How to use BI tools to prevent data breaches

We have all heard by now the horror stories surrounding the data breaches at various household name companies in various industries. Our shopping preferences, financial habits and even our most guarded information, personal health records, are being looted seemingly at will. These breaches threaten millions of people, cost billions in lost revenue, fines and good will and represent such a serious threat to a company’s prosperity that several industries have been launched to combat the plague.

Yet most of the collective efforts have been focused on the fringes of the company collective associated with preventing the intrusion. We have, essentially, built giant walls to keep the barbarians from entry and have left the treasury room un-secured. That is, all of our effort is directed at stopping an intrusion rather than protecting the data itself. So how’s that been working out for us?

This paper will focus on how to use the BI tools we already have to help protect that data and do it as close to the source as possible.

Locking the “data doors”

So will placing additional security on the data doors work? We’ve see the enemies ability to pick locks no matter the sophistication. All technical security systems will fail. Why.. because the enemy is relentless at trying to break it. Studies show that the average time to break-in and steal information happens in hours but detection takes 7 months. The most secure system is one that you don’t even realize is in place. Several years ago, I designed a login system (back in the DOS days) that did nothing but return the command prompt “>” if you entered the password incorrectly. It even mimicked some basic DOS commands (e.g. CLR –screen clear). The net/net is that the hacker believed they were still in the DOS command shell without realizing they were trapped in a security loop. They tried to break an OS and an application that weren’t there rather than trying to defeat a security system that was. It’s all about using mind-set, distraction and illusion just as good magicians do.

Why now? Big Data and how it’s used

The reason this all has come about is the advent of the ability to address large amounts of  data. (Figure 1) The amount of data that occurs every minute of every day is staggering. New tools, HADOOP for example, have been designed to allow the fastest most economical and ubiquitous access possible. While this has opened new vistas in information and intelligence, the problem is that it works too well. These tools are designed to provide unfettered access not to be secure. We, as an industry, have become complacent in our concerns around data security. Mobile apps as well as increasingly smaller storage media (Snowden’s stolen documents will fit on a micro-SD the size of a fingernail) making theft of critical information easy and widespread. Still, we compartmentalize security concerns to the routers and networks assuming that technology will protect us. Figure 1 Amount of data traversing the internet every minute (Source: Intel)

Figure 1 Amount of data traversing the internet every minute (Source: Intel)

How to use BI to help minimize breaches

  1. Masking, Encrypting and Obfuscation – Use the tools that either come as part of an ETL package or create a table of masked values that tokenize the actual data and report on that. Only in rare instances do the actual values need to be shown.
  2. Reduce the circle of influence – By placing security as close to the data as possible you minimize the risk of human-caused leaks. The less people know the actual restricted values, the less the issue of an outside force co-opting your staff.
  3. Understand your data – There is no substitute for knowledge about the data. You need to know what’s important enough to be masked, how it is stored and how it is accessed. It’s not economically feasible to mask everything, nor is it conducive to performance. Knowing your data at an atomic level will allow you to group it into secure clusters and enhance performance.
  4. Build a compelling business case for a BI solution – The cost per breach at the record level in the US is now over $200. A simple spreadsheet using any of the numbers of records stolen would provide a compelling ROI for this approach.

The barbarians are at the gate and they will get in. Make sure that when they breach the walls and open the vault, all they see are useless bit strings. As any good home alarm company will tell you, the criminals will soon move on to greener pastures.

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