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Data Deduplication Technology

Data deduplication (often known as “single-instance storage” or “intelligent compression”) is a way of getting rid of redundant data by keeping only one unique copy of each piece of data on storage media such as disk drives. Every redundant copy of every piece of data is deleted and a pointer to the unique copy of the data is left in its place. The main purpose of this technology is to save storage space. The more potential copies of a given piece of data, the greater the economy of storage is. Additionally, data deduplication can substantially reduce the amount of data that needs to go over networks when backup and restore operations occur, thereby making more bandwidth available for ongoing network operations.

Data deduplication is a relatively recent technology, one that is not very well known among IT professionals, let alone information security professionals. What is even less known, however, is the potential that this technology has with respect to data security. Because data deduplication reduces the need to send data across networks during backup and restore operations, this technology reduces the likelihood of promiscuous capture of these data. But what is almost entirely overlooked is how data deduplication can help lower the probability of data security breaches due to breakins into systems and lost or stolen mobile computing devices. Because data deduplication results in one and only one copy of every file, it reduces the number of potential targets for would-be data thieves. The more copies of a given file there are, the higher the probability that the file will fall into unauthorized hands. Consider, for example, a user who takes home from work a laptop from work and later discovers that the laptop has been stolen. Thousands of files potentially containing sensitive information would be on a “normal” laptop, but with data deduplication, the files would instead still reside on one or more servers to which the laptop would instead have thousands of pointers to various paths on these servers. The would-be perpetrator would have to use the stolen laptop to authenticate to the user’s network and/or server(s) to access files—a significant barrier, provided that the required authentication method were sufficiently strong.

The fact that downloaded files can and do become downloaded on workstations that access servers is a potential but very solvable problem. Good data deduplication technology includes client software that checks to ensure that any files that are downloaded in this manner are deleted after a while.

Data deduplication is by no means a panacea for risks related to data security breaches, but it provides an intriguing and potentially very effective solution. One thing seems sure—this technology will grow as those who work in the IT arena learn just how useful this technology can be. And if you are an information security professional or someone who works in business continuity and disaster recovery operations, it is especially incumbent upon you to devote some time and effort to learn more about this promising new technology.

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