by John Armstrong

Expert Interview Series: John Armstrong of Zettaset on Improving Your Data Security


by Steven Linwood, Data Technology

John Armstrong, CMO at Zettaset, is a recognized product marketing expert currently focused on security, big data and internet-of-things.

John recently checked in with us to share his insight on how data security has evolved over the past decades and what businesses should be doing to protect themselves from threats. Here’s what he had to say:

How has data protection evolved since you started your career? What are the most common factors making data vulnerable to security threats today?

The world of data security and protection has changed dramatically over the past decades, having been forced to adapt to rapid and sometimes unforeseen changes in communications technologies. There is constant friction between the requirement for greater security and the need to get access to information quickly. Security vulnerabilities are exposed whenever this dynamic becomes unbalanced. For example, mobility and the ubiquity of mobile devices including cellphones, tablets and laptops has changed everything as organizations struggle to identify and manage the devices, while still enabling users to openly access applications and services.

The rise in social media and the constant sharing of huge volumes of personally identifiable information has created similar challenges for individuals as well as organizations. And cloud computing and virtualization has brought with it tremendous economies of scale for utilizing shared computing and storage resources while making it more difficult to establish boundaries around sensitive data within those environments.

Ever greater volumes of personal records are being consolidated in massive databases by retailers, banks, insurance companies, healthcare providers and government agencies. Healthcare records have become a favorite target of cyber-criminals because the information has tremendous value on the black market and includes names, birth dates, policy numbers, diagnosis codes and billing information. The stolen data can be used to create fake IDs to buy expensive medical equipment, drugs that can be resold or file false claims with insurers.

What are the common security weaknesses you observe in businesses today in regards to their data? What are the most common oversights you observe?

While businesses have learned over time to establish perimeter firewalls and malware detection, i.e., making it difficult to gain unauthorized access into an organization, securing big data requires protection of the data that resides within an organization. That means establishing data access permissions and policies for employees, ensuring that passwords are robust, and encrypting sensitive data-in-motion and at-rest.

What should every data security strategy include? How can businesses better protect their assets?

Every data security strategy should start with the presumption that a breach will eventually occur, and there is a high likelihood that the leak will occur within the organization. Therefore, closely monitoring user behaviors for anomalies can provide early detection of potential problems, while containment strategies can help minimize a breach’s impact on the organization.

What industries do you think are at the greatest risk for security threats?

All organizations are targets of data theft, but industry verticals with regulatory compliance requirements and troves of customer data – financial services, healthcare and retailers – are at highest risk because of the legal penalties and negative brand impact involved when a breach occurs.

What trends or headlines are you following in data security today? Why do they interest you?

Cyber attacks are becoming more frequent and devious in nature. The recent massive Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks that hijacked IOT devices like webcams and security cameras is just a taste of things to come. Based on the trends from the first nine months of 2016, the number of ransomware attacks is expected to quadruple compared to last year according to data from Beazley, a data breach response insurance company.

Cybersecurity is a constant game of cat and mouse, making it a fascinating field to be involved in.

What does the future of data security look like? What should businesses be doing today to prepare for the future?

The ultimate solution would be security precognition, but we are a long way from realizing that future. For the time being, businesses should take the approach that it’s not a matter of if, but when, and put actionable plans into place to contain and mitigate a breach. Organizations should also be aware that the majority of data breaches are caused by insiders, and attacks may not necessarily be initiated from outside the firewall.

What should data managers be following to stay up to date on the latest innovations, threats and news in big data?

There are many reliable sources for data security information, including analyst firms, specialized online publications, and leading security solution vendors. However, the first place that any data manager involved in information security should go to is the SANS Institute website.

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