Solving the DLP Puzzle: Survival Tips from the Trenches

For those who believe they'll never get a handle on data loss prevention, here are some survival stories from security practitioners who found the light.

It's no easy task implementing a data loss prevention (DLP) program when there's so much disagreement in the security community over what DLP entails. But those who've been through it have good news: It can be done.

Several IT security practitioners told CSOonline they achieved a reasonable DLP program once they stopped listening to vendors trying to sell so-called "DLP out of the box" products and focused instead on mixing myriad security technologies with training programs to help users defend themselves -- and, in turn, the companies they work for.

Though the people policies are pretty consistent across business sectors [see Solving the DLP Puzzle: 5 Ways Employees Spill Data], there's no one-size-fits-all approach to the technology side of things. There are common tools, mind you, but they are not assembled the same way in every enterprise [see Solving the DLP Puzzle: 5 Technologies That Will Help].

Finding what's right for the individual companyChuck McGann, manager of corporate information security services for the U.S. Postal Service, has heard many a vendor pitch and found that even though they were pitching DLP, nothing they offered fit his individual needs.

"I have had too many conversations with vendors telling me how their products work, and they just don't meet my enterprise needs in terms of how they function in the pattern-matching and false-positive-reduction areas," he said.

For his part, McGann determined the technological part of his DLP program needed to address the following areas:

  • Keyword pattern matching
  • Auto quarantine for files that violate policy
  • The ability to specify and use certain combinations of data for matching
  • Exact data matching
  • Detection of specific data at rest and in transit
  • Robust reporting capability

Meanwhile, he determined he did not need to invest in additional encryption, ACL and data-in-transit-masking technology.

Saving users from themselvesWhile he agrees user awareness training is important, Career Education Corp. CISO Michael Gabriel decided his enterprise can only do so much to save users from themselves. Therefore, he went in search of technology that would address his particular needs. [Listen to the full interview with Gabriel in Deconstructing DLP: How One CISO Pulled It Off]

"Explaining everyone's role to them is much less of an issue if you can let technology minimize their role," Gabriel said. "Any time you rely on the end user to do something, you're likely to fail."

His journey into the world of DLP started with the search for e-mail encryption as a way to accomplish what he described above. He noted that he was the first Vontu customer in Chicago, implementing the vendor's Prevent product in 2005 as an integration with an Ironport MTA and the PGP Universal encrytion gateway to provide his company with an automated e-mail encryption solution. By finding something that detects confidential information using exact data matching -- automatically encrypting it if being sent to an authorized recipient -- he was able to meet a major piece of his DLP goals.

Since then, we have also implemented the Vontu Monitor, Discovery, and Endpoint solutions, and I'm currently working with their product managers on what I consider to be the next big application of DLP technology; using it not only to detect and remediate stray confidential data, but to provide information that will identify which broken business process resulted in that data being there in the first place," Gabriel said. "This would move DLP from being a reactive technology to a proactive technology."

Vendors starting to get the message?Though a frustration with security vendors wrongly pitching products as DLP is common among those interviewed, there are signs the vendor community is becoming more measured in its sales pitch. More of them are beginning to offer products as the solution to part of an enterprise's DLP needs rather than trying to sell their wares as DLP in a box, said Nick Selby, former research director for enterprise security at The 451 Group and CEO/co-founder of Cambridge Infosec Associates.

"There is a growing realization among vendors that they can go farther by addressing what exactly they can help with," Selby said. "It is less about 'we-can-do-everything' marketing and more about how 'we can help you with specific pieces of DLP.'"

Ted Heiman, the western regional sales manager for ForeScout Technologies, acknowledged that vendors have done a less-than-admirable job at helping companies address DLP. But, he said, difficulty understanding the true definition of DLP goes beyond the vendor community.

"There is no true, single point DLP product on the market. I believe this is where the big misconception is. DLP is a solution not a product," he said. "I have been in the enterprise security space for some time and I am often amused at the current approach most security vendors have taken."

His personal opinion is that the best solution to combating data loss is educating employees. "How many enterprises do you know that have really educated their employees about data security and the steps each employee can take to prevent critical data from getting into the wrong hands?" he asked. "Let's face it. The biggest threat to enterprise customers and their critical data is their network administrators. These guys have more power and access than most users and they also know how to exploit it. If you want to address DLP I think you need to start there."

About this series: Companies are clamoring for Data Loss Prevention (DLP) tools to keep their data safe from online predators. But there is much confusion over what the true ingredients are. In this series, CSOonline talks to security practitioners, analysts and other experts for a crash-course on what DLP is, what it isn't and how to get on the right track. We'll begin with the proper technologies to use, followed by the right people policies.


  • Solving the DLP Puzzle: 5 Ways Employees Spill Sensitive Data
  • Deconstructing DLP: How One CISO Pulled It Off
  • Solving the DLP Puzzle: 5 Technologies That Will Help
  • Deconstructing DLP: The Adventure Begins

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