How much is your data worth?

I recently was asked the value of my laptop. I estimated $2 million. When asked how that could be, I said, “Forget the laptop; that’s what the data is worth.”

With security on everyone’s mind, forcing IT organizations to be aware of the value of data on the systems they deploy is just plain smart. IT departments need to begin educating users on the true value of data and to consider deploying digital rights management technology for business data, or face the consequences when that information is lost, leaked or stolen.

Three major trends will push this issue to the top of your agenda.

1. Electronic distribution. Many organizations regularly deliver intellectual property to clients or partners through insecure e-mail and thus face the danger of intercepted or modified content. Companies that provide financial, legal or health care services and government agencies are especially vulnerable because of the confidentiality of the work they routinely engage in.

2. Mobility. Today’s workforce is highly mobile. Laptops account for nearly 30 percent of computer systems used by business users, and employees also make frequent use of PDAs and flash memory devices with high capacity. They often carry corporate documents while they travel and routinely extend their workdays at home, where they expose those documents outside the corporate firewall. The result is that sensitive corporate data is often found beyond the realm of most corporate security measures.

3. Interconnectivity. Finally, widespread digital distribution and the highly mobile nature of today’s workforce are combining with the existence of Web-based corporate infrastructures and persistent high-speed access both at home and at work to threaten corporate assets. Along with the access they offer, interconnected systems provide more opportunities for data to fall into the wrong hands.

While these issues represent a major threat, they also present a market opportunity for vendors that can target the enterprise with digital rights management products.

For as long as PCs have had floppy disks, it’s been possible for someone to walk off with confidential and valuable data. Now that digital devices of all types can easily hold multiple gigabytes, that threat is staggering. At a minimum, IT managers should force policy management on their systems to prevent unauthorized copying.

They should also impress on users the dangers associated with leaving critical data lying around with easy access. To start, IT departments must educate end users about the true cost of their systems – not some TCO number, but rather the cost of the data they are entrusted with. Next, IT should begin evaluating vendor approaches to handling document and data security beyond the firewall. Finally, it should stop the ability to copy documents to removable devices at will.

How much is your computer really worth? And what are you doing to protect it?