It’s Not Just Waymo: IP Most at Risk According to Our RSA Survey

It’s Not Just Waymo: IP Most at Risk According to Our RSA Survey

This year, the RSA Conference boasted over 43,000 attendees and 557 exhibitors spread across two enormous and cacophonous halls. Even in the quiet of the hotel room, my ears rang with echoes of the discordant noise about new potential threats. Let’s just say I’ll be eyeing every public outlet from which I charge my phone with suspicion.

Tom Foremski, ex-Financial Times journalist and editor/publisher of Silicon Valley Watcher, summed up the experience nicely via ZDNet:

[G]oing to RSA show will likely cause your mind to race in panic at all the vectors of malice that the security vendors will happily tell you about.

Foremski and those he interviewed discussed the implications of a widening security pit: how we could buy every tool on the market and still not be 100% secure. Forrester Consulting has coined this “expense in depth” in a recently released study, writing:

The reality is that companies have spent a lot of money on individual technology — instead of a unified data security strategy — and are judging their maturity based on money spent.

Or in other terms, companies are focused on threats (as the RSA newsfeeds testified) rather than the data – customer, employee, intellectual property and financial data – any of which would be toxic if stolen or made public (e.g., Waymo IP theft – keep reading).

The RSA Data Security Results

We surveyed security professionals who stopped by our booths at RSA about how their companies identify, classify, protect and monitor data.  The results are in and echo the Forrester study:

  • 72% use 3 or more data security tools (and over 50% use 5 or more).
  • Respondents are not confident in the ability to identify, classify, protect and monitor their enterprise data, with few stats crossing the 50% line:
    • Employee data fares the best with 67% completely confident in knowing exactly where this data resides on the network, 59% enforce a least privilege model against it and only 45% audit access to it and alert on abuse.
    • Less than 50% of respondents can identify the location and monitor for anomalous behavior on customer and financial data.
    • Coming in last for all categories is intellectual property — one of the most toxic and costly data sets. Well under 45% are confident in their ability to identify, classify and restrict access on a need-to-know-basis to this data set: even more concerning, only 30% monitor IP for access and abuse.

While the similarities to the Forrester study are validating, real world examples showing how these data sets quickly turn toxic drive the point home even more. Let’s take a look at one of those examples.

Waymo and the Alleged Toxic IP Leak

Last week, Waymo, pioneers in self-driving car technologies, announced legal action against competitors Otto and Uber for the alleged theft at the hands of several former employees of more than 14,000 highly confidential and proprietary design files.

Mention this theft to any R&D head, CEO or CISO and they’ll cringe at the thousands of man hours, millions of R&D dollars and expected revenue that drove off the parking lot.  To put more context around this, Waymo spent seven years in R&D on self-driving technologies including their own in-house hardware, accumulated 1.5 million miles of experience on public roads and billions of miles in simulation tests.  Self-driving technology is how they make their money; now key components of that technology appear to have fallen into the hands of a competitor.

The loss and future damage of stolen IP is enough to cripple any company, maybe even put them out of business. Yet we see time and again in our risk assessments that sensitive data like IP is not identified, classified or monitored for abuse. Both the Forrester Study and our RSA survey results found that 60% of organizations do not enforce a need-to-know access model for this type of highly confidential information and even fewer monitor access for abusive behavior – like a sudden flurry of access activity on files an employee may not normally access (cue Paul Harvey: “And now for the rest of the story”… employee gives his resignation a few days later).

The allegations of IP theft at the hands of multiple former employees who are now at a competitor is a story we’ve seen (and blogged about) before: an ambitious insider not only steals IP but recruits other colleagues to do the same, and then he takes both to a competitor. The Waymo complaint outlines how the alleged ringleader, the founder of Otto, stole 9.7 GB of highly confidential data and tried to cover his tracks, and it alludes to collusion with several employees who followed suit:

A number of Waymo employees subsequently also left to join Anthony Levandowski’s new business, downloading additional Waymo trade secrets in the days and hours prior to their departure [emphasis mine].

Regardless of the court’s decision in the Waymo case, this serves as a wake-up call for any company who has data that would be toxic to the company’s revenues and reputation if it were stolen or made public.

And Now for the Rest of the Story

Data has real value.  Self-driving technology alone has the power to change the world and save lives. And there are many other types of innovations being worked on and invested in.  Organizations need to start seeing this data and data security as a driver of business growth. Ensuring that the right people and only the right people have access will accelerate bringing this innovation to market and drive competitive advantage – the flip side to this coin is very real, and we see it playing out in the Waymo/Uber case, where too much unmonitored access can give a competitive advantage to the other guy.

The final piece to our RSA survey asked respondents about the benefits they would receive with a unified data security platform – in other words, a solution that would have stopped or greatly reduced the damage of the Waymo IP theft. The top rated benefits include:

  • quicker response to breaches (60%)
  • improved ability to identify data (60%)
  • improved ability to spot anomalous behavior (56%)
  • increased visibility on access and usage of sensitive data (55%)

Want to see what type of data might be overexposed in your company?  Our Data Risk Assessment gives a snapshot of your data security to quickly ascertain the level of risk associated with your data: exposing high risk areas and where you can safely and swiftly pull back access, reducing your risk profile.

Get more details on our Data Risk Assessment.

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