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The Rise of Human-Centric Data Loss Prevention: A Deep Dive Into Proofpoint’s Approach

Data loss prevention (DLP) has long been a cornerstone of enterprise security. However, faced with evolving threats, increasingly stringent data residency regulations, and a hybrid work landscape, traditional DLP solutions are struggling to keep pace. Proofpoint, the second largest DLP vendor (50% of Fortune 100, 67% of financial services), is addressing these challenges with its Information Protection platform, emphasizing a human-centric approach empowered by behavioral analytics, granular controls, and cloud capabilities.

The Evolving Nature of Data Loss

Legacy DLP solutions primarily focused on simple content scanning and keyword blocks. While these remain valuable tools, the nature of data loss has become far more complex.

Today’s threats often involve:

  • Negligent Insiders: Well-intentioned employees inadvertently mishandle sensitive data, often due to misunderstanding policies or making mistakes in a cloud-centric environment.
  • Compromised Accounts: Account takeovers (ATOs) enable attackers to bypass perimeter defenses and exfiltrate data while masquerading as legitimate users.
  • Sophisticated Social Engineering: Phishing and other tactics manipulate employees into divulging data or bypassing safeguards.

Proofpoint’s Human-Centric Response

Proofpoint recognizes that the most significant data risks frequently stem from users. Its platform integrates file and user activity monitoring, behavioral analytics, content awareness, and threat intelligence to provide a more holistic risk view:

  • File and User Activity Monitoring: Proofpoint’s human-centric approach to DLP goes beyond monitoring file activities by collecting additional behavioral context on file manipulation, website and application usage, and the riskiest users’ dangerous behaviors, such as manipulating the Windows registry to remove controls.
  • User and Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA): Proofpoint establishes baselines of normal user activity across email, cloud, and endpoint. Machine learning models can then flag deviations, like unusual file access or data movement patterns, that might indicate compromise or intent to exfiltrate data.
  • Contextual File Tracking: Proofpoint’s file lineage capability tracks sensitive data even as it's transformed or moved, preventing attempts to obscure its origins. Exact data matching (EDM) and fingerprinting ensure detection even when file format changes occur.
  • Adapting to Cloud Realities: Built-in integration with major cloud providers allows Proofpoint to identify risky behavior in cloud apps and enforce policies tailored to specific cloud environments.

Proofpoint helps you be behavior-aware and understand insider risks by providing a timeline view of file and user activities across email, cloud, endpoint, and web, along with anomaly detection.

DLP Policies for VAPs (Very Attacked People)

VAPs are high-profile individuals (executives, researchers, those with privileged access) within an organization who are disproportionately targeted in advanced cyberattacks. Because of the data these individuals handle or systems they access, the consequences of a compromised VAP account can be severe.

This is how Proofpoint's DLP solution addresses VAPs:

  • Targeted Threat Identification: Proofpoint’s Targeted Attack Protection (TAP) module plays a major role in VAP protection. TAP goes beyond generic threat indicators, specifically analyzing attacks aimed at VAPs. It does this by:
    • Attack Index: Scoring threats based on factors like sophistication, spread, and customization to prioritize threats most likely to target VAPs.
    • VAP Reporting: Providing clear dashboards and reports visualizing attack trends against VAPs, helping security teams quickly understand who is being targeted and how.
  • Behavior-Based VAP Protection: Proofpoint emphasizes UEBA. This is especially important for VAPs because their “normal” activity pattern might differ from average users. Proofpoint establishes baselines and uses machine learning to detect:
    • Anomalous Logins: Unusual login times, locations, or devices suggesting potential account compromise.
    • Data Access Patterns: Changes in data access volumes, types of files accessed, or destinations data moves to can unveil targeted exfiltration attempts.
  • Granular Policy Enforcement: Proofpoint’s DLP allows for tailored policies for VAPs. These might include:
    • Restricting File Transfers: Stricter rules on what data VAPs can send via email, cloud uploads, or web downloads.
    • Cloud App Monitoring: Increased scrutiny of VAP activity in cloud services, especially those containing sensitive data.
    • Multifactor Authentication: Enforcing MFA for VAPs as an additional protection layer becomes crucial.
  • Integration for Response: Proofpoint’s tight integration between its DLP, TAP, and threat intelligence feeds facilitate rapid response. This includes:
    • Automated Actions: Automatically blocking suspicious activity targeting VAPs or quarantining potentially compromised files.
    • Prioritized Alerting: Ensuring security teams are immediately notified of potential VAP compromises.

Proofpoint helps you be threat-aware by viewing threats against cloud data, with insight into account takeover, attack sequence, and third-party apps, as well as DLP policies for very attacked people (VAPs).

Proofpoint DLP Transform

Proofpoint DLP Transform signals a modernized approach to data loss prevention in a time where dispersed workforces and evolving cloud usage patterns are common. Legacy DLP solutions often struggle to keep pace with the complexity of this landscape. By focusing on user behavior and providing deep cross-channel visibility, Proofpoint aims to enable security teams to make informed, risk-based decisions about data protection. This proactive posture is crucial in an environment where generative AI tools and unsanctioned platforms add new layers to potential data exfiltration pathways.

Key to the platform’s effectiveness is its ability to monitor interactions across both managed and unmanaged endpoints and major cloud services. This allows for more granular detection of potential data loss incidents, such as unauthorized file transfers or excessive sharing permissions. The emphasis on user intent analysis adds a valuable layer, helping to differentiate between legitimate activity and potentially malicious behavior patterns.

Proofpoint DLP Transform also departs from traditional DLP approaches with its streamlined incident response capabilities. Cross-channel telemetry, intuitive visualizations, and flexible reporting tools consolidate information that traditionally may have been spread across disparate systems. This unified view promises to reduce investigation time and allow for more effective remediation actions. By making the DLP process less siloed and more context-rich, security teams are better positioned to protect sensitive data in an increasingly dynamic threat environment.

A Proofpoint dashboard with insights into risky users, alert categories and alerts by day, and more.

Proofpoint Can Bolster Microsoft Purview’s Labeling Capabilities

Microsoft Purview sensitivity labels (like “Confidential,” “Public”) are digital tags that get embedded into documents and emails in the Microsoft ecosystem (Office 365, Azure, etc.). These labels aren’t just for display; Purview can enforce actions based on them.

Proofpoint can leverage Purview labels for:

  • Label Recognition: Proofpoint’s DLP can detect and interpret Microsoft Purview sensitivity labels present within files and emails it analyzes. This integration allows it to understand the organization’s predefined data handling rules.
  • Policy Alignment: Proofpoint’s DLP policies can then be aligned with the sensitivity labels. For example:
    • A policy might block the external transmission of files labeled confidential.
    • Email DLP could automatically encrypt any files labeled highly confidential when they leave the organization.
    • Summary of the more desirable policy enforcement actions supported:
      • Automatic Email Encryption
      • Restricting Access
      • Visual Watermarking
      • Retention/Deletion policies
  • Automated Classification: Proofpoint’s Information Protection and Classification solution can assist in automatically applying Purview labels in the first place, based on content analysis and other factors. This reduces the burden of manual tagging and ensures consistency.

Proofpoint offers flexible data controls across endpoint DLP/ITM, web security, CASB, isolation, and email.

Organizations relying on Microsoft Purview labels can extend those same policies into Proofpoint’s DLP, avoiding redundant rules and ensuring consistent enforcement. Administrators can then have a more unified view of data protection, with policies and labels working in tandem. This in turn allows an enhanced user experience by leveraging automatic enforcement based on labels, minimizing the need for users to manually make security decisions, reducing friction and the potential for errors.

Key Differentiators

A few points solidify Proofpoint’s strong position in the DLP landscape:

  • Market Footprint: Proofpoint’s substantial customer base, including heavy adoption across highly regulated industries like healthcare and finance, indicates a proven track record of addressing robust security and privacy requirements.
  • Data Residency and Privacy: Strong emphasis on addressing data residency rules and robust privacy controls reflects Proofpoint’s recognition of the increasingly complex global regulatory landscape.
  • Granular Controls, Consolidated Management: Actions like quarantining, encrypting based on labeling, and selective access modification, paired with its unified console, streamline incident response workflows and reduce administrative overhead.

Technical Innovations

Proofpoint isn’t solely relying on human centricity; it’s actively leveraging emerging technologies:

  • AI for Classification: Using AI promises more accurate data classification, helping address the challenge of data sprawl and reducing the reliance on manually crafted rules.
  • Metadata as a Weapon: Proofpoint can incorporate metadata analysis into its detection mechanisms. This can reveal patterns in data location, transmission paths, and modification histories, providing vital clues about unauthorized activity.

Looking Forward

While no DLP solution is a silver bullet, Proofpoint’s approach showcases the shift necessary for the modern era of data security. Its focus on insider risks, cloud integration, and adaptive technologies will likely influence the direction of the broader DLP industry. Organizations seeking powerful protection for a dynamic and user-focused threat landscape would be wise to consider Proofpoint’s strengths, especially organizations operating in highly regulated sectors and industries where Proofpoint excels in, such as finance, healthcare, and manufacturing.

Privacy by design: Address privacy and data residency requirements with attribute-based access controls, protect sensitive alert data in the console with data masking, and protect user identifying information with anonymization.


Our Take

Proofpoint’s clearly going beyond the old-school DLP mindset. Traditional keyword matching and blocking at the network edge just won’t cut it anymore. Proofpoint’s focus on user behavior analytics, understanding the context of data movement, and granular cloud integrations is what aligns with how data gets mishandled intentionally, or not, in today’s landscape.

Proofpoint’s adoption across regulated sectors like healthcare and finance also speaks volumes. Those folks don’t mess around with half-baked solutions, so it tells me Proofpoint has the teeth to handle real-world complexity and compliance requirements. The emphasis on data residency controls is a smart move too, with the way regulations are tightening globally.

I'm interested in Proofpoint’s file lineage and AI use. Tackling the headache of scattered data and making classification less of a manual nightmare is long overdue in the DLP space. And don’t get me started on VAP targeting. Proofpoint seems to get that protecting executives and other high-value accounts requires a different level of scrutiny than your average employee.

Overall, Proofpoint’s no silver bullet – nothing ever is in our field. But for serious organizations, especially those with a major cloud presence or serious regulations to meet, Proofpoint is a player worth a hard look. It’s clear the company is putting the effort in to stay ahead of how the data loss game is changing and can provide value as a trusted partner.

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