Data protection in small companies: priority or “minor matters”?

data protection

Data protection in small companies: priority or “minor matters”?

We often hear about leaks of confidential information from large corporations and the measures they take to minimize the risks of security incidents. However, at the same time, the media hardly covers the issue of information security in small businesses.

Are small companies concerned about information security problem? And if so, how do they deal with this issue? What is the role of DLP systems (Data Loss Prevention) in the security circuits of small businesses? To answer these questions, we turn to experts in the field of information security and small businesses.

small businnessBefore turning to the issue of employee monitoring software usage in small companies it is important to find out exactly which information they want to protect. Business development manager of Greatment Inc. Stephen Lawson talks about it in details:

In our IT age the problem of data protection is relevant for pretty much every participant of information exchange process. This certainly applies to large and medium-sized companies and small businesses, individual entrepreneurs and regular people. Security’s cornerstone is a correctly defined and classified object of protection. This can be data (for example, the company’s development plans, financial reports, used technologies description, inventions), information systems (HR, CRM, ERP, BI, financial and manufacturing systems), business processes (manufacturing technology), and even people (employees with unique skills, key players). Some objects of protection are also defined according to regulatory requirements (e.g. banking secrecy, personal data). The choice of protection methods and measures depends on understanding of what needs to be protected, from whom it must be protected, where it is necessary to protect it and what consequences improper protection can lead to. Completeness and quality of simulation of security threats, as well as necessary measures will determine the amount of company’s incurred expenses in the long run. Regardless of company’s size, setting up protection against security threats should be carried out systematically, meaning, it should be started with developing the set of measures that allow protection against threats depending on the degree of the negative consequences that may ensue. It is necessary to implement data protection and create organizational processes which will allocate responsibility to certain people in the company. For example, in case of very small companies we talk about creating several information security regulations, installing anti-virus software, encrypting critical data and instructing staff on how to work with sensitive information.

For protection of various data companies can implement a DLP system. However, experts’ opinions were divided on whether or not the use of DLPs is justified in case of small businesses.

Bruce Sandoval, Leading analyst, Symbolitics:

There is the need for DLP systems in small companies: reality shows that leakage of confidential data may take place in a company of any size. Additionally, there is a huge number of data types. Trade secrets, unique designs, technological specs – such information is usually protected by large and medium-sized companies. Small businesses often deal with personal data, i.e. travel agencies, insurance companies, law firms – they have to worry about the safety of acquired information.

That’s why DLP is necessary not only in corporations but in companies of all sizes. Of course, DLP system is quite expensive software. For smaller companies, this is a critical factor, and they are looking for more affordable solutions. That is why current market experiences boost in popularity of products for employee monitoring. These systems help to maintain staff discipline, find problems in business processes, and partially solve the problem of DLP.

Ethan Cook, Head of Information Security Department of professional hosting provider Starrhost:

Ideas about information protection are always in demand, at any level. Despite the fact that the competent use of DLP solutions ultimately leads to a reduction in costs and expenses, small businesses prefer limit security measures to making organizational arrangements and work with them until the breaking point.

Patrick Simmons, Head of Information Security at Curso:

Unlike classical security measures such as firewalls, antivirus software, cryptographic protection, DLP solutions are still in process of developing and trying to attract consumer’s interest on the market. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, most of the solutions of this kind come with significant expenses for purchasing (including hardware component), for implementation, as well as for hiring and training personnel operating the DLP system. All of this eventually leads to DLP being economically unfeasible for a company. Secondly, it is the lack of public awareness of the existence and capabilities of the DLP systems, as well as still urgent problem of lack of attention to the problems of ensuring information security. In particular, this is relevant for small businesses which are often characterized by the lack of dedicated security specialists, frequent use of personal devices by employees for solving work-related problems, and so on. In order to implement mechanisms of preventing leaks of confidential data small businesses can use DLP as a service provided by specialized organizations.

Financial director of Estation Inc. Dennis Barnett:

Small and medium-sized businesses are often interested in DLP solutions, but do not always understand their actual features and the conditions necessary for their effective work. Requirements that small companies apply to such software are usually unrealistic. If you do not take into account exceptional cases where executives are willing to personally look through almost every email and other forwarded data, small companies tend to expect DLP systems to detect employees’ unscrupulousness “themselves”: cases of bribery, business data transferring to competitors, and so on. But no DLP system has its own intelligence and it cannot judge the value of collected information. All control parameters must be entered by the users of the system (as a rule, it is company’s economic security service). It requires at least a minimum of technical expertise, understanding of company’s business processes and value of various data, adequate risk assessment, a certain understanding of the psychology of potential offenders, constant monitoring and adjusting (in other words, spending a lot of work hours). DLP is only a tool in the hands of security personnel. And, as any sophisticated tool, DLP systems have certain requirements to the level of qualification of the person who uses it.

data loss

Chairman of the Board of Directors of Nority Security Services Gregory Sandoval:

For small businesses monitoring and prevention of security incidents are still not in a big demand for several reasons. Firstly, this is due to the fact that not all employees are connected to applications containing confidential information – such data in small businesses is usually available to a limited number of people. Secondly, the insufficient level of knowledge about information security due to the fact that the amount of public leaks and the damage they have resulted in, have not reached a critical level yet. Oh, and thirdly, for the past two years economic crisis has been forcing companies to economize, so funds for non-critical tasks from management’s point of view were cut completely.

Head of Product Development Department of System Software Billy Herrera:

Small businesses do not often use DLP system, since these companies usually do not have sufficient funds. Moreover, in small companies people usually know each other well and relationships at work are usually trusting. In the process of development and with an increase of employee turnover companies start thinking of employee monitoring and DLP systems. This usually happens when a company grows to 200-300 PCs. As a result, potential buyers consider mainly simplified system, where DLP is merely an addition rather than the foundation.

Marketing Manager of Security code LLC. Kenneth Aguilar:

The demand for DLP systems and other means of information security in small businesses is quite limited. This is due to the fact that the introduction of such system requires not only investments, but also a certain level of understanding of information security issues. Management should clearly understand what data is confidential, who should have access to it, and who shouldn’t. This problem goes far beyond IT-administrator’s area of responsibility and competence. Despite that administrator is usually the one involved in information security in small companies. Small businesses are also characterized by flexibility and high sensitivity to the cost. Therefore, the introduction of fully-functional types of DLP solutions almost never happens. But if a company acquires a multifunctional workstation protection system that incorporates some DLP features (usually USB control), then these features are used.

Purposeidler Project leader Christopher Hughes:

Our company believes that it is not data that needs control (as in classic information leakage prevention systems) but the employees who work with this data. Traditional control systems have a number of disadvantages. Firstly, they are heavy, complex and expensive to implement. So, they are absolutely not applicable for small businesses. Secondly, classic DLP systems monitor working with data. Monitoring is carried out for specific files (by filename) or data in company’s information systems by some data pattern (for example, XXXX-XXXX-XXXX-XXXX for credit card numbers). So if you simply change the format of the data, then the DLP system will not be able to keep track of it. For example, if you change the number of credit cards from XXXX-XXXX-XXXX-XXXX to AXXXX, BXXXX, CXXXX, DXXXX, the DLP system will not deem it important and it will go amiss. Thirdly, constant monitoring of data use overloads employees’ PCs and company’s resources. If DLP system checks all outgoing data, then any failure would result in company’s isolation.

Some experts noted the demand of DLP systems among small companies, while others think that these solutions are not popular in this segment. Let’s try to figure out how big the interest for DLP among small businesses is compared with large and medium-sized companies.

President of young entrepreneurs club, CloudSolutions CEO George Soto:

«DLP solutions will be useful for both large companies and for small businesses, but only as one of the preventive measures to information leakage. Such programs are good for enhancing IT literacy among employees because their very essence involves assessing the risks of information leaks. For that activity in the channels through which data can be leaked is analyzed: e-mail, instant messengers and web directly. On the basis of the content and context (protocol, activity, type of application, etc.), the program further generates security policy, according to which it blocks messages, reports violations and so on. It is important to understand that, unlike firewalls, DLP solutions do not block data transfer completely, but instead try to analyze human activity in the network, which leaves companies with even higher probability of data leakage.

Ethan Cook:

All companies have the interest for protecting information. Approaches to the implementation of DLP solutions can be different, but “loss of information” in the 21st century is almost equal to “loss of money”, so it is logical to assume that the idea of minimizing such risk of losses exists in every company, regardless of its size.

Patrick Simmons:

Companies’ interest in DLP systems depends not only on the scale of their IT infrastructure and the volume of processed data. Primarily, of course, it depends on the existence of information, leaking of which can cause damage, and on presence of current threats. Thus, the interest in DLP can be equal in both large and small companies. But large companies have more opportunities and abilities to use such systems.

Head of Information Security Department of “Expectronica” (I-Techio Inc.) Keith Burton:

First of all, companies with sufficient funding regardless of the size are interested in DLP systems. But keep in mind that DLP is just a tool, and whether it will really be used for the control and prevention of leaks or will remain only a “blueprint” depends on many factors: personal ambitions of managers responsible for information security, experience of project team and clear definition of problem. Quality implementation is crucial for the effectiveness of control and prevention of leaks. It is worth noting that the very scope of DLP systems is very delicate, implementation of such projects in many companies is slowed by bureaucratic and legal technicalities and high reputational risk.

Commercial Director of SenseBox Christopher Cole:

«DLP solutions are used mostly by large business. And these systems were initially designed precisely to meet the requirements of complex corporate machine. But the need for data protection is the same for everyone: from startups to large businesses. And what important here is not the decision itself on the level of software that business owners use, but approach to security.

DLP systems initially emerged from what could be called paranoid approach to security: when we try to make any action impossible or prevent it. For example, imagine that at the entrance of a shopping center we put a security guard with a dog, a turnstile, a metal detector and introduce body searches for every shopper. As a software product DLP is something similar to that. In civilized countries people rely on laws, police, and courts. And there is no need to build fences – you can go anywhere. In case, if someone dares to break the law usual defense mechanism gets triggered: police arrive and law enforcement system ensures the inevitability of punishment.

Nobody prevents you from restricting access to confidential information for certain employees in the form of a law, a clause in the employment contract and tough sanctions. If these sanctions and punishment exceed the benefit from the potential information theft, most employees will give up the idea of stealing.

Dennis Barnett:

In my opinion, large corporations are more interested in using DLP solutions, they have a better understanding of what such a system might be useful for and have sufficient resources for the effective use of DLP systems. Recently on the market appeared solutions that utilize scientific advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data analysis to facilitate the work of security professionals and reduce the level of their qualification requirements. Time will show how these solutions will contribute to the wider distribution of DLP systems among small and medium-sized businesses.

Billy Herrera:

Medium and large companies (especially if it is the financial sector) are more often interested in the use of DLP systems. For a growing company it becomes increasingly difficult to control transactions and privacy of employees. And in this situation, you can easily miss information leak or that some employee (who for some reason lost his or her loyalty) intents to harm your business. Unfortunately, no system is able to completely prevent direct attacks on corporate data, but it can significantly complicate the process, making leaks less profitable and more risky for the offender.

Head of Information Security at KRAKE Thomas Hicks:

All market participants (large corporations and SMB-segment) are interested in DLP systems because information leakage risks are present in all companies. At the same time data leakage consequences for SMB-sector may be much more devastating than for large corporations. For the former a leak can easily result in the loss of key competitive advantage and, consequently, in closing of business. In the case of a large corporation it is most often a question of reputational and financial losses.

Kenneth Aguilar:

The interest in using not only DLP systems, but also any other information security solutions depend on the size of the company, but more so on the level of its maturity. The more a company is aware of the value of its data (for itself and for its competitors), the more consciously it implements information security strategy with regard to data protection. The list of necessary actions in this case consists not only of introduction of means of information security, but of reforming business processes in order to reduce the risk of intentional leak or accidental data loss.

And only when business processes, in which DLP system will be installed, are defined, then its implementation begins to be affected by company’s size. It is obvious that a large company can spend more money on such a project, but the technical requirements will also be higher.

Experts’ opinions have divided again. On the one hand, some believe in the lack of connection between company’s size and the level of its interest in the use of DLP, on the other hand, some experts believe that such systems are most in demand in large corporations. However, in both cases experts agree that there are small companies that see information security, as one of its priority and thus can be considered as potential users of DLP systems. So what are small businesses’ requirements for such systems?

Bruce Sandoval:

Large customers generally choose “smart”and expensive DLP solution. Small companies are usually willing to work with these systems in the “manual” mode, without the possibility of automation, if this solution is much more affordable. For this reason, in the small and medium businesses all incidents are investigated in retrospect.

Ethan Cook:

If you omit the obvious issue of the software price, which in this segment of information security is the most important one, and focus on functionality, then you need to give preference to more “omnivorous” security software. It often happens that small companies cannot afford to unify elements of the information system and built it on literally what is at hand. Of course, the consequence of such an approach would be the diversity of equipment used in the IT system.

Patrick Simmons:

The list of requirements that companies apply to DLP systems is primarily based on the specific features of company’s IT infrastructure including the used methods of information transferring as well as its volume. This allows the consumer to determine data transmission channels that will be controlled by DLP system. The most popular control features are monitoring of e-mails, removable drives, URLs, instant messengers and printing. Also, for many companies formation of the DLP system reports is often important as it is the key tool for demonstrating the effectiveness of the implemented DLP system to executives.

Keith Burton:

Representatives of large businesses usually try to achieve specific objectives with the help of DLP:  such system is likely to be integrated into already established IT landscape with a large

amount of other components and solutions for information protection. In contrast, the SMB-segment wants to see DLP solutions as a sort of “multi tools” that solve several problems related to information security. Another important requirement is the ease of implementation and minimum support personnel necessary.

Gregory Sandoval:

The main requirement from smaller companies is the minimum price. However, developing DLP systems can be quite time-consuming and require constant updating.

Billy Herrera:

Small companies are trying to buy low-cost solution with an extremely easy deployment that combines the functionality of multiple solutions. They focus on anti-virus solutions, traffic and employee productivity control systems, which often contain simplified DLP functions. In small companies, information protection is often not included in operating costs.

Thomas Hicks:

Among the main requirements that small businesses have for DLP solutions is affordability, ease of implementation and support, as well as compliance with legal requirements. From the perspective of functions small business expects of DLP systems to be capable of monitoring printing and users’ email correspondence (both within the company’s network, and with the use of the Internet postal services such as gmail.com or mail.ru), blocking file transfer to external drives or file sharing services and analyzing employees’ use of social networks and instant messengers.

Kenneth Aguilar:

Small companies have very limited resources. This applies to information security budget and to the number of specialized personnel. As a rule, small companies hire one or two IT specialists who solve all problems related to IT and information security in varying degrees.

In this regard, experts were virtually unanimous. The main factors in selecting information security software for small companies are its cost and ease of implementation. This is due to the fact that small businesses compared with large corporations, have limited financial and human resources. The consequence of this situation is the desire to get a low-cost multi-function software that can be easily implemented into corporate infrastructure by one or two members of IT department.

However, in the market today there are some pretty functional programs that can help your business in information protection. And some of them are even available for free.

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Disclaimer

You are hereby informed that by using software like CleverControl monitoring software on computers or other devices that you are not properly authorized to use is considered to be a breach of US federal and state laws. Authorization implies that you have to only install such monitoring software on devices that you rightfully own or with rightful owner’s permission and you also must properly inform all users of the device on which you install such software that they are subjected to monitoring. Failing to comply with the above mentioned conditions can result in law violation and may lead to monetary and criminal penalties. You should consult with your law advisor about legality of using CleverControl software in your jurisdiction before downloading and using it. CleverControl software is only intended for the purposes of employee monitoring. It cannot be employed to monitor a person without his/her knowledge and permission.

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