Seven Minutes in the Life of a File

September 11, 2018 Sonu Shankar

More than two centuries ago, Napoleon asked his prefect of police to set up an office for unclaimed items found in the streets of Paris. This office, set up on the Île de la Cité—a natural island within the city of Paris–is allegedly the first of its kind anywhere. Today’s lost-and-found offices deal with vast inventories of cell phones, keys, or wallets, but even after two-hundred years of innovation, they’re helpless when it comes to one frequently lost item—sensitive business data. In today’s cloud-heavy IT landscape, business data constantly pushes against the boundaries of the network.

Employees, customers, contractors, suppliers, and partners all exchange information using multiple applications on a variety of devices from many different locations. When business processes move to the cloud, the network perimeter extends into the virtual realm and quickly disappears.

Have you ever thought about what happens to a single business file and its associated data on an average day?

Once Upon a Time, There Was a File…

Our story begins with a file Alice receives just as she walks into the office one morning. Let’s take a look at all the various applications, devices, IT appliances, and locations the file encounters in just a few minutes.

8:00 a.m. – Alice receives an email in her inbox with a Microsoft Word attachment (SecretBizStuff.docx)

Applications: Office 365, Microsoft Word, Mozilla Firefox
Devices/IT appliances: Firewall, IDS, Web Gateway, Router, Network Switch, Wireless Access Point, Email Security Gateway, Microsoft Active Directory, Microsoft Windows 10 Endpoint #1, Antivirus and other Endpoint Security solutions
Locations: San Francisco office

Total # devices/IT appliances: 10
Total # applications:
Total # locations: 1

That one email says “Good morning!” to a number of computing devices and applications.

8:03 a.m. – Alice converts the .docx file to SecretBizStuff.pdf and uploads it to Google G Suite’s Drive

New Applications: G Suite/Google Drive, Adobe Acrobat
New Devices/IT appliances: None
New Locations: The “cloud”

Total # devices/IT appliances: 10
Total # applications:
Total # locations:    (Well, actually more than 2, because “cloud”)

Things are getting interesting now. Alice opened the file, converted it to a new format, and uploaded it to the cloud so it’s no longer on a server down in the data center. So, where is it? Perhaps somewhere in the Nevada desert? Maybe the tranquil mountains of Utah?

8:04 a.m. – Alice shares the Drive link to SecretBizStuff.pdf with Bob via a Google Hangouts message

New Applications: Hangouts
New Devices/IT appliances: None
New Locations: None

Total # devices/IT appliances: 10
Total # applications:
Total # locations: 2

By the time Alice finishes her morning coffee, the SecretBizStuff file has covered major ground! Wonder what Bob’s going to do with it…

8:05 a.m. – Bob opens the .pdf file on his work laptop at home, forwards it to Carol

New Applications: None
New Devices/IT appliances: Microsoft Windows 10 Endpoint #2 (Bob’s laptop)
New Locations: Bob’s apartment in Sunnyvale

Total # devices/IT appliances: 11
Total # applications:
Total # locations: 3

Bob, working from his home office that day, opens the file and decides that Carol needs to look at it right away. He sends the G Suite Drive link over to her via email.

8:07 a.m. – Carol opens the file on her mobile device at the nearby café and prints it on a connected printer at the office

New Applications: G Suite Drive iPhone app, Outlook Mobile
New Devices/IT appliances: Carol’s iPhone, Connected printer at the office
New Locations: Café Great Coffee

Total # devices/IT appliances: 13
Total # applications:
Total # locations : 4

The Need for Centralized Monitoring in a Fragmented World

Within seven minutes, the contents of the SecretBizStuff file navigated thru 13 devices and 8 applications, in 4 locations! A major consequence of cloud adoption is the immediate increase in the number of attack surfaces, or the different points where data can be extracted or lost. With more devices (managed laptops, unmanaged mobile devices), more applications (hosted email, SaaS collaboration tools), and types of users (employees, customers, partners, contractors) exchanging business data from various locations, centralizing security operations is now paramount.

Thanks to security operations center (SOC)-as-a-service, however, your business can ensure its data (a.k.a SecretBizStuff.docx) will never need a lost and found!  Check out this Arctic Wolf white paper on cloud security and combating threats across on-premises infrastructure, endpoints, and cloud applications.

 

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