A Game Plan for Protecting Stored Data

An effective data security policy is critical now more than ever, as data is increasingly stored in a variety of devices. But even though IT decision-makers put stringent security strategies in place to patch operating systems, secure the perimeters of the network and protect data, breaches are everyday news. The potential harm involved, in terms of negative press and financial losses, when companies lose laptops, backup tapes and other devices containing private information can be staggering.

To prevent theft of sensitive assets, it’s critical to follow security best practices and adhere to a set data security policy. Here’s what to consider when creating one for your company.

Use the Right Technologies
As the Yankee Group has observed, storage networks are becoming more complex and have matured to the point of requiring additional perimeter and internal security services to ensure data integrity. In addition to encryption, IT decision-makers should consider implementing the following:

  • Access controls. Corporations must institute data security policies regarding who can access databases. Monitoring software is also key -- it helps track who has accessed data.
  • Filtering software. Tools from various vendors help you watch the way content is accessed -- via email, instant message and file transfer protocol (FTP), for example -- and inspect the content for policy violations. Some tools block or quarantine violations, and others offer the ability to block outbound email.

Put a Strategy in Place
To protect corporate data, your strategy should focus on physical access controls, data network transport protection, host defenses, and system and application authorization, says Rich Mogull, director of research for the Gartner Group.

In addition, you should perform regular audits of your security practices. You should also establish a specific policy for protecting data, data management, backup and audit frequency. It is important too to consider internal access to corporate data: Gartner estimates that 70 percent of security incidents that cause loss involve insiders.

Determine How the Data Should Be Protected 
Extremely sensitive data, such as confidential customer information and credit card numbers, should be encrypted before being designated for storage. Not all data must be encrypted, however, according to Mogull. “Use encryption to protect only data that moves physically or electronically, or to enforce segregation of duties for administrators -- for example, encrypting credit card numbers in a database to prevent database administrators from seeing them," he says.

Ensure Compliance
Companies in certain industries, such as health care, must ensure that their data backup, storage and recovery policies comply with government regulations. The Gramm-Leach-Billey Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) require more stringent corporate governance and controls. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act requires corporations to be financially accountable; it doesn't specify the amount of time specific data should be stored or how, but because it does require integrity of data, it motivates IT executives to determine their own policies and be more vigilant about backing up and storing corporate information.

by Jodi Mardesich