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Iron Mountain’s CEO, users, debate data security

A report surfaced last week in ComputerWorld that Iron Mountain will be adding a security system called InControl to its delivery trucks that are carting around sensitive data. This week, I’ve talked to some users about how they feel about the program and also caught up with Iron Mountain’s CEO, Richard Reese, to talk about Iron Mountain’s point of view on security and chains of custody for the data it transports. In both cases, I heard some interesting comments.

The Iron Mountain updates, which come as the result of a $15 million investment over the last 18 months, will not require an additional fee, according to Reese. Bundled under the InControl umbrella are products, services and processes including more extensive background checks on employees and an employee training program on chain of custody procedures.

Reese also said the company has added on-board computers into the majority of its North American truck fleet. The computers will detect common human errors through sensors in the vehicle–a driver using a vehicle retrofitted with this system can’t start the truck if all doors aren’t locked and alarmed. If the system fails and the door somehow comes open anyway, an alarm will sound in the truck cab. The truck will also only allow one door to be open at a time if there are multiple doors on the vehicle, “so you can’t put the box [of tapes] down on the sidewalk and then go behind an open door and lose sight of it,” Reese said.

Drivers will also be given RFID fobs to keep on their keychains, so if they fail to lock the doors while making a delivery, an alarm will go off. Hand-held GPS-enabled scanners will report the whereabouts of shipments back to users through a Web portal that was already in place. The scanners will also alert drivers immediately to inconsistencies so that errors in shipment routing can be corrected more quickly.

Going forward, the program will be expanded to cover Iron Mountain’s international businesses. Right now retrofits have begun in the UK, and Reese said the company is studying legal regulations in other countries before it figures out how to roll out InControl everywhere.

The customer view of this depends on who you talked to. Dwayne Suizer, VP/Director of Technical Operations for First Independent Bank, said looking into the details of the plan put his mind more at ease. “At first, I thought they were just going to be able to track the trucks, but as I read more and understand how the driver proximity works and the dual ignition systems, it seems like these are all great steps forward.”

But another user, who declined to be named for legal reasons, said it’s “‘too little, too late’ for Iron Mountain.  Many companies have been affected by Iron Mountain’s losses of tapes in transport mishaps and the seemingly-avoidable fires at two of their UK facilities last year.  Two fires, so closely together, could be seen as unlucky or ill-prepared.  It’s up to Iron Mountain’s customers to choose.”

Meanwhile, Reese’s response to the criticism that InControl is a day late and a buck short is that it’s only been in the last 18 months or so that data privacy laws have necessitated this type of control over data.  “If you go back 2 to 5 years, customers were more concerned about driving down the cost of transportation than data loss–they could make three or four copies of a tape and if one got lost in transit, it wasn’t a big deal. Now they’re changing their own inside operations as well to deal with the new privacy regulations, and we’re trying to take on the same burden.”

Reese also said that there are premium services Iron Mountain users can pay for to have things like point-to-point dedicated routes for their deliveries and two drivers in order to guard against theft, and that Iron Mountain had, until the addition of InControl, been pushing its customers concerned about data security to purchase those extra safeguards. “They just wouldn’t do it. They preferred the common carriers.”

Not everybody’s buying it. “I see RFID tracking and a rigorously-enforced chain-of-custody as standard requirements for today’s off-site storage vendors.  RFID tracking can be implemented inexpensively,” said the user who spoke on condition of anonymity.

So why did it take several instances of data loss and destruction for Iron Mountain to begin this grand security scheme? “Let me be clear that there will be other instances,” responded Reese. “InControl will also not be 100%. Any process that involves humans will have errors, and customers also need to understand where their high-risk data is and apply the right solutions. Especially for this baseline service which we just improved radically at no additional cost to customers, I’m not going to guarantee perfection.”

Suizer did have one suggestion for better security: RFID tags in each tape shipment box, an idea Reese said is good in theory, but is “not technically or economically feasible.” RFID tags’ antennas “need to see the sky”, he said, in order to communicate. “Once they go in the loading dock somewhere, the tracking is useless.” Passive RFID tags, which don’t contain batteries, have a much smaller transmission range–5 or 6 feet–than active RFID tags, but the Catch-22 is that active RFID tags require batteries, which are not long-lived. “RFID is not a cure-all,” he said.

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Wanted to comment on the rather general reference to "seemingly-avoidable fires at two of their UK facilities last year" in this article. There was one fire in Ottawa, Canada that was caused by a roofing company and the London UK fire was still not fully determined. Not sure how you prepare for these types of events but the article is mis-leading in its presentation of the events.