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Is Big Data Building Self-Aware Security?

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Information overload is a problem which plagues most companies today; so much so that it has claimed the moniker 'big data'. Directing, storing and making the most of the 'data deluge' is a real challenge for organisations which begins with the bewildering volume, velocity and variety of data entering our networks today.

Big data has no respect for church or state; it is a problem which is actively shared by both IT and business stakeholders. This also means that the positive impact can be correspondingly powerful: big data has the power to provide businesses with genuine market insight and competitive advantage when used correctly. However, many companies have overlooked the implications for organisational security.

Is Big Data Useful?

Building a thriving business from Big Data is something that many companies have already done. Tesco's Clubcard scheme, for example, already analyses every single transaction which shoppers make and offers vouchers and promotions accordingly. The potential for companies to develop intelligence and market insight by analysing buying patterns and real-time data is unparalleled.

In addition to providing valuable insight for business stakeholders, there is a unique opportunity for IT to use big data to take a more proactive role in securing the network. Every day we use applications and software from a range of devices from PCs and laptops to tablet devices. Every day meta-information is generated about how we are using these services, from which devices and how security policy works - all of which is useful information which can be utilised in improving networks.

Rather like a surveyor planning out a new station and understanding how people will flow around it as they move to the platforms, shops and other facilities, IT departments can take advantage of this data to understand how people are using applications and services. Ultimately, this context-gathering can lead to an ongoing cycle of improvement for enterprise applications.

Imagine, for example, if your firewall service learned that you regularly used an iPad and learned the specific identifier of that iPad. Rather than causing problems every time you connected from home to the office, the intelligence in the network would have learnt, passively, that this is an authorised device and provide the appropriate level of access.

This kind of infrastructure, capable of making contextual-based decisions means that users get a more robust, secure and personally tailored experience which can directly impact productivity and consequently the bottom line.

Similarly, organisations can implement other performance and security features which can be activated automatically based on characteristics "mined" from big data services. Enhanced security processes can be triggered when visitors suddenly access applications from new devices or locations. Even more business-focused variables might trigger additional infrastructure action. For example, employees using 7" tablets to view data would have a different experience to those using 15" laptops, as the display would render differently and the interface change from click-focused to touch-focused.

Big Data, Big Opportunity

There is no doubt that organising and implementing an effective strategy for handling big data is a complex process. After all, one does not simply expect a network to handle big data without some kind of input and intelligent application handling policy. But by putting in place an approach which can identify and correctly handle application traffic, IT teams can determine the type of data that is coming through and manage it effectively and securely.

There is no doubt that big data is becoming a big deal and the question for business stakeholders is how to best manage and then use data in innovative ways that minimises time to market and cost to implement while maximising the ability to rapidly employ the insights afforded by big data - and all the while, staying secure. Indeed, using big meta-data has the power to not only help the business, but also lay the foundations for a smarter, self-learning approach to security. As we build technology which learns from context, we should ask ourselves: "Are we building self-aware IT?"