2 security tools that don't come in a box

Before you deploy the latest applications to stem insider threats, you should take care of two important tasks.

More on insider threats

Why you can't stop insider threats

1. Profile your data

Thanks to the Federal Information Security Management Act and FIPS 199, agencies have long been expected to categorize information according to subject matter and mission sensitivity.

However, some agencies might have considered those directives to be check-off items rather than routine operational imperatives. Indeed, one consultant calls data characterization the biggest thing government agencies are not doing to block insider threats.

One of the most important questions data characterization helps answer is the potential harm to an agency if the information is given to unauthorized users or posted on a public website. The answer helps officials make risk management decisions, such as how much the agency should spend in terms of IT budget and employee resources to protect a particular dataset or file.

Files can then be tagged with appropriate descriptors to make it easy for data loss prevention systems and similar technologies to monitor and control data access and use.

Dust off the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Special Publication 800-60 for advice on using data characterization to boost protection against insider threats.

2. Publish clear policies

It seems obvious, but you must be sure that employees know how to protect your agency’s data.

“If the rules aren’t apparent or available for reference, people are going to use their best judgment,” which might not be in accordance with formal security directives, said Marian Cody, chief information security officer at the Housing and Urban Development Department.

HUD offers security training seminars on a regular basis to keep its employees up-to-date on the latest rules and discuss the implications of inappropriately distributing sensitive data.

And don’t forget to include contractors in your training efforts. In this era of collaboration, they need to be as informed about security policies as full-time agency employees do.

In addition, continuously review authorization procedures to limit opportunities for leaks. Establish procedures for reviewing and updating access rights on a regular basis so people can’t download protected files when their roles have changed and they no longer need access to those files.

About the Author

Alan Joch is a freelance writer based in New Hampshire.

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Reader comments

Tue, Mar 15, 2011 William Slater Chicago

Thanks for a great article, Mr. Joch! I'm sure this woke a lot of people up about the importance of and need for Data Classification and Clearly Written Information Security Policies. I am an ISMS Architect working in an ISO 27001-based Information Security Management System (ISMS). I have also found great value in the Information Security policy products that Information Shield offers.

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