Will IT security technology solve the Snowden Problem?

10 July 2014

In the year one after Edward Snowden discussions about the why and the how are well under way. In the past month all suppliers of IT security technology made proposals how to tackle the Snowden problem. Additional technology like an integrated Tagging/Encryption/DLP system seems to be a solution to the Snowden problem. But would the data theft have been prevented by such a solution?

Since Snowden had legitimate access to classified information the answer is: Definitely Not!

We have to dig somewhat deeper into IT security concepts to get to the root of the problem.

The big questions are:

  • Why has an employee with legitimate access to classified information the right to create copies of this information?
  • Why is he authorized to bring the information outside the organization?

The concepts and processes for handling of classified information were designed more than 40 years ago and remained nearly unchanged over the years. Because technology developed rapidly during this time we face a constantly increasing gap between the technology used for attacks and the concepts we use to secure our information.

Although we patched our outdated concepts and processes with advanced technology during the years, we never got the most of this new technology. In a poorly designed environment even the best technology will deliver poor results only.

In order to bridge the gaps the entire system and process architecture must be re-designed from scratch. The Separation of Duties principle and the Principle of Least Privilege must be strictly applied to the very last detail during design, and state-of-the-art technology must be used for implementation.

But we are so busy firefighting with new technology that we have no time to make strategies.

What might have stopped Snowden? I think a more fine-grained authorization concept, designed in strict application of the Separation of Duties principle, would have prevented the data theft.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

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