For Leslie Lambert, former CISO at Sun Microsystems who recently joined Juniper Networks Inc. as CISO, assuming that the bad actors behind cybersecurity threats are already inside the network raises the issue of how sensitive data is secured. Juniper has acknowledged that it was among the victims of Operation Aurora.
“If they’re already in, how have you applied the principals of data protection?” she asked.
Historically, the reason key management worked for stored data was that the key could be stored in a secure location: the human brain. People would remember keys and, barring physical and emotional attacks on the people themselves, would not divulge them. In a sense, the keys were stored in a “computer” that was not attached to any network. And there they were safe.
This whole model falls apart on the Internet. Much of the data stored on the Internet is only peripherally intended for use by people; it’s primarily intended for use by other computers. And therein lies the problem. Keys can no longer be stored in people’s brains. They need to be stored on the same computer, or at least the network, that the data resides on. And that is much riskier.
Let’s take a concrete example: credit card databases associated with websites. Those databases are not encrypted because it doesn’t make any sense. The whole point of storing credit card numbers on a website is so it’s accessible — so each time I buy something, I don’t have to type it in again. The website needs to dynamically query the database and retrieve the numbers, millions of times a day. If the database were encrypted, the website would need the key. But if the key were on the same network as the data, what would be the point of encrypting it? Access to the website equals access to the database in either case. Security is achieved by good access control on the website and database, not by encrypting the data.
If you harden the interior of your organization, where do you store the keys? How difficult are they to find? (And that’s a rhetorical question, do not tell me in the comments where your keys are.)