McAfee has taken the wraps off a data-loss prevention gateway appliance to complement its existing host-based DLP software.

The DLP Gateway promises to block both unintentional and malicious attempts to expose sensitive information at the network level, providing a second layer of defence when combined with McAfee's endpoint-based system, which was introduced in February.

In order to block the most channels for potential data loss - from mobile devices to printers - the company is advising enterprises to employ both forms of DLP technology to eliminate potential weak points in their defences.

The DLP sector has been tabbed by experts for significant growth over the next several years, as businesses seek out new technologies for protecting against attacks and employee missteps that may allow for the theft of sensitive information.

Some companies are pursuing DLP for fear of losing intellectual property to hacks or disgruntled workers, while many others are trying to avoid situations like the network break-in at TJX that led to the exposure of more than 45.6 million customer records.

McAfee has been building out its DLP offerings for the last several years both via internal development and through its October 2006 acquisition of software maker Onigma for $20 million.

Due out in May, the DLP Gateway specifically promises to provide protection for computers brought into networks by outsiders, such as contractors or business partners, as well as handle data filtering for non-Windows systems, including Mac and Linux servers and mobile devices.

"A vast majority of the data leakage issue can be brought down to the traditional Windows-based desktop environment, but that doesn't cover devices like BlackBerries or smartphones - or laptops carried by visiting users," said Kevin LeBlanc, group product marketing manager at McAfee. "Many companies are dealing with increasing numbers of contractors logging on inside their networks; they need to share information but don't own the desktop and want to prevent confidential data from walking out the door."

By deploying both network and host-based DLP, companies will create a multi-layered approach that is far more effective than either technology on its own, LeBlanc said.

McAfee is also tying the tools into its centralised ePolicy Orchestrator security and compliance management framework to pool resources with other applications.

As part of the gateway launch, McAfee also released a research report on perceptions of the impact of data leakage incidents among corporate customers.

In the survey of 1,400 IT professionals, conducted at companies with 250 employees or more in the US, UK, France, Germany, and Australia, researchers found that 33 percent of respondents feel a serious data incident could put their companies out of business.

In a nod to the ubiquity of the problem, some 60 percent of respondents indicated that they had experienced a data breach within the past year with only six percent of the IT professionals surveyed claiming that their firms had completely avoided the problem for at least two years.

Sixty-one percent of respondents to the McAfee survey said that most data leakage incidents are carried out by insiders, and 23 percent said they believe those leaks are executed with malicious intentions.

Despite the widespread nature of the problem, enterprises are still refusing to sink major dollars into technologies aimed at preventing data loss, according to the report. On average, respondents said their companies spend one-half of one percent of their overall IT budgets on data security.

That number stands in stark contrast to the perceived price tag of dealing with data leakage incidents, with respondents estimating that breaches involving customers' personal information cost an average of $268,000 merely to inform those whose records may have been exposed.

Survey respondents also indicated that the total annual cost of data leakage events at their respective companies was an average of $1.82 million, including the value of the lost data itself and the amount of money needed to support credit monitoring services for people whose data is affected. Only 23 percent of those involved in the report were willing to estimate such a total.

Interestingly, IT pros participating in the study rated the potential loss of intellectual property and financial information as of greater concern than the loss of customer data, despite all the negativity being attached in the public domain to incidents such as the TJX breach.

"That result may seem surprising, especially because we had retail, financial services, and health care companies involved in the research, but the truth is that credit card providers still take most of the losses on identity fraud," said Carl Banzhof, vice president and chief technology evangelist at McAfee. "When you consider that people could be walking out with new product schematics or software source code, you get an idea why these concerns are rated as such."