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Security: Article

Why Data Breaches Occur and How You Can Lessen Their Impact

Part 1 of 2: Security today is as much about damage control as it is about breach avoidance

One of the dirty little secrets about security: there is simply no way to make your company impervious to a data breach. It's almost a statistical certainty that you will, at some point or another, be hit with a security scenario that you're not prepared for. That's why security today is as much about damage control as it is about breach avoidance.

Consider the following:

  • Most breaches aren't that hard to execute

Attacks on corporate networks and data occur at alarming frequency. You might think that's because attackers have become more sophisticated, but that's not necessarily the case. In fact, the most recent Verizon Security Breach study suggests a hacker with fairly rudimentary skills could've pulled off the majority of attacks in 2012.

And these attacks aren't isolated to large banks and government entities - they're pervasive across all industries. The bottom line is, if you have important data, chances are someone else thinks it's important too -- and will do whatever it takes to get to it.

  • Compliance mandates are limited and vague

U.S. compliance guidelines for data and cybersecurity are noticeably vague, leaving it up to corporations to determine best practices for maintaining the privacy and confidentiality of sensitive data. As a result, organizations typically do just enough to achieve compliance, when in fact, compliance with HIPAA, FERPA, FISMA, PCI and others, should actually be the low bar.

When it comes to sensitive data, you can never be too safe. Let's say an email list gets breached. This isn't regulated data. You're not going to get fined for non-compliance, but PII is still compromised. This represents a significant failure on the part of the responsible corporation, one that ultimately leads to loss of customer trust.

  • Big data is big business

It's hard to have a conversation about technology where the phrase, "big data" doesn't come up. For all the advantages associated with capturing large volumes of diverse data at high speeds, there's an inherent risk in securing lots of sensitive data in massively distributed databases in the cloud. Each node -- and big data can have hundreds or even thousands - represents a point of failure where data can be accessed without authorization.

  • Don't forget about BYOD

Earlier this month, Google Chairman, Eric Schmidt announced there are 500 million Android devices worldwide, with 1.3 million new activations daily. There are about 365 million iOS devices in play right now, and a large percentage of those devices are infiltrating the workplace. In fact, 36% of all email is now being opened on a phone or tablet, many of which are accessing data inside your firewall.

Each of these phones, tablets and mobile devices represent potential security vulnerabilities. According to a site maintained by the US Department of Health and Human Services, 72% of data breaches dating back to 2009 stem from stolen, lost or improperly disposed of devices representing a total of 15.6 million individual health records. Device theft is pervasive, and the influx of mobile devices just presents more opportunity for sensitive regulatory and PII data to go missing.

  • Security keys are being mismanaged

Another concern is around the management of cryptographic keys, SSL certificates and other "opaque" objects. With the trend toward IT hybridization, organizations are being buried by a virtual avalanche of encryption keys, data tokens, SSL certificates, passwords and more.

If any of these security objects fell into the wrong hands, there's almost nothing in your corporate environment that wouldn't be at risk. Surprisingly, not a lot of forethought goes into the security, management, provisioning and revocation of these keys. In fact, we often hear stories about systems administrators storing keys in boot files or easily accessible spreadsheets on their hard drives. Think about it this way: You wouldn't lock your car and leave the keys in the driver's side door, would you?

The issues above only scratch the surface. There are still lingering questions and concerns about cloud security, authentication and ownership of data in SaaS applications to name a few more. On Monday, we'll look at some small things you can do that will have a profound impact on your data security profile. Stay tuned.

More Stories By David Tishgart

After spending years at large corporations including Dell, AMD and BMC, David Tishgart joined the startup ranks leading product marketing for Gazzang. Focused on security for big data, he helps communicate the benefits and challenges that big data can present, offering practical solutions. When not ranting about encryption and key management, you can find David clamoring for a big data application that can fine tune his fantasy football team.