Channel Insider content and product recommendations are editorially independent. We may make money when you click on links to our partners. Learn More.

SAN FRANCISCO—McAfee announced its initial foray into the emerging data loss prevention software market here at the RSA Conference Feb. 5, launching a set of tools to manage the flow of sensitive information across corporate networks and endpoint devices.

Built through a combination of internal development and Santa Clara, Calif.-based McAfee’s October 2006 acquisition of Onigma, the package promises the ability for organizations to oversee and control data distribution via a wide range of desktop applications and storage technologies, including e-mail and instant messaging systems, removable USB devices, CD-ROMs, and even printed documents.

The security software maker is pitching DLP (data loss prevention) as a critical piece of its overall corporate risk management strategy, which advocates the use of integrated portfolios of technologies over individual point products and stand-alone applications. McAfee is also hungry to benefit from the rapidly expanding market for DLP tools, growth of which is being driven by an avalanche of high-profile data exposure incidents reported by companies such as retailer TJX Companies.

An occasional well-publicized data breach at a large chain is a terrible thing for that company and its customers, but it just might be a good thing for the industry. Click here to read why.

Piloted through a beta project conducted with a small group of companies during the fourth quarter of 2006, McAfee DLP Host combines back-end management server software with a software agent resident on endpoint devices. The combination allows customers to prevent inappropriate data handling both internally and at the network’s edge, company officials claim.

The dual-pronged approach is one of the primary differentiators being touted by McAfee’s product marketers, who contend that systems that rely too heavily on endpoint management capabilities fail to prevent misuse of information by privileged insiders.

The initial focus of many DLP applications was to protect data from being stolen by employees or network intruders, but software makers competing in the space have begun adopting messages more similar to those pitched by providers of so-called ECM (enterprise content management) tools, but from a dedicated IT security perspective.

While the DLP segment—made up of a handful of smaller developers only several years ago—is quickly becoming crowded with products and vendors, few technologies available today offer a system through which organizations can categorize information on a finite level and create policies for broad sets of data handling permissions, said Vimal Solanki, senior director of product marketing at McAfee.

The more sophisticated approach will allow McAfee to sell the package as both a balm to data security issues and as a compliance automation system to help customers address the growing range of information-protection regulations being passed by government regulators, he said.

“A solution for data loss prevention needs to be where the data resides, both on the servers and endpoints; we’re adopting a philosophy of delivering a solution that sits next to the data wherever it resides and believe it will be well-received by customers,” said Solanki. “The technology needs to address the problem effectively whether the worker is in the office, at home or at Starbucks. Ensuring against the loss of data is just another example of how we’ll continue to look for opportunities to help companies manage risk.”

As part of its DLP rollout, McAfee is releasing a research report created through a survey of more than 300 users at roughly 100 companies about their employers’ data handling policies. While 84 percent of the individuals responding to the study said their companies have official guidelines in place to prevent against the exposure of sensitive data, many incidents that violate those policies still occur on a daily basis, according to the research.

For instance, 21 percent of respondents said they have mistakenly left confidential information sitting on a shared printer, 25 percent admitted failure to shred sensitive documents before throwing them away, and 40 percent indicated they take as many as 10 controlled files out of work using printers, USB devices or CD-ROMs.

The innocent nature of those examples points to the need for DLP beyond keeping hackers from stealing data for the purpose of committing crimes such as identity fraud or corporate espionage, McAfee officials said.

“There’s a big consideration from the malicious aspects, but data loss prevention is also a huge day-to-day issue, and organizations who don’t feel their data is at risk because they’ve locked down the network from intrusions should worry about accidental loss,” Solanki said. “It’s not always about a smart hacker. I think everyone has had the experience of sending a message to someone accidentally because their e-mail system filled-in the wrong address; that’s the type of situation that can be every bit as dangerous as a data theft, only it happens even more frequently.”

Check out’s for the latest security news, reviews and analysis.