Information Security and Sharing

By Liddy, Elizabeth D. | Online, May 2001 | Go to article overview

Information Security and Sharing


Liddy, Elizabeth D., Online


The role of information specialists has broadened in recent years, and, for many, it now includes shared responsibility for the security of the intellectual property of the organization. Information security is a responsibility that, broadly defined, includes two major areas: protection from intruders and protection from unwanted release of information. The first of these, protection from intruders, is usually the responsibility of the IT team alone, and focuses on three major concerns: interruption of service, protection of IP addresses, and intrusion detection. All these pertain to protecting an organization's intellectual property from assault from outside the organization.

There is a second, equally important area: protection of an organization from unwanted release of information to inappropriate recipients. While information specialists are frequently seen as providing the conduits for getting vital information to the right people at the right time, they also are increasingly being asked to participate in the task of ensuring that vital information is not released to those who do not have the right to it. They are protecting an organization's intellectual property from advertent or inadvertent breaches of security from within the organization.

BOUNDARY CONTROLLERS

The technical solution for preventing the unauthorized release of sensitive information is referred to as "boundary control." A boundary controller is a software solution designed to enforce the business rules of an organization in order to control the information flows between the organization and the outside world, as well as between internal units. A high accuracy boundary controller is essential in supporting the information sharing that is required within an organization where there are groups that must share some, but not all, information.

Here's a real-world situation that requires boundary controllers: a company has decided to do research and development on a new approach to solving a common, expensive problem within the industry, and needs to protect this competitive advantage. Another is a financial services firm that must ensure outgoing email messages are in full compliance with securities laws and regulations. Boundary controllers come into play when an organization is providing technology to a team within a multinational task force and needs to share necessary information with other teams, but national security deems that not all information be shared.

POSSIBLE APPROACHES

There are a number of possible approaches to the boundary control problem that have been utilized commercially, as well as in internally developed solutions. The main distinction is between keyword and conceptual approaches.

Keyword Approach

The keyword approach is what is also referred to as the "dirty word" approach, whereby an organization prepares a list of words that, if contained in an outgoing message or document, should raise a security concern for that organization. Technically simple, most keyword approaches tokenize outgoing messages and documents into words. The words are then compared against a pre-established dirty word list. If such a word were found, the email system or document server would either stop the message or document from being sent, or, alternatively, route it to a human reviewer. The reviewer would then make the decision whether the message or document really posed a security concern, and either block it or send it on to its intended recipient. Dirty words might include sensitive internal project names, technical terms being used in current research, or the names of competitors.

The keyword boundary controller approach is technologically the inverse of the approach utilized in most Web-based filters intended to prevent children from accessing mature Web sites, and thus its name--dirty word list. These filters prevent Web sites with content matching the keywords from being accessed by a user's computer, while boundary controllers compare outgoing messages to a keyword list. …

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