The biggest security story that we’ll see this year is the Snowden – NSA – PRISM leak. The biggest security story in the past couple of years prior to PRISM has clearly been Wikileaks. Common threads obviously run through these breaches, starting with the use of SharePoint by both organizations and the attackers in both cases compromising the confidentiality of information therein. The UK newspaper The Register reported a few weeks ago that the Snowden breach involved information obtained out of SharePoint servers. There are so many different angles to these security breaches, and they are so important, that we’ll address them in a series of blog posts over the next few weeks. Topics for these blogs include:
1) The increasing importance of security controls that aim to keep system administrators honest or from mistakenly putting the organization at risk. While both Snowden and Wikileaks involved national intelligence agencies and the DoD, the threat from insiders and system administrators is a universal one. Every year, we see numerous stories about insiders from a myriad of different companies and industries walking off with sensitive or valuable data or just accidently making information publically accessible. This article describes the insider threat (posted and available here), and will discuss challenges to securing IT systems against insiders that are common to many organizations and IT platform
2) It is well documented at this point that some leaked Wikileaks data came from SharePoint sites. NSA has also very recently admitted that data relating to the PRISM breach was obtained from SharePoint servers. It is now clear that the Edward Snowden a) was a system administrator, b) had system administrator privileges across a variety of systems, and c) did not have “need to know” for the information that was stolen and subsequently leaked, and d) obtained much of the information that he’s now leaking from a SharePoint server. This article describes specific challenges relating to securing information in collaboration platforms against system administrators, with specific focus on premise SharePoint sites. To many in the SharePoint world, “SharePoint security” is synonymous with “SharePoint permissions” and the Snowden breach is a great example of how permissions are a single point of failure and do not (in and of themselves) equate to a proper security architecture.
3) Solving the SharePoint insider threat issue. Protecting data in SharePoint requires the right mix of security controls, and the right architectural approach. Data encryption and access controls at the application layer are critical.
4) In defense of SharePoint…Both the Snowden and Wikileaks breaches involved SharePoint. This doesn’t mean, however, that SharePoint is inherently flawed from a security standpoint. It does mean that a defense in depth approach needs to be taken with SharePoint, as with any other IT platform. This blog will explore what a rigorous defense in depth security architecture for SharePoint looks like. The key takeaway…SharePoint farms can be adequately secured to store even the most sensitive data, from a multitude of threats, including privileged insiders.
5) Security of data in cloud services has been a big issue since cloud first emerged. From the perspective of the PRISM program, and the data collected, both enterprises and consumers using or planning to use cloud services have to be seriously concerned about their data in cloud services. You have to approach cloud services at this point by assuming that your data is being looked at by third parties, including cloud systems administrators, and by governmental agencies. This article will look at cloud data privacy and security issues in light of these developments.
6) If you accept that cloud data is at great risk, you have a number of different ways to approach securing the data. Data encryption is the primary security tool to employ, and there are big and important choices to be made, including where to insert the encryption (on a client, in a proxy, in a SaaS service, or on the cloud computing infrastructure itself), and how and by whom your encryption keys and encryption routines are managed. This article will explore encryption implementation issues related to securing cloud data.
A final thought, and we believe an important one. This is not solely a SharePoint security issue. This is a gross generalization, but most IT platforms, and particularly collaboration-oriented platforms, are challenged to adequately secure against rogue systems administrators and insiders. The solution to securing SharePoint and other IT platforms against insiders will always boil down to careful application of security controls, including ones that are native to the platform, and 3rd party controls that further lock down the platform and data.
An analogy we use: if your house gets broken into, but you like the house, keep the house and buy a security system. People love SharePoint for the collaboration efficiencies the platform brings to the enterprise. Add to SharePoint the right set of administrative and technical security controls, and you’ve got a winning combination. It is possible to use the SharePoint platform for use cases involving highly sensitive data!