An Ounce of Data Loss Prevention, A Pound of Whitelisting Cure

by Paul Keane
Senior Product Manager

Jordan Wiens writes in a recent InformationWeek article, “Objectionable-content filtering is closely aligned with data loss prevention.”

When Wiens says “objectionable,” I’m assuming he means material that has legal ramifications that may be slanderous or libelous. Items like that may not have intellectual property value, but they can negatively impact an organization’s reputation among their customer base or among their partner base. So, while there is no inherent IP value in it, there is a name-brand value, and items like that can get impacted. It is different from traditional DLP of intellectual property and risk management, but it still has a value of its own that would be aligned with DLP. It may not have the same type of value as DLP, but it has value from a company’s perspective, and it can be protected in the same manner as sensitive corporate data, such as intellectual property.

Wiens continues: “Outbound controls typically include at least some form of basic DLP, such as blocking credit card patterns or Social Security numbers. If you expect to implement full DLP functionality within your e-mail security budget, however, be prepared to open your wallet a bit wider.”

That’s true. Items such as credit cards, social security numbers—they’re all the minimum expectation nowadays. It may be the case that some vendors are not as adept at blocking more sophisticated items as others. It may be that the product just doesn’t do it rather than they have to pay more for it. Having said that, those that can do it are probably charging more for the overall solution anyway.

“Tread carefully,” writes Wiens, “if a vendor tries to sell you on e-mail whitelisting techniques. While positive security models do provide stronger defenses and are a much more promising long-term solution to malware than desktop antivirus, they simply don’t apply to e-mail.”

This is probably a good point in that prevention is better than cure. Whitelisting is a bandage; it’s saying “definitely allow these guys through” but, depending on how good your solution is, it may also allow other bad messages through. So it’s kind of a bandage. The better solution will be prevention, where an intelligent decision can be made at the edge so there is no need for whitelisting in the first place. Having 100 percent accuracy is never going to happen, but having a highly accurate solution at the edge, which is prevention, makes it so we don’t have to worry about whitelisting because the solution at the edge would be intelligent enough to let through those who you would whitelist anyway, while preventing all others from coming through. It’s a fair statement to make.

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