November 15, 2017 By Luisella Bolondi
Domenico Raguseo
4 min read

In today’s digitized world, data storage and encryption are surely top of mind for most chief information officers (CIOs). But given the increasing regulations and privacy implications surrounding data security, these measures should also be on the chief information security officer (CISO)’s agenda.

Most organizations need to house massive amounts of data to comply with privacy regulations, enable cognitive activities, and facilitate the construction and analysis of attack patterns. At the same time, an effective data storage strategy promotes security awareness and encourages employees and users to consider best practices from both a technological and a process point of view.

To protect the organization from unauthorized employees and external threat actors seeking to destroy or otherwise corrupt enterprise data, security teams must deploy protective measures. The most common approach to safeguarding sensitive data is encryption, but it’s important to consider a few technological implications before diving head-first into an encryption strategy.

Choosing the Right Data Storage and Encryption Tools

For any organization, it’s important to encrypt both structured and unstructured data. Storage solutions often deliver encryption capabilities to address part of the CISO’s security concerns. The key is to select the right platform to simplify security procedures and generate consistent cost savings.

Encrypting at-rest data within storage is an attractive option that many companies opt to use on 100 percent of their data. This approach is easy and relatively inexpensive to implement, since it comes standard in many storage solutions and there are no host CPU costs. Of course, hardware-based solutions, which rely on a self-encrypting hard disk or flash drive, are less likely than software-based tools to significantly impact performance. It’s also worth noting that, while encrypting data at rest is an effective way to protect any drive or box that is being retired or repurposed with virtually zero impact on performance, some use cases call for this type of encryption to be combined with technologies capable of encrypting data in motion.

When using storage virtualization, solutions that allow encryption of at-rest data at the virtualization layer offer advantages in terms of simplicity and of costs. However, it’s important to be cautious when encrypting data at rest while conducting data reduction processes such as compression and deduplication, since data reduction fails with encrypted data. To avoid underutilization of expensive storage solutions, the CISO should manage both encryption and data reduction within the same platform. This ensures that the data is reduced before it is encrypted.

Some storage solutions require an external key manager, while others provide local key management capabilities. A few tools even enable users to choose between the external and built-in options. Of course, external key management is the most secure option because it centralizes and automates activities across the enterprise. However, built-in key management is preferable for organizations seeking to simplify deployment and optimize costs.

Defining Your Data Storage Strategy

The key to defining an appropriate data storage and encryption strategy is to understand what risks are addressed by encrypting data at rest, in motion and in transit.

Encrypting data at rest means safeguarding data housed in the storage system. This process ensures that information is protected when single disks or flash modules are misplaced or removed from the premises for repair, or the storage system is stolen, discontinued or repurposed. Less effective alternative options include employing a data erasure service to destroy all information residing on the storage system and even buying back the drives and destroying them. Disk encryption is a better method because it renders stolen or misplaced data unreadable without a decryption key.

Still, protecting data at rest is not enough to safeguard all the enterprise’s crown jewels. CISOs must also secure the data that flows between hosts and storage systems, and information that is replicated on various platforms for business continuity. Data traveling through networks is more susceptible to cyberthreats, not to mention the potential for human error and technical failure.

CISOs can address these concerns by combining technologies that encrypt data at rest with those that encrypt data in transit. Some storage solutions are capable of encrypting data at the network level, in networking equipment, and at the application, database, data set or operating system level. Since these solutions are typically more expensive and complex to implement than tools that encrypt data at rest, most organizations use them to secure only the most sensitive information. Such an integrated approach can help each individual organization define the best solution for encrypting its data, maintaining regulatory compliance and reducing management costs.

The Benefits of Storage Virtualization

CISOs should consider using storage virtualization technologies to pool multiple storage devices into a single platform managed from a central console. These solutions offer significant advantages in terms of both cost optimization and application availability, enabling security teams to change storage platforms without disrupting operations and provide continuous data access in case of technological failure.

Companies that use virtualized storage can manage encryption either in the back-end disk systems or, if the solution offers built-in encryption capabilities, in the virtualization layer. The latter option enables security teams to optimize both hardware and management costs, since common encryption services are adopted across heterogeneous storage pools and at-rest data can be protected on any virtualized system, whether it is encryption-capable or not.

To adequately protect enterprise data, CISOs do more than the bare minimum of encrypting data at rest and storing it in the most economic solution. It’s critical to asses the risks associated with data storage and to implement effective security controls and policies driven by your organization’s infrastructure, application ecosystem, people, data and technological capabilities.

Encryption can be the linchpin of your security strategy, but a solution that fails to accommodate your enterprise’s unique needs can only take you so far along your data protection journey.

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