Real Leaks Involve Privileged Staff – How to Prevent Senior Authorised Staff from Stealing Information?

Legislation, such as the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), HIPAA, and SOX and the adoption of industry standards such as ISO27001, COBIT, and BASIL II, has made the implementation of information security management systems mandatory within large corporations. However, as can be seen from a 2012 report on fraud cases in US financial services, such systems have largely been a failure.
  • IT systems detected only 6% of fraud cases, with the majority found via audit processes.
  • Over 70% of fraud cases involved insiders.
  • Over 50% of those involved in fraud were VPs, managers or held supervisory roles.
  • Stealing Personally Identifiable Information was the most common means of fraud.

The key reason for this failure is that protecting against insider threats is not an IT problem but a business problem. Solutions like Data Leakage Prevention (DLP) systems, which try to prevent unauthorised access to sensitive information, do not tackle the issue of fraud. What is required is an approach where the auditing of users with authorised access to sensitive information is central to the implementation of the system.

Why DLP systems fail?

The biggest challenge in information security is detecting the theft of sensitive information by users with legitimate access to that information. For example, a procurement manager might send an email containing upcoming tender details out to a third party. Existing solutions, like DLP systems, are unable to meet this challenge due to the following reasons:

1. Information Owners (Heads of Department) are unable to directly control the information for which they are responsible

Sensitive information is created daily in a decentralised manner at the departmental level. The only people who can actually decide the appropriate use of this information are the department staff themselves. Unfortunately, traditional security approaches rely on central tagging and monitoring of sensitive information and there is no automated way of tagging new information being created on a daily basis. Furthermore, as they rely on central monitors rather than departmental-level monitors, they have no idea as to what qualifies as inappropriate usage of sensitive information. As such, sensitive information, which can actually hurt the organization, never gets tagged and monitored.

2. Existing security solutions only catch illegitimate access

The standard industry security solutions, such as DLP systems, are built to only catch illegitimate access. They do this by restricting access to sensitive information. This works fine as long as the person is not authorised to have access to the information. However, when dealing with security risks such as social engineering attacks and insider threats, where the perpetrators are usually authorised users who have legitimate access, these solutions fail.

3. Sensitive information cannot be shared with, or monitored by, IT staff

Handling sensitive information is often above the pay-grade of the IT staff maintaining the security system. When the information cannot be shared with the IT staff, the information never gets protected. Furthermore, even when information can be shared, IT staff does not know much about the people using it, the operational circumstances and what constitutes misuse of the information. As a result, serious misuse goes unreported or else a lot of false hits get reported to the management.

The Solution : Integrity Management System

e-Safe Compliance, developed by e-Safe Systems, is an Integrity Management System. It is built on the philosophy of “Educate, Trust And Verify”. e-Safe Compliance enables information owners and users to educate each other on what information is sensitive and the changing business needs regarding its use.  e-Safe Compliance avoids operational overheads through trust, by making information owners responsible for protecting sensitive information through specification of document rights, and allowing users to override document rights when necessary. e-Safe Compliance enables information owners and auditors to verify that sensitive information is protected and not misused by monitoring its usage and highlighting potential issues.
e-Safe Compliance is the only system to protect against both insider and outsider threats:
  • e-Safe Compliance ensures sensitive information is identified and protected by empowering the information owners themselves to classify sensitive information and create the necessary rule definitions, including document rights management. The creation of rules is audited centrally by the integrity department (or similar) to ensure coverage and avoid the creation of badly-defined rules.
  • e-Safe Compliance monitors the usage and movement (file transfer, email, webpost, print, etc.) of sensitive information by all users.
  • e-Safe Compliance presents sensitive information usage reports, with highlighted potential misuse, to the information owners as they are the best people to verify whether there is a data leak or not. To ensure that the information owners are not stealing sensitive information, the usage reports are centrally audited by the integrity department (or similar). This dual-reporting is an essential requirement to adhere to ISO27001 standards.

A high-level diagram of the checks and balances within e-Safe Compliance is shown in figure 1 below.

Figure 1 – Decentralized Information Monitoring System (Security is everyone’s responsibility)


Key Features

1. Decentralised rule creation

e-Safe Compliance enables rule definition by information owners at the departmental level. The advantage of decentralising rule definition is that it makes the system more responsive to changes in business needs. It does this by ensuring that the information owners, who also audit the potential misuse of information incidents, have the tools they need to be able to create or refine rules as required in order to protect sensitive information without compromising operational efficiency.

2. Built-in document rights management

e-Safe Compliance’s built-in document rights management i) prevents unauthorised users from opening sensitive documents, and ii) allows restrictions to be placed on the copying and printing of documents by authorised users. Users can protect ad-hoc documents by simply right-clicking on the document and selecting the desired level of protection, and, if appropriate, restricting the document to a group of authorised users. e-Safe Compliance’s document rights management works for all document formats and even when the users are offline.

3. Overriding of document usage restrictions when required

DLP systems have two modes of operation: i) restrict document usage, and ii) allow document usage but monitor. Restricting document usage prevents users from doing their job, while just monitoring document usage results in the reviewing of a large number of incidents. e-Safe Compliance introduces a third way – “allow users to remove restrictions but require them to provide a reason for doing so.” By allowing authorised users to override restrictions, the users are no longer prevented from doing their job. By only reporting incidents where the restrictions are overridden, the number of incidents to be reviewed is greatly decreased. The inclusion of a reason for overriding the restrictions makes incidents much easier to review and verify.

4. Tracking of document versions, usage and changes

In order to audit the use of sensitive information, it is necessary to track i) the different versions and copies of sensitive documents, ii) changes to user access profiles and content restrictions made by users, iii) the opening and modification of documents, and iv) where required the actual changes to the documents themselves.

5. Avoids capture of users’ personal data

Users often conduct personal activities within the office, such as online banking, which involves the transmission of personal data, such as credit card numbers. By differentiating between customers’ personal data and users’ personal data, e-Safe Compliance avoids generating false misuse of sensitive information incident reports. Furthermore, e-Safe Compliance ensures compliance with Personal Data Protection Act legislation (PDPA), which requires the protection of customer data whilst avoiding the capture of user personal data.

6. Potential information leakages reviewed by information owners

In e-Safe Compliance, the information owners verify potential data leakage incidents. As the information owners have a good understanding of the people using the information, the operational circumstances and what constitutes misuse of the information, they are able to identify serious misuse of information accurately. Furthermore, the reasons provided by users when overriding document restrictions provide feedback directly to information owners and allow them to make changes to rules as required by changing operational circumstances.

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