April 05, 2010, 11:04 AM — Data mapping is more than just a passing thought in the day-to-day duties of Continental Airlines Chief Information Security Officer Tim Stanley. In fact, it's a mission. Stanley believes since we've become a digital society, we've gotten ourselves into a pretty deep hole when it comes to data: There's so much of it and no logical system for organizing it.
Stanley regularly makes a presentation to security professionals where he lays out this dilemma. As it stands now, no one product or system really addresses the issue of how to classify, manage and organize data. And that needs to be remedied soon before the wild rabbits (his term) multiply out of control to the point of no return.
Here Stanley spells out the need for data mapping and how to tackle the task.
CSO: You have a presentation you give where you refer to the process of data mapping as 'Domesticating the Wild Rabbit.' What do you mean by that?
Tim Stanley, CISO, Continental: Data is created or you receive from somebody as a nice gift. You pray that at some point it dies, but in between it multiplies like wild rabbits. I am never going to stop that. No one in this world can. However, if I can domesticate that wild rabbit, I will be in a much better position. The way I domesticate it is I manage it, which is what we [collectively] are not doing right now.
I have a series of pictures I use in the presentation that are from the '40's and '50's. IT didn't exist then. So we look at how they managed what they thought was massive amounts of data. I have a picture of a VA file room from the '50's. The room has row after row of file cabinets. I tell people: "Look at this picture and tell me what you can about the data." They usually look confused, so ask them to look a single file cabinet and tell me what they can about it." They will say often "There is a big number on it." I say: "Exactly."
There is a number on the cabinet and every drawer has labels on it, which tells you that the contents of the file cabinet are indexed. There is somebody that doesn't necessarily know the particular contents of those files, but they know enough about those files to tell you what drawer they need to be in, which cabinet they need to be in, and where that file cabinet is located.