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Microsoft sees 25 percent rise in US law enforcement requests

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Statistics regarding user data requests Microsoft received from US law enforcement in H2 2017 and H1 2018


Image: Microsoft [edited by ZDNet]

Microsoft today published its biannual digital trust reports containing information on the number of law enforcement requests, national security orders, and content removal requests the company received in the first half of the year.

While globally, law enforcement requests for user data remained the same, Microsoft reported a 25 percent rise in legal requests received from US law enforcement for data on its users and enterprise customers.

Between January and June 2018, Microsoft says it received 4,948 legal requests from US law enforcement, a significant increase from the 3,984 legal requests it received in the previous six months, in the second half of 2017.

US law enforcement sought data on 14,015 accounts, compared to the 10,138 accounts it wanted to unmask in H2 2017.

Globally, the numbers remained the same, with 23,222 requests received in H1 2018, compared to 22,939 legal requests received in H2 2017, suggesting an escalation in data demand from US authorities.

Microsoft said the bulk of the 23,222 law enforcement demands it received in the first six months of the year came from only a handful of countries, such as France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The vast majority of requests inquired about “non-content” user data, which Microsoft says normally includes details such as an email address, name, state, country, ZIP code, IP address at the time of registration, IP connection history, Xbox gamertag, and credit card or other billing information.

Worldwide, 61.41 percent of law enforcement requests sought non-content user data, while only 4.60 percent of legal demands asked for user content, which includes far more sensitive information such as the content of an email, photographs or documents stored in OneDrive or other cloud services.

The reason why Microsoft received more requests for non-content data is that this type of data is easier to obtain, only requiring a subpoena or court order, while user content data requires a warrant or other legal equivalent.

Below are summaries from the different Microsoft biannual digital trust reports.

Requests for consumer data (full report here):

  • During the first half of 2018, Microsoft received a total number of 23,222 legal requests related to our consumer services from law enforcement agencies around the world, which is a slight increase from the previous six-month period of 22,939 legal requests.
  • A majority of the law enforcement demands Microsoft received during this period continued to come from a handful of countries, including France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States.
  • Specific to United States law enforcement, Microsoft received 4,948 legal demands for data related to our consumer services. A small fraction of those demands, 133 court-issued warrants, sought content data stored in data centers outside of the United States. In only one case did Microsoft disclose enterprise content data stored outside the United States.

Requests for enterprise customer data (full report here):

  • In the first half of 2018, Microsoft received 50 requests from law enforcement (U.S. and international) for data associated with enterprise cloud customers (defined as customers who purchased more than 50 seats).
  • Of these requests, 34 were from U.S. law enforcement and 16 were from other countries.
  • In 32 cases, these requests were rejected, withdrawn or law enforcement was successfully redirected to the customer to obtain the information they are seeking.
  • In 18 cases, Microsoft was compelled to provide some information in response to the order: 10 cases required the disclosure of some customer content and in eight of the cases we were compelled to disclose non-content information only.
  • As noted above, in only one case was Microsoft compelled to disclose to U.S. law enforcement enterprise content data stored outside the United States.

National security orders (full report here):

  • The US National Security Orders Report contains data for H2 2017, not H1 2018.
  • Microsoft says it received 0 – 499 FISA orders seeking content disclosures affecting 12,500 – 12,999 accounts, which is unchanged from the previous period (H1 2017). FISA orders are used for electronic surveillance and collection of “foreign intelligence information” between “foreign powers” and “agents of foreign powers” suspected of espionage or terrorism.
  • Microsoft also received 0 – 499 National Security Letters in the latest reporting period, which is also unchanged from the previous period. A national security letter is similar to a FISA order, but used for US internal “national security” issues.

Content removal requests report (full report here):

  • Microsoft received 732 government-issued requests for content removal in the first half of 2018. “Government requests for content removal” are requests from governments to remove content based on various criteria, such as claims of violations of local laws, from Microsoft-owned online sites, such as Bing, OneDrive, Bing Ads, and MSN.
  • Microsoft honored 586 of the 732 government-issued requests, also closing 20 accounts in the process.
  • Microsoft also says it received 38,000,000 copyright removal requests for 171,738,000 URLs from Bing search results.
  • The OS maker says it removed roughly 171,000,000 URLs.
  • The report’s data includes more than 95 percent of the copyright removal requests for Bing for the six-month reporting period.
  • Removal requests for Bing represent about 99% of all copyright removal requests Microsoft received.
  • Microsoft also received 2,780 “Right to be forgotten” requests for 9,132 URLs. Microsoft removed 5,043 URLs based on these requests.
  • Most “Right to be forgotten” requests came from France (896), the UK (541), and Germany (411).
  • Microsoft also says it received 362 requests for removal of nonconsensual pornography (“revenge porn”). The company acted and removed content on 242 of these requests.
  • Requests to remove “revenge port” were received for Bing, OneDrive, and Xbox Live.

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Cloud Data Security

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Data security has become an immutable part of the technology stack for modern applications. Protecting application assets and data against cybercriminal activities, insider threats, and basic human negligence is no longer an afterthought. It must be addressed early and often, both in the application development cycle and the data analytics stack.

The requirements have grown well beyond the simplistic features provided by data platforms, and as a result a competitive industry has emerged to address the security layer. The capabilities of this layer must be more than thorough, they must also be usable and streamlined, adding a minimum of overhead to existing processes.

To measure the policy management burden, we designed a reproducible test that included a standardized, publicly available dataset and a number of access control policy management scenarios based on real world use cases we have observed for cloud data workloads. We tested two options: Apache Ranger with Apache Atlas and Immuta. This study contrasts the differences between a largely role-based access control model with object tagging (OT-RBAC) to a pure attribute-based access control (ABAC) model using these respective technologies.

This study captures the time and effort involved in managing the ever-evolving access control policies at a modern data-driven enterprise. With this study, we show the impacts of data access control policy management in terms of:

  • Dynamic versus static
  • Scalability
  • Evolvability

In our scenarios, Ranger alone took 76x more policy changes than Immuta to accomplish the same data security objectives, while Ranger with Apache Atlas took 63x more policy changes. For our advanced use cases, Immuta only required one policy change each, while Ranger was not able to fulfill the data security requirement at all.

This study exposed the limitations of extending legacy Hadoop security components into cloud use cases. Apache Ranger uses static policies in an OT-RBAC model for the Hadoop ecosystem with very limited support for attributes. The difference between it and Immuta’s attribute-based access control model (ABAC) became clear. By leveraging dynamic variables, nested attributes, and global row-level policies and row-level security, Immuta can be quickly implemented and updated in comparison with Ranger.

Using Ranger as a data security mechanism creates a high policy-management burden compared to Immuta, as organizations migrate and expand cloud data use—which is shown here to provide scalability, clarity, and evolvability in a complex enterprise’s data security and governance needs.

The chart in Figure 1 reveals the difference in cumulative policy changes required for each platform configuration.

Figure 1. Difference in Cumulative Policy Changes

The assessment and scoring rubric and methodology is detailed in the report. We leave the issue of fairness for the reader to determine. We strongly encourage you, as the reader, to discern for yourself what is of value. We hope this report is informative and helpful in uncovering some of the challenges and nuances of data governance platform selection. You are encouraged to compile your own representative use cases and workflows and review these platforms in a way that is applicable to your requirements.

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GigaOm Radar for Data Loss Prevention

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Data is at the core of modern business: It is our intellectual property, the lifeblood of our interactions with our employees, partners, and customers, and a true business asset. But in a world of increasingly distributed workforces, a growing threat from cybercriminals and bad actors, and ever more stringent regulation, our data is at risk and the impact of losing it, or losing access to it, can be catastrophic.

With this in mind, ensuring a strong data management and security strategy must be high on the agenda of any modern enterprise. Security of our data has to be a primary concern. Ensuring we know how, why, and where our data is used is crucial, as is the need to be sure that data does not leave the organization without appropriate checks and balances.

Keeping ahead of this challenge and mitigating the risk requires a multi-faceted approach. People and processes are key, as, of course, is technology in any data loss prevention (DLP) strategy.

This has led to a reevaluation of both technology and approach to DLP; a recognition that we must evolve an approach that is holistic, intelligent, and able to apply context to our data usage. DLP must form part of a broader risk management strategy.

Within this report, we evaluate the leading vendors who are offering solutions that can form part of your DLP strategy—tools that understand data as well as evaluate insider risk to help mitigate the threat of data loss. This report aims to give enterprise decision-makers an overview of how these offerings can be a part of a wider data security approach.

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Key Criteria for Evaluating Data Loss Prevention Platforms

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Data is a crucial asset for modern businesses and has to be protected in the same way as any other corporate asset, with diligence and care. Loss of data can have catastrophic effects, from reputational damage to significant fines for breaking increasingly stringent regulations.

While the risk of data loss is not new, the landscape we operate in is evolving rapidly. Data can leave data centers in many ways, whether accidental or malicious. The routes for exfiltration also continue to grow, ranging from email, USB sticks, and laptops to ever-more-widely-adopted cloud applications, collaboration tools, and mobile devices. This is driving a resurgence in the enterprise’s need to ensure that no data leaves the organization without appropriate checks and balances in place.

Keeping ahead of this challenge and mitigating the risk requires a multi-faceted approach. Policy, people, and technology are critical components in a data loss prevention (DLP) strategy.

As with any information security strategy, technology plays a significant role. DLP technology has traditionally played a part in helping organizations to mitigate some of the risks of uncontrolled data exfiltration. However, both the technology and threat landscape have shifted significantly, which has led to a reevaluation of DLP tools and strategy.

The modern approach to the challenge needs to be holistic and intelligent, capable of applying context to data usage by building a broader understanding of what the data is, who is using it, and why. Systems in place must also be able to learn when user activity should be classified as unusual so they can better interpret signs of a potential breach.

This advanced approach is also driving new ways of defining the discipline of data loss prevention. Dealing with these risks cannot be viewed in isolation; rather, it must be part of a wider insider risk-management strategy.

Stopping the loss of data, accidental or otherwise, is no small task. This GigaOM Key Criteria Report details DLP solutions and identifies key criteria and evaluation metrics for selecting such a solution. The corresponding GigOm Radar Report identifies vendors and products in this sector that excel. Together, these reports will give decision-makers an overview of the market to help them evaluate existing platforms and decide where to invest.

How to Read this Report

This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:

Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.

GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.

Solution Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

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