The Next Frontier in Content Filtering: Large Files

by Willy Leichter
Director, Product & Solutions Marketing
Axway

While many people bristle at the idea of their web surfing being filtered, IT needs to have some control over what’s coming in and going out through the corporate firewall. Which brings us to what is often an IT black hole: FTP.

While many people bristle at the idea of their web surfing being filtered, IT needs to have some control over what’s coming in and going out through the corporate firewall. Which brings us to what is often an IT black hole: FTP.

It’s pretty well established that corporate email should have some types of content filters. Everybody uses them for inbound spam, and despite those who cry “Big Brother!”, there are many important (and legal) reasons that organizations need control over outbound content. For example, if your company deals with credit cards or social security numbers, you have an obligation to make sure they are not casually, or accidentally, sent unencrypted or to the wrong recipients.

Most organizations also have a legal responsibility to prevent harassment claims by keeping employees from surfing inappropriate or dangerous websites. While many people bristle at the idea of their web surfing being filtered, IT needs to have some control over what’s coming in and going out through the corporate firewall.

Which brings us to what is often an IT black hole: FTP. Many organizations allow completely unmonitored FTP, and quite frankly, those organizations don’t know what’s going on with the files leaving their networks, since even legitimate traffic can be a conduit for sensitive information or malware.

For instance, large files are regularly sent for business purposes between banks and partners with lots of personally identifiable information, and often banks will send more information than necessary. When going through FTP or other file transfer protocols, there is typically no visibility into file content.

My company was involved with a project with one of the largest banks in the world, and they were specifically concerned about PCI compliance. They needed to make sure that credit card numbers or social security numbers were not included as part of large file transfers. But, more importantly, they absolutely did not want traffic to be stopped if there was a possible violation. With all these security issues, stopping traffic, a move security purists are hasty to advocate, even for the most righteous of reasons, will make heads roll.

To solve this we developed a system to strip out specific, personally identifiable information from files, on the fly, based on policy rules, without stopping the entire file transfer process. While this type of filtering has become an accepted best practice for email, applying this technology to file transfers is groundbreaking.

The next time you consider content filters and whether your company is using them in the most efficient, holistic manner, ask yourself: are the filters just looking at the subject lines and bodies of emails, are they simply comparing a URL to a blacklist and making a quick decision? Or are they taking everything into account—the content of the attachments to the emails and the data within the files being transferred? Whatever solution you choose, it must be practical, keep business flowing, and protect you against liability.

(Photo by thebadastronomer: http://www.flickr.com/photos/badastronomy/ / CC BY-SA 2.0)

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