Dan's Take

What's Hiding In Your Data?

A college case study in monitoring and protecting personally identifiable information.

After speaking a supplier about its products, I like to chat with one of its customers. I've spoken with the folks from DataGravity about their tools to help small to medium businesses better understand what's hiding in their data. To better understand how one of their customers is using DataGravity's products, I exchanged messages with Jason Topp, a senior systems administrator at Providence College in Rhode Island.

What follows are my questions and his answers.

Dan Kusnetzky: Please introduce yourself and your organization.  My name is Jason Topp, and I'm a senior systems administrator at Providence College in Rhode Island. We're a primarily undergraduate, liberal arts, independent, not-for-profit Catholic institution of higher education. Our college is committed to fostering academic excellence through the sciences and humanities.

What were you doing that required this type of technology?  Currently, Providence College has more than 5,000 students, and like any institution of higher education, we're constantly welcoming new attendees, faculty and administrators. It's our responsibility to protect our community and its members from issues like data breaches. To uphold that, we needed to get a clear sense of the data living in our system, the location of specific files and the potential risks those files may create if they somehow became available to the general public.

What products did you consider before making a selection?  Our team considered a few security and data management tools on the market, including software from Varonis, but we found DataGravity fit our needs and had more long-term promise overall for our environment. 

Why did you select this product?  DataGravity gave us an unprecedented level of visibility and awareness regarding the data we were storing. Within 30 minutes of plugging it in and moving data onto the device, we found files and information in locations that we didn't expect. This visibility enabled us to delete unnecessary copies of files, which reduced our storage footprint and brought order to our system. We were also able to adjust any files, folders and virtual machines (VMs) that contained sensitive or critical data, accomplishing our goal of improving sensitive data management and reducing potential security risks.  

What tangible benefit have you received through the use of this product?  Colleges collect and file student data for use in admissions, scheduling, housing, financial plans and more. This data often contains Social Security numbers, bank account details and other instances of personally identifiable information (PII). If any folders or files containing this data were, for any reason, saved to a shared location, like a file-sharing platform, or copied for the sake of convenience and then inadequately tracked, the information would run the risk of public exposure. The safety of our students and community, and the reputation of our institution, would be at stake.

With DataGravity, we continuously monitor our system and set up proactive alerts to notify our team when sensitive data is altered or moved. As a result, we know exactly what we're storing and where it's located.

Since we complement the data-aware platform from DataGravity with other desktop-level solutions, we can confidently assure our users and community members that an outsider is unlikely to breach the system. Even if he were to get into our network, there is very little chance that he'd be able to access critical information. This technology keeps us ahead of any potential sensitive data vulnerabilities that may occur, and keeps us confident that private information is properly protected.

What advice would you offer others who are facing similar circumstances?  Don't wait for a breach to occur before you take preventative action. Solutions like DataGravity can help you assess your risk posture and your potential fallout from an exposure. This insight is key to preserving trusted relationships with your customers, users, partners, employees and anyone else your business interacts with. You need to find out what you're storing in order to fully protect it.

About the Author

Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. He has been a business unit manager at a hardware company and head of corporate marketing and strategy at a software company.

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