Thinking Beyond the Product

Protecting information assets in the digital age

Technology plays a dichotomous role in the security of an organization's information assets. While it enables us to protect assets in ways we never imagined, it also can enable the very threats that leave those assets vulnerable.

Regardless of the organization or the type of assets being protected, one thing is true: technology—the security products and solutions on which we rely— can no longer stand alone.

Today's sophisticated business environment calls for an equally sophisticated, holistic approach that incorporates not only technology but also the people and processes that will ensure technology achieves our objectives for the protection of information.

Understanding Threats

During the last decade, threats have certainly changed in character. Gone are the days when the most dangerous risks to an organization were physical in nature. Logical threats, such as hacking, viruses and digital sabotage, have become more prevalent as technology has proliferated. And those dangers are coming from both internal and external sources.

That's why information security—the protection of sensitive data and the infrastructure on which it resides—has become one of the most topof- mind concerns for security professionals. Unlike many physical threats, the impact of logical security breaches is typically far-reaching and long-lasting. Organizations, with help from their security partners and suppliers, must examine their current security structures and develop robust, integrated programs that effectively protect their networks, systems and data. Such an approach can complement an organization's business objectives, while enabling it to identify vulnerabilities, assess and prioritize threats, deploy efficient mitigation strategies and manage the information security program.

Assessing the Situation

To adequately safeguard systems, an organization's security professionals need to identify and understand where it is most vulnerable. Only then can the appropriate technologies, people and processes be implemented to protect data assets.

A risk assessment can deliver insight about existing opportunities for information technology systems to be compromised. It can help determine how well critical systems are protected, providing a detailed analysis of both external and internal threats. Ongoing assessments should be conducted to confirm systems are protected, as well as to ensure strategies and technologies remain effective.

Developing a Holistic Strategy

Once vulnerabilities have been identified, the ultimate goal of any information security initiative should be the development of a holistic strategy to protect consumers, employees and the organization.

The implementation of a proactive, positive information security model should be the first step in the development of such a strategy. In tandem with antivirus software, which proactively prevents intrusion, defies hackers and identifies suspicious activity, a positive model provides protection by allowing only limited privileges to system users, applications and data. Positive model programs do not rely on detection of an intrusion before raising a red fl ag. Rather, they create rules that define allowable activities and restrict all else. This embraces a philosophy that fewer allowed permissions yield the least opportunity for threats. With this architecture in place, the system's connectivity can be shut down if an action falls outside the normal scope of operation.

A holistic information security strategy also should incorporate technologies that are interoperable with an organization's physical systems, such as physical access control systems and personnel databases. Integrating these systems with the logical access control system can provide organizations with complete reporting of employee activity, including information about who is entering facilities and rooms, as well as physically accessing computers and other devices, and at what times.

This level of system integration also allows for the creation of an automated workfl ow process that executes automatically based on the business policies and compliance requirements mandated by the organization. For example, if an employee hasn't swiped into the building, his or her account could be automatically locked to prevent unauthorized computer access. Furthermore, once an employee is removed from the personnel database, the automatic removal of that user from both physical and logical access control systems can be triggered.

Engaging the People, Defining the Processes

The efficacy of information security relies, in large part, on people. Each person should be aware of security, understand his or her role in mitigating risk and be committed to providing protection. Processes— and training programs to ensure the understanding and adoption of those processes—must be in place to enable all employees to understand rules, roles and responsibilities.

Staffing is critical to the successful deployment of information security technologies. Before selecting and deploying technologies, organizations should understand the staffing that's needed to effectively and efficiently implement and manage technology. Even the most proactive, sophisticated security technologies can be rendered useless without the people and processes needed to support them.

As the industry continues its focus on the protection of critical systems and data, we must all go beyond the product. We must place equal emphasis on the people and processes that will ensure we maximize the technologies that were designed to protect our information assets.

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