Tom Olzak

Security Risk Extends Beyond Simple Loss of Data

In Business Continuity, Data Security, Government, Insider risk, Mobile Device Security, Network Security, Patching, Risk Management on June 7, 2009 at 14:52

Laptop encryption as a security control has become an expectation rather than an option.  Organizations worried about data breaches and their possible business impact are spending exorbitant percentages of IT budgets to avoid having to tell customers or employees they’ve lost their personal information.  Couple this with regulatory requirements to report certain types of breaches, and laptop encryption becomes as common on mobile systems as Notepad.  But not everyone agrees with this movement to protect laptop data at all costs.

Even the big picture suggests that spending is poorly allocated. “Thieves got 99.9 percent of their data from servers and 0.01 percent from end user systems, but enterprises spend about 50 percent of their security budget on endpoint security,” [Dr. Peter Tippett, founder of ISCA Labs] said. “They should spend more of it on server security.”

“The cause is a problem I call WIBHI, for Wouldn’t It Be Horrible If,” he said.

He added that it explains laptop encryption. He said that we encrypt laptops not because it will protect them better (passwords are good enough for that) but because we don’t have to report a breach if the laptop was encrypted.

Source: Enterprise Security Should Be Better and Cheaper, Alex Goldman, Internetnews.com, 6 June 2009

I make a habit of reading as much as possible about actual breaches, and I agree that we may be overdoing it a bit when we put multiple layers of security on devices which are not typically the primary target of attackers.  But I have three questions for Mr. Tippett.  What about botnets?  What about loss of access to critical systems due to malware-caused enterprise network shutdowns?  And what about the impact on a business if the public discovers encryption—a security control they’ve been told must be implemented or a business is negligent—was not used on a lost laptop containing personal information?

Business risk extends beyond a simple breach.  Its scope must include all possible negative impact scenarios which might be caused by weak endpoint security.  Yes, it is all about the data, including its availability and public perception—not necessarily based on a scientific assessment of actual risk—of how well it’s protected.  So until potential victims, potential customers, careless employees, and knee-jerk-driven politicians are removed from the risk formula, we will likely continue to spend more than might be reasonable and appropriate in a perfect world.

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