There are many avenues of “data escape” that must be covered, according to Dave Chronister.

Technology’s ever-growing importance is a mixed blessing.

On one hand, it keeps me employed, but many times I will find myself talking about “new threats” that aren’t really new, they are just finally coming to the public’s attention.

The issue “de jour” is identity theft, and, according to the general public, this never happened until the TJ Maxx break in. Am I the only one who watched Sandra Bullock in “The Net?” Granted this movie was a little far-fetched -- I mean, come on, ordering a pizza online? But there we were in the mid-1990s watching a movie about a recluse woman whose identity was stolen in order to cover up a major conspiracy. Now, 13 years later, we live in a world where it seems the only data leak to worry about is consumer information.

Doesn’t a company with revolutionary ideas worry about corporate espionage and loss of trade secrets? Shouldn’t a publicly traded company need to ensure its financials are not released prematurely?

In reality, security professionals have to deal with data of different levels of security, much of which is unknown to even them. So while the rest of the world is focused on the little old ladies’ Social Security numbers, let’s look at the best strategies on keeping our sensitive information in our castle’s keep and maybe even use the identity theft hysteria to our advantage.

The decentralization of a company’s data stores and multiple facets of data retrieval have rendered the security strategy of building a bigger outside wall obsolete.  A silver-bullet solution will eventually become an Achilles’ tendon. Instead, you want to go for layers, defense in depth. Structure your security solutions to identify threats, guard against automated scans, and slow down and report possible intrusions. In the event of a successful attack, ensure containment and, if possible, identify the offenders of the data loss.

Let’s take a look at a few weapons that you may want to put in your arsenal.

First, there are network traffic analyzers -- and we are not talking about your network administrator’s wire shark system. These analyzers will examine the content and determine if sensitive data may have been sent out to unauthorized recipients. Many traffic analyzers will even determine if information is being sent to correct destinations but over incorrect channels, say instant messaging or IM, or to the public network unencrypted.

The obvious concern with this technology would be the potential bottleneck that you would face even on a small network. Global Velocity, one of the newer companies in this realm, is about to release a hardware-based content analyzer that it claims can process 10gbps. The potential is a godsend, but it isn’t without limitations. It can only analyze clear text. Someone sending out binaries, say screen prints, or encrypted traffic, such as a virtual private network or VPN stream, would not be analyzed. It also only handles traffic heading out of your network to other networks either public or private.

This doesn’t address other avenues of “data escape,” such as mobile devices and USB keys. There are multiple solutions to this problem, from physical USB locks to software solutions, such as Devicewall’s Centennial, which can block various types of USB devices, such as MP3 players or PDAs, and provide a complete audit trail. Microsoft shops could even use network policies to lock USB ports.

Speaking of policies, let’s take a quick look at your greatest weapon and your worst enemy: The User.

Sometimes it may seem a better idea to give flamethrowers to your local Cub Scout troop than to depend on John Q. User to ensure the integrity of your data. No matter how much you secure your sensitive data, the simple fact is your employee will be retrieving and writing this data on a daily basis. You need to ensure your security awareness program prepares them to handle the various aspects of social engineering as well as prevent accidental data leaks. After all, hackers are targeting the secretaries, not the Certified Information Systems Security Professionals or CISSPs. Computer-based training and posters should be part of your program, not the entire program.

Finally, getting upper management’s buy-in to the cost of data protection in money and manhours can be a daunting task. The horror stories of other data breeches as well as the projected cost to a business for identity theft can be used as a case study during your presentation. If that doesn’t work, maybe you can bust out your VCR and hope Bullock’s stellar performance in “The Net” does.