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Enterprise DRM and DLP: Comparison Made Simple

Application Security Testing Data security Insider threat IP Theft Sensitive Unstructured Data

 

DLP (the traffic cop) vs. DRM (the armored truck)Like digital rights management (DRM) for the enterprise, data loss prevention (DLP) solutions have recently seen a resurgence. Both aim to protect sensitive documents against leakage and exfiltration. Those looking to deploy or expand one or the other frequently weigh DRM vs. DLP. But how helpful is this “either/or” perspective really?

For starters, it risks missing one crucial difference between these two approaches to document protection. Other than DRM, DLP isn’t designed to protect information once it makes it outside an organization’s IT perimeter.

By definition, that’s precisely the scenario DLP purports to prevent in the first place. So this wouldn’t be a problem if DLP worked reliably 100 % of the time. But it doesn’t. Why? 

One answer is that DLP still requires a high degree of human intervention or supervision. This fact doesn’t take away from the advantages of document security automation. I’ll get into the details below. But first, let’s back up a moment and look at the definition of DRM vs. DLP.  

 

What’s the main difference between DRM and DLP?

DRM (a.k.a. IRM, for Information Rights Management) automatically encrypts files and controls file access privileges dynamically at rest, in use, and in motion. 

DLP analyzes document content and user behavior patterns and can restrict movement of information based on preset criteria.

I’ve written about DRM vs. DLP on this blog before, in 2014. While little has changed about the definitions, cloud services and remote work have become ubiquitous since – and IT perimeters more blurred.

Add to that the dramatic rise of (AWS) data leaks, insider threats (such as IP theft), and double-extortion ransomware attacks. Taken together, these trends explain why the main difference between DRM and DLP has become more pronounced recently.

In a nutshell, it’s the difference between a traffic cop and an armored truck. As for the cop part, I’m not the first to draw this analogy; DLP has been compared to an officer posted at an exit ramp before.

In this analogy, only traffic identified as legitimate is waved through and allowed to leave the main drag (i.e., your network) and race off into uncontrolled territory. A police officer may check a car’s license plates, ask for ID, and scan the vehicle’s interior before giving someone permission to pass through.

Image for DRM / DLP comparison: DLP works like a police checkpoint

Traditional DLP works in a similar way. It scans files, detects data patterns, and automatically enforces appropriate actions using contextual awareness to avoid data loss. However, the similarities don’t end here.

 

DLP’s biggest weakness

DLP also faces three significant challenges similar to those of a roadblock cop:

 

    • How can you accurately establish which traffic to allow through and handle the task effectively and expediently, before the exit point becomes a bottleneck?
       
    • What about all the exits not covered? With DLP, those would be USB drives, SaaS file sharing applications, such as Google Drive or Dropbox, or enterprise messaging apps, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams.  Think of them as equivalents of the service road turnoff some locals (i.e., insiders) know and use to avoid a roadblock.  
    • And, last but not least, what happens with the traffic that should never have made it past the checkpoint, but somehow did so anyway? Most companies need to share sensitive data with external contacts, like vendors or customers. A common occurrence is that a confidential document is mistakenly sent to the “wrong” person in a company whose email domain is safelisted as a recipient.

     

    “Not my problem anymore,” says the (DLP) cop. What’s gone is gone, even if it ends up in the wrong hands.  With the first two issues on this shortlist, data loss prevention products have been struggling from the beginning. As for the third item, it exposes DLP’s biggest weakness.

    Here’s what I mean: By promoting a solipsistic focus on internal file downloads and sharing, DLP creates a false sense of security. In reality, once sensitive information moves beyond the point of egress, an organization loses all visibility and control over what happens with its sensitive data.

     

    Has DLP been a failure? 

    I wouldn’t go that far. If that were the case, why did Gartner analysts expect about 90 % of organizations to have “at least one form of integrated DLP” in place by this year? That’s an increase from 50% in 2017. 

    While DLP wasn’t the panacea that marketers made it out to be, it still has its place. In the enterprise, DLP has helped establish a baseline for document protection. One example is tagging documents that contain personally identifiable information (PII) to ensure compliance with GDPR [PDF], the General Data Protection Regulation of the European Union.

    DLP deployments require IT and other stakeholders (compliance teams, data owners) to take stock of sensitive information across the board and categorize it. The downside is that it also demands constant tweaking and fine-tuning of filters and policies. 

    If your business deploys DLP, you learned the hard way that most of this burden falls on IT. DLP filters are notorious for generating “false positives”. They are known to cause workflow breakdowns because of mistakenly flagged files. The DLP filter may, for example, identify a 16-digit internal reference number in a document as a credit card number and prevent the file from getting shared. 

    In 2021, DLP describes more a mindset than a unified approach or one specific method to stop data leakage or exfiltration. But DLP modules and add-ons have become part of the point solutions mix. They complement particular applications or tools, such as cloud security services or Microsoft AIP

    And like with many point solutions, blindspots and coverage gaps remain* that you can drive a truck through. Which brings us back to the armored truck. 

     

    Armored truck for confidential data

    If we understand DLP as the cop who creates a bottleneck sorting out which traffic can pass, we can think of enterprise DRM as the equivalent of an armored truck.  Tethered to a C3 (command, control, and communication) center, it can only be unlocked by dispatchers at a remote location.

    In other words, whatever neighborhood the vehicle ends up in once it’s past the exit point, the load remains secure. The owner maintains control over the cargo and who can access it. 

    With Fasoo Enterprise DRM, the C3 center would be the Fasoo server. The cargo is your sensitive data locked down with Fasoo encryption. And the dispatcher would be Enterprise DRM’s centrally managed policy settings.

    So what happens to DLP in this picture? My main point here is that you don’t have to bother with interrogating file content once it is encrypted by Enterprise DRM. That doesn’t mean your existing DLP deployment becomes irrelevant. 

     

    DRM + DLP for the win

    Case in point: sensitive emails. DRM doesn’t automatically encrypt any outgoing email, for example. DLP, on the other hand, can flag content inside of emails for extra protection, or to prevent a message from leaving the organization altogether. 

    Another advantage of DLP is that it helps IT teams gain and maintain a baseline understanding of how sensitive data moves through their network. With adequate calibration, it serves as a low-investment, yet efficient tool for data risk discovery.

    From a pure document security perspective, DRM fills in the remaining blanks. It gives us peace of mind that confidentiality and compliance remain ensured for any file that finds its way past the egress point. Or, to put it differently – if you ran a bank, would you feel comfortable having a bicycle courier handle the money transports?

    Nope, you’d leave it to the pros with proper equipment.

    So, the armored van it is. In summary, deploying an enterprise-scale DRM solution enables your organization to protect its existing DLP investments. It helps you tie up loose ends in a global, multi-cloud, work-from-anywhere IT environment.  

    By combining both methods, you can play to DLP’s actual strengths. Examples include spotting suspicious activities and patterns that indicate possible insider threats, or flagging files – including emails – for DRM protection before they can leave the organization. 

    That way, you don’t have to rely exclusively on the overwhelmed cop at the exit ramp anymore. 

    Would you like to learn more about how Fasoo Enterprise DRM and DLP work together for maximum protection of unstructured data? Connect with our experts!  

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    *For a comprehensive overview, I recommend the post Insider Threat Management: Part 1 – 7 Reasons Not to Settle for DLP on the blog of cybersecurity company Proofpoint.