the
implementations don't exist right this second.
"We think this will really be the final answer," he said. "In the
meantime, [organizations] are going to have to go with a third-party
solution to [encrypt their data]."
Visit the InfoSec News store!