Control over convenience: how Senetas plans to beat Dropbox on sensitive cloud storage

Private-sector enterprises are exploring alternate file-sharing tools as they increasingly recognise the value of classifying and securing their data as government agencies have done for years, according to one senior security vendor executive.

Classification is “a standard process within government agencies, but we're now seeing that translate into the enterprise sector,” Andrew Wilson, CEO of Australian security success story Senetas, told CSO Australia on the recent launch of the company's SureDrop secure cloud-storage service.

“They previously considered all of their information unclassified, but it's not really – and they don't want that information falling into the wrong hands.”

This desire for control had created problems for organisations where unfettered usage of services like Dropbox – whose head of trust and security Patrick Heim has been open about the need to balance functionality against security – had complicated efforts to manage the flow of information and impeded the efficacy of data loss prevention (DLP) initiatives.

Management of the encryption keys used to secure data was one of the contentious issues at play in building a better data-security story, Wilson said, noting that cloud-storage leaders tended to manage the encryption keys to customer data themselves. This, in turn, compromised customer control over the data and frustrated the efforts of CSOs to keep a handle on what information has been secured and how.

“We've talked with a number of providers who are happy to use Dropbox for unsecured information, but who can't afford for customer data like contracts to be stored in an unencrypted format God knows where,” Wilson explained, noting that delivering such capabilities – through features like on-premises key management – had helped Senetas differentiate SureDrop from a growing field of competitors.

SureDrop uses several approaches to increase the security of its data storage: secure file fragmentation, for example, uses keys to distribute file data and the keys to this are stored on the client side alongside the encryption keys. The SureDrop architecture has been built to maximise fault tolerance and self healing, and generates keys without reliance on external applications.

“The [client] features are essentially the same but the security is far more robust,” he said. “Enabling organisations to manage the encryption key themselves is a critical aspect of a secure key management system, and therefore of a secure file sync and sharing system,” he said.

Senetas was exploring ways to pitch this more-secure alternative at government agencies looking for a way to give employees a way to store data up to PROTECTED level classification without using Dropbox and its ilk, which are also not currently authorised for storing such information.

Dropbox had sought to tighten the business controls over its data with its Dropbox for Business (DfB) offering, which Dropbox's Heim said has seen “absolutely phenomenal” growth based largely on the addition of better security and management features.

“Adoption of DfB is very closely tied to security,” Heim explained. “If you implement a product in your company and nobody uses it, and instead they hack around to get their alternative apps on the Internet, you have a situation. And if you can't get visibility of the data, you've got a security issue.”

“I would love to have perfect zero-knowledge encryption,” he continued, “but if you look at reality, we can't do anything with the data – we can't search, annotate, or preview if – if it's client-side encrypted. So, there are fundamental things about encryption that fundamentally oppose the value-added capabilities that have made Dropbox what it is right now.”

With users sure to continue adopting Dropbox-like services for convenience, businesses wanting to secure their sensitive data would, Wilson said, ideally get a persistent data-classification system that would allow automatic interception of outgoing data; based on its classification, that system would either shunt it to a public data-storage service suitable for UNCLASSIFIED data or to a high-security alternative cleared for PROTECTED and other data.

By pairing such a technology with user education, organisations would be able to enforce striated security controls that would flow to mobile devices that currently present a security loophole that made it “difficult to restrict access at the mobile end, because anyone can download an app,” Wilson said.

High-security file-sharing tools were proving to be of greatest interest to companies in the banking and finance industries, with “real application in the healthcare market as well,” he said, noting a “pretty good” response to the idea from a range of private and public-sector bodies.

Yet while the classification concept was increasingly appealing, a lack of clear standards continued to create problems.

“The security standards in relation to cloud services in this country are still embryonic when it comes to handling of classified data,” Wilson said, describing it as a “developing market”.

“It's potentially quite a large market as federal government agencies here and overseas do want to utilise cloud services more,” he explained. “We see some innovative players in the telco space seeing opportunities to offer some value-added services to their government customers.”

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Tags enterprisessecurity Patrick Heimdropboxgovernment agenciesSenetasdata loss prevention (DLP)Andrew WilsonCSO Australiacloud storage

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