DLP’s Data Classification and Ownership Features do not Mask the Value of Inactive Data, They Uncover It

Best practices for data management call for organizations to definitely not keep data that they do not need. On the surface, this approach sounds good but as organizations face growing stores of inactive data, they may not know who owns the data, what its value is, what risks it presents or which applications within the organization need to access the data? Lacking these critical pieces of information can leave organizations in a quandary in terms of how to best proceed in terms of managing this data.

These problems of what to do with aging data plague nearly every organization and go back for years. By way of example, some time ago I spoke to a records management provider in the Northeast who stored the archived records for a large bank that had just been taken over by another bank. He was initially concerned that after the acquisition was complete he would lose a great deal of business as he anticipated the acquiring bank would no longer have a need of the other bank’s archived data.

Instead just the opposite occurred. The acquiring bank had no insight into who owned the data or what its value was. So it opted to continue to store all of the data with the records management provider. Further, the acquiring bank had the same problem as the bank it had just acquired so it also opted to store its data with the records management provider. This decision resulted in the records management provider nearly doubling his business.

Though this scenario had a positive outcome for the records management provider, it highlights the predicament that organizations find themselves in when it comes to classifying and managing aging data. The acquiring bank probably would have preferred a better solution but felt the only safe solution was to continue to pay to store the data.

So did this bank’s approach solve the problem? Not really as all it did was defer the decision until some yet undetermined date and left the problem for someone else to solve.

But the tactic that this bank took probably sounds all too familiar to a lot of organizations. Why take the risk of deleting data when you can just stick it in a vault and let it become someone else’s problem?

Also, while it isn’t popular to say, this is probably a big reason that new solutions such as private and public storage clouds resonate with so many organizations. These storage clouds are becoming the modern day vault where they can economically store the 80% or so of the inactive data found in email and corporate desktops, laptops and network file servers and leave it for someone else to deal with in the future.

But to do so still requires software that is designed to solve this problem. Once the data is vaulted or stored in one of these storage clouds, Centiq’s Data Management Lead, Alistair Williams, argues that any automated process will miss large chunks of data. So he questions that if an organization deploys such software, it may only serve to mask the underlying flow of data through an organization as well as obfuscate the data’s value to an organization.
It is certainly understandable why many organizations currently take the approach of just archiving all inactive data and then leaving it as a problem for someone else to solve. The skepticism that Williams expresses about how well an automated process would work is also justified since, to date, solutions to address these problems have been in short supply.

However the risks associated with NOT understanding a data’s value and properly managing its retention can quickly outweigh the simplicity of sweeping all older data into an archive. Further, However technology is improving so just because data is in archive does not mean that organizations should abandon any hope of classifying it or drawing a line back to the application or individual within an organization that is using or even misusing it.

It is problems like these that Symantec’s Data Loss Prevention (DLP) with Data Insight is intended to address: getting rid of confidential information that is hanging around.

One of DLP’s options is that it can scan all of the shared network files on Windows servers as well as on corporate desktops and laptops. During that scan, it can perform such tasks as finding all files that have bank account numbers, credit card numbers, social security numbers or any other personally identifiable information and then even delete those files should the organization so chose.

Needless to say, deleting files without prior user knowledge or permission is NOT the recommended course of action since it is both possible and quite likely that neither the value of the data to the organization nor its ownership has yet been established.

But what DLP with Data Insight does do is start organizations down the path of classifying the data and, in the process, uncovering its value to the organization. Now that organizations have this information, they can make informed decisions as to how to best manage the archived data and make informed decisions about what data they should keep as well as what data they can safely delete.

Looking ahead, the emergence of public and private storage clouds may even help to facilitate improved data management practices. In the case of the bank that had all of its data on tape in a vault with a records management provider, it is nigh unto impossible to affordably access this data on tape and then classify it.

But if archived data is stored in a private storage cloud such as Symantec’s FileStore (support for the FileStore platform by DLP is still in the works), Symantec’s DLP with Data Insight can access it via standard networking protocols so that email and file data can be classified, data ownership ascertained and then appropriate management actions taken by an organization’s enterprise rights management software.

The improved options that private and public storage clouds make available for storing inactive data online do not eliminate the risks of data management. However these new storage clouds open the door for organizations to first economically store their data in these repositories and then use software such as DLP with Data Insight to uncover its value as well as whatever risks it might present to the organization.

Jerome M. Wendt

About Jerome M. Wendt

President & Lead Analyst of DCIG, Inc. Jerome Wendt is the President and Lead Analyst of DCIG Inc., an independent storage analyst and consulting firm. Mr. Wendt founded the company in September 2006.

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