How 9/11 Changed the Trajectory of Data Protection and Security

It’s been 13 years since the world changed.

While there have been no shortage of tragedies since 9/11, including other acts of terrorism home and abroad, war, hurricanes, tsunamis, and massive tornados, no single event has matched the impact of that day thirteen years ago. The transformation of the world after that event has touched all our lives in ways big and small, the technology industry included.

No, people really don’t care more about data protection now than they did then. Nor did the event set disk-based backup or VPLEX in motion. But 9/11 did help redefine the role and expectation of data protection. That day began the journey to converge data protection and security.

In 2001, data protection was evolving to cope with relentless data growth, the need to reduce risk to business-critical applications, and a desire to streamline IT infrastructure. Disk was already replacing tape. Disaster avoidance (i.e., always available infrastructure) was supplanting “push the big red button” disaster recovery. Snapshots and replicas had become an integral part of an overall protection strategy. While new technologies (e.g., virtualization, cloud, and big data) have accelerated the transformation, the core data protection industry has advanced as expected—bigger, faster, and simpler.

The attacks on 9/11 changed the trajectory of both data protection and security.

For years, backup and security’s only intersection was, “I don’t want my tapes falling off a truck.” Backups were another security risk to be managed, nothing else.

Meanwhile, governments and businesses began to arm themselves for the battle over information access and security. As they built fortresses around their infrastructure (e.g., networks, servers), they left themselves exposed behind those walls. If an attacker penetrated the defenses or staged an internal attack, the business was almost helpless to react. Even worse, they couldn’t mitigate or even evaluate the damage! One of the great challenges in defending an organization’s information was that they didn’t know what data they had, where it lived, what its value was, and whether something disastrous was happening to it.

In a post-9/11 world, IT found itself with the security equivalent of the Maginot line.

Today, businesses continue to see the symbiosis of data protection and security.  First, many modern attacks disable or destroy information access, so data protection must recover from both malicious and unintentional data loss. The recovery mechanisms and requirements are the same, even if the causes are different.   Second, IT leaders have begun to leverage the treasure trove of information stored in their protection infrastructure. The value, however, is not in the data copies, but in the metadata–the information about their information.

Data protection provides the consolidated view of a company’s information assets–what the data is, where it lives, who has access to it, and what they are doing–which was lacking 13 years ago. By correlating that information with security analytics, customers can build an information-aware security infrastructure.

Some of the use cases we’ve already seen include:

“Has secure data leaked to unsecured servers?” Since protection spans across all data, customers can set rules based on file name, key word, or content to identify data leakages before they become widespread.

“Are we seeing an excess of data deletion that may indicate an attack?” Since protection consistently runs against every server or data set, customers set alerts based on expected data elimination.

“Can I find all information pertaining to this user and his contacts?” Since protection spans across all the applications – from SharePoint to laptops to file shares – customers have begun to make the protection copies the nexus of their investigations.

While IT must evolve their data protection and security solutions to address growing data, tighter budgets, and a call for more agility, they must do more than that.

In a post-9/11 world, businesses and governments must look to IT to continue follow the trajectory set that day by delivering trusted infrastructure, and the only way to succeed is to combine the intelligence about the information with the intelligence about the infrastructure.

About the Author: Stephen Manley