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How the USPTO Uses Zero Trust to Protect the Nation’s Most Valuable Data

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is the repository for a wealth of knowledge dating back to the nation's founding. The information behind many of the world's greatest inventions ranging from the light bulb, iPhone, Maglev trains to the zipper are housed and protected by the USPTO. A task that is now considerably more difficult as the primary storage medium moves from paper to on-premises and into the cloud.

To better understand exactly how the USPTO protects this valuable information, Trustwave sat down with the agency's CIO Jamie Holcombe to discuss the changing security needs and practices instituted to protect this wealth of information. (Please click here to see how Trustwave helps the USPTO protect our nation’s most valuable information.)

The importance of this information cannot be understated. The USPTO correctly believes the strength and vitality of the U.S. economy depend directly on effective mechanisms that protect new ideas and investments in innovation and creativity. The continued demand for patents and trademarks underscores the ingenuity of American inventors and entrepreneurs.

The USPTO is a leader among federal agencies when it comes to understanding how to protect intellectual property. The agency is called upon to advise the president of the United States, the secretary of commerce, and U.S. government agencies on intellectual property (IP) policy, protection, and enforcement; and promote stronger and more effective IP protection around the world. It also provides training, education, and capacity-building programs designed to foster respect for IP and encourage the development of strong IP enforcement regimes by U.S. trading partners.

What is the USPTO’s Primary Mission?

Holcombe: Our agency’s mission to foster innovation through examining and granting high-quality patents and trademarks which is crucial to American prosperity.

Part of our mission requires creating, deploying, and protecting the critical data in one of the world’s largest repositories of innovation. Our agency maintains a giant reservoir of almost every conceivable creation for over the last 250 years.

How does the USPTO classify data to ensure the most important is properly protected?

Holcombe: In the logical world of USPTO data classification, we envision the data layers using a wedding cake metaphor.

The base layer (labeled green) is where we share our public, open data essential for U.S. (and worldwide) courts and general business knowledge. Since patent data is public after 18 months, with some exceptions, people build on this open data, creating new innovations for everyone.

Our middle layer is logically colored yellow – which signals providing caution as we manage this private information to include Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and Business Identifiable Information (BII).

Then, at the top of our wedding cake, we have the red color layer where the “crown jewels” of privacy and secrecy are located. This information may include, but is not limited to, the claims data inside the patent application for new inventions. In other words, that data which makes the creation truly new and novel – golden data we protect that is critical to us AND the innovators we serve.

Having targeted protocols for each data layer provides a more thorough establishment and maintenance of TRUST – the essential element in any cybersecurity paradigm.

Zero Trust is a popular concept in cybersecurity. What is the USPTO’s approach to this cybersecurity technique?

Holcombe: Even though Zero Trust is a new approach and philosophy it needs a NEW mindset.

No longer should we rely solely upon the “castle and moat” approach especially when moving to the cloud, and while inheriting many cloud native security services. We must trust but verify EVERY phase of establishing and maintaining an intellectual property (IP) session!

Rather than relying principally upon combining user identity with network protection, we should create more thorough, trusted transactions to include the other Zero Trust Architecture pillars of Applications, Data, and Device Identification.

I see a lot of promise (low hanging fruit) taking advantage of new products and service offerings in Data Protection and Device Identification.

What does the USPTO’s approach to database control include?

Holcombe: USPTO is setting the example for other government entities to employ a database-specific security approach that includes continuous vulnerability and configuration assessments and remediation, database privileged access visibility and control, and continuous database activity monitoring to alert and respond to anomalous database activity.

Can you describe how the USPTO putting this “new approach” concept of Zero Trust into practice?

Holcombe: For Zero Trust Architecture, our top three priorities are:

  1. Protect our high value assets on-premise by micro-segmentation.
  2. Protect our cloud assets by implementing a SASE (secure access service edge) solution.
  3. Migrating to Okta from our self-hosted ICAM solution (Oracle-based) so we can leverage the adaptive MFA (multi-factor authentication) capability (among many other capabilities that Okta brings).