Former FBI official urges tougher physical security

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Technology isn’t the best — or the only — way to stop the physical theft of information from organizations, according to several Cisco Systems executives.

The company sells hundreds of millions of dollars in security-related hardware and software solutions a year, but at a panel discussion here Wednesday on security at Cisco’s annual C-Scape strategy conference there was agreement that setting up tough policies to prevent employees from walking out with CDs full of confidential data — and enforcing the rules — is the best protection.

“Throwing technology at that is of limited value,” said Bob Gleichauf, chief technology officer of Cisco’s enterprise services and security group.

“It’s not the tools, the tools only do what they are told,” said former FBI official Fred Newberry, who recently became Cisco’s director of customer relations. “It’s the policies, that’s where most companies are weak. They don’t spend the time to develop policies and configure the tools so they know how to enforce them. Nor do they put access controls where they need to be.

“You can talk shrink-wrapped products all day, but they’re not going to do the job.”

“We are an industry of fads,” said Richard Palmer, senior vice-president and general manager of Cisco’s security technology group, the latest of which is using Citrix to prevent data loss or creating so-called sandboxes to snare intruders.

But consistently he hears of executives or high-value salespeople who insist on having important data on a portable device. They get to break the rules because of their position. Meanwhile, the policies these people are supposed to follow aren’t well defined, opening a potential security breach.

Newberry also told the panel that from his time with the FBI he learned that foreign countries are increasingly targeting American corporations and government departments in hopes of stealing data or disrupting operations.

But in addition, insiders — including network administrators, he said — are becoming more of a threat for data theft.

“Our trusted co-workers start out as good people but extenuating circumstances” such as financial problems or divorce “make them turn differently.” The only solution, he said, is for all employees to be vigilant.

In an interview after the session, Gleichauf said the first version of Cisco TrustSec, an interface card and software for Cisco enterprise switches offering access control, will be released early next year.

Initially, it will only be available on new versions of top-end switches. TrustSec is based on the 802.1x and 802.1ae security protocols to fit into existing directory infrastructures and will try to “drastically” reduce the operational cost of managing access control costs. It will also include a set of features to ensure confidentiality and integrity of data.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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