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iPhones and social networking add to IT security headaches

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RSA Europe 2009 The flood of consumer devices such as iPhones into the enterprise and workers giving away snippets of potential sensitive information via social networking sites have emerged as new threats in the information security landscape.

During a roundtable at the RSA Conference Europe 2009, in London, Herbert Thompson, chief security strategist at People Security, explained how snippets of information that might by themselves appear unimportant can be put together like a jigsaw to reveal potentially sensitive information. For example, a series of new LinkedIn recommendations referring to senior staff at a single company could be a sign of an imminent merger.

Alternatively it could suggest that workers at an organisation of interest are searching for jobs. “The data seems harmless but when you correlate it across a group of people it can become interesting,” Thompson explained. The risk adds to the better understood problem of individuals giving away potentially sensitive personal information, such as a time when they are away on holiday, via social networking sites such as Twitter. Micro blogging also poses a means for organizations to leak potentially sensitive morsels of information.

For example, if someone with a sales job says that they are flying to Bentonville for work it’s a fair bet that they are traveling to the headquarters of Wall-Mart since there’s little else in the town.

Data loss prevention is touted as a means of guarding against the leak of confidential information but “it’s no use to apply DLP technology without first classifying data”, explained John Madelin, head of professional services at Verizon Business. Educating users about the potential pitfalls of social networking is the best way of tackling the problem, he added.

Mobile devices in the enterprise pose another challenge but adopting security policies to control how smartphones such as the iPhone are used by enterprise users is rarely successful. Newer mobile technology is more stylish and fashionable than anything a corporation might supply.

Furthermore, firms are under cost pressure to allow workers to bring in their own devices.

Information security staff face more traditional threats alongside the new risks in areas such as application security. Web applications, in particular, remain a frequent source of security problems because developers are pushed to implement new features but not encouraged to think about security in writing new apps. “Security runs counter to usability, Thompson explained. “There’s also a trade-off between performance and security,” he added. ®

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