Category Archives: Strategy

Online dating at the organisation’s expense – covered by your InfoSec policy

A few months after the sensational Ashley Madison data breach, another dating website has been breached. Members of Beautiful People have their personal details floating around on the internet.

Previously undisclosed intimate details such as sexual preferences and orientation will have a social impact on the unfaithful and close family members. Personal impact has serious consequences spanning beyond financial impact such as strained family relationships, reputational damage and adverse health consequences (eg: stress).

Organisational policy is there to ensure that staff behave in line with organisational expectations. Just as staff are not allowed to take bribes, turn up intoxicated to work, staff are expected to ensure that their behaviour online do not tarnish the organisation’s reputation. When allowing personal use of corporate systems organisations must consider the external impact of the staff member’s actions.

An organisation’s security policy must reflect the level of professionalism expected by senior management and importantly their customers. Policy, communication, education, transparency (and incident response/public relations) must be in place to protect all parties involved.

After all, staff that behave badly is a reflection on the organisation as a whole.

http://www.9news.com.au/national/2016/04/26/15/43/government-emails-caught-in-beautiful-people-hack

Operations security (OPSEC): part of a balanced organisational security awareness diet

Summary:

  • The goal of OPSEC is to limit the adversaries capability to gather information about individuals or the organisation
  • Implement OPSEC just as you would for controls
  • Assess whether OPSEC could aid your existing information security program.

Authentication based on something you know is the easiest and cheapest way to prove someone’s identity, however it is also one of the most easiest to defeat. With personal privacy not being as private as it used to be, it is hard to establish a universal authentication system based on something you know.

The age of mass surveillance, Social media, Internet of Things (IoT) track individuals and record secrets. Continuous changes with social media features, IoT devices gathering detailed information provides a challenge with maintaining a high level of privacy. Criminals feasting on personal gain leverage lapses in privacy to exploit organisations relying on weak authentication to clean up innocent victims.

The absence of a suitable technological solution (at the moment) makes the security of something you know rest solely with the subject.

This is where Operations Security (OPSEC) comes in.

Operations security condition individuals to think about limiting the information that they disclose to the public. The military and other clandestine groups have employed OPSEC for many decades now and it serves to limit the effectiveness of reconnaissance on individuals.

Considering that offensive teams such as penetration testers, social engineers leverage intelligence as one of their first stages, information starvation would limit or prolong the opportunity of a successful ‘attack’.

Incorporating OPSEC into organisational security awareness does not require staff to undergo military style training, instead consider:

  • is there a gap that OPSEC could address (eg: organisational or private use of social media, job listings, etc)
  • the level of detail the program will cover. This needs to strike a balance between practicality, freedom and security.

Two examples where OPSEC in security awareness would be valuable include:

  • Compartments – defining boundaries between professional and private or segmentation within professional ie: secret vs internal
  • Need to know – Do you *have* to communicate this information? Is it necessary for them to function? Could the information be used against the individual or organisation? For example: security questions/password reset, does your online trader need to know your date of birth?

Before OPSEC can be deployed throughout the organisation, there are some considerations

  • OPSEC augments information security and should be part of an existing security awareness program
  • OPSEC may not be for everyone, some specific groups will benefit more from OPSEC more than others
  • Does the culture of the organisation allow for OPSEC to be implemented? Will staff allow for their organisation to interfere with their personal lives
  • People are human, mistakes happen. OPSEC serve to limit fallout.
  • OPSEC is expensive not only financially but continuously maintaining good OPSEC is quite hard to do.

There may be some debate as to the effectiveness and application of OPSEC however, a successful campaign could provide an adversary a run for their money.

If you are running an OPSEC campaign in your organisation, I’d like to hear about it.

Some information

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3475126/Security-alert-NatWest-online-banking.html
https://www.owasp.org/index.php/Choosing_and_Using_Security_Questions_Cheat_Sheet
http://www.dodea.edu/offices/safety/opsec.cfm

You are the weakest link…attacking the weakest link on a global level

When protecting a high value target, a single point of failure could be a catalyst for a catastrophic breach.

When securing multinationals, consideration must be made for the smaller subsidiaries. They are connected to the corporate network and as any good pentester can tell you, pivoting is a powerful concept.

Smaller subsidiaries may not have the same level of physical, network, endpoint security. Some subsidiaries may face different level of threats: political, socio-economic, domestic instability.

A quick example is an UK multinational operating in Argentina, or Taiwanese company operating in China, could there be repercussions?

On the other end of the spectrum, subsidiaries may not have faced the same level/intensity of threats as their parent company. Psychologically, citizens maintain the perception that being in a safe backwater nation, the developed world threats are not of major concern.

It is important to note that security is a global effort, consider the threat level and adjust to it.

http://www.databreachtoday.eu/interviews/targeted-attacks-how-ready-japan-i-2820

Importance of Trust and Security as Sales Differentiators

The world is embracing the golden age of knowledge. Delivery of information is approaching instantaneous, volume of data is increasing and the computation/conversion of data to human digestible information can be presented in many different ways.

Goods vs Services

During the industrial revolution, sales were based on goods. Now, sales are based on services and information.

The transition from a goods to an information/knowledge based market have several few major differences.

A goods based offering would usually involve a transaction with the delivery of a product. A information/knowledge based offering does not always result in a physical product.

QA processes, reliability, function are all traditional elements used to establish trust in a product. How does this all function in a information/knowledge based world?

With a physical product, the warranty and the length of time a company has been in service are indicators of the commitment of the company to it’s product. Reliability, service, QA are all criteria used to provide consumers an understanding to the level of standard offered by the company. Longevity of the company underwrites the warranty, level of standard and performance/growth of the company. Naturally, poor governance, inadequate disaster recovery, etc could bring a company down faster than you can say trust.

Some criteria are not as important, have a different meaning/context or no longer relevant such as installation, logistics and delivery times.

Where as other criteria are new or have become very important such as availability, response times.

As a result, an information/knowledge based offering will have a heavier dependency on several traditional consumer criteria.

While the list is not comprehensive, Consumers will apply greater weighting on the following requirements when considering a information/knowledge based offering:

  • Value of goods
    The value of the good/service provided will determine the importance of all requirements. For small ticket items, the criteria isn’t as important as compared to a large, multi-year service offering. Further scrutiny would be made on a high value product.
  • Length of engagement
    Goods would follow a short engagement life cycle. There is the marketing to entice consumers to the product and once the product is purchased, the engagement ends (unless if it’s a high value good, see below). With information/knowledge based services, there is a longer engagement as the consumer would subscribe to the service for the life of the information or until such time the service is no longer required.
  • Consumer Risk appetite
    How dependent is the consumer on the good/service? If the consumer requires the service for their business or livelihoods, then further scrutiny would be made on the service.
  • Effectiveness of transition
    A company that used to be successful selling goods may not successfully transition over to the digital age (Borders, Kodak are two examples). How aware is the organization in it’s direction towards the new age, this is evident in their offerings and differentiators. More on this later.

Given key consumer criteria, it’s time to make the sale.

Selling in the golden age

All good sales people know that when you have competition, you need to differentiate yourself from your competitors. What is your unique selling point?

As mentioned, services and information are no longer physical rendering lots of traditional sales criteria obsolete.

Some differentiators remain the same but in different forms.

As mentioned, a company which has been successful selling goods may not be as successful selling services/information. A company which is aware of this will be required to diversify to capture the market as well as build on the new market to secure and grow.

The New Business Road Test by John W Mullins, assesses a business opportunity and establishes if it is worth pursuing or if an existing opportunity is viable. The book is an excellent book which goes into a lot of detail which unfortunately we won’t be able to cover here. It describes several domains for consideration and one domain noted is found at the Micro level. Two of the five questions to consider are:

  • Is there a clear and compelling benefit for the offering?
  • Are the benefits from the customer perspective different and superior in some way?

If a service offers no benefit to the consumer or if it is no different to any other service then your opportunity is not going to stand the test of time, the opportunity is over even before it started.

A service must be able to offer clear a benefit to the customer and/or is superior to any other offering from your competitors. The benefits are made up of some of the criteria mentioned previously and the missing link are the differentiators that puts your offering ahead of any competitors.

Understanding differentiators

Moving from a goods based industry have a different set of differentiators to a service/information industry.

Diversification is not without risk. Knowledge of the new market, identification of USPs and opportunities in the new market and so on will lead a solid footing in the new market place.

Just because you might be good at executing with meeting customer demands it doesn’t mean that it will be the same for eternity, look at Borders, Kodak, etc. Their failure to successfully transition lead to their downfall. As consumers no longer want the pain of managing their resources in a time poor society, they turn to offerings which ease their pain, this is where services and convenience comes in.

Ok, even if an organization has transitioned, their competition will seek ways to meet consumer demands and therefore other criteria is required to differentiate themselves as an organization with a superior and competitive offering.

What makes your offering better than the competition, that difference is called a differentiator.

Trust and security as two powerful differentiators.

All your competitors have met the basic consumer requirements, now what…products are no longer physical, there is nothing to physically show that an offering is superior, how does an organization show it is superior?

This is where trust and security comes in.

An organization must now prove that it is even more trustworthy than its competitors.

  • How does a customer know that they are getting value for money for a particular service?
  • How does a customer know that the organization they are dealing with will be there for the long haul?
  • How does a customer know that the organization will be there for their business or livelihoods?
  • How does a customer know that the organization’s offerings are future aware?

To answer these questions, consider the following as differentiators:

  • Trustworthy, otherwise the deal is not worth the paper it’s written on. Remember, there is no physical element, the deal better be good for the long haul.
  • Secure, if your business or livelihood relies on confidentiality, privacy, integrity, you expect that the organization you’re dealing with also does the same. Your customers do not care if your service provider is not up to par, your customer is dealing with you and therefore the buck stops with you.
  • Transparent, the last thing you want is an organization beating around the bush or worse still, covering things up.
  • Assurance, has the organization been assessed by others to ensure that what they are doing is in line with what other professionals are saying? After all, a second pair of eyes is not a bad thing.

If you are running a service, your competitors are competing on cost and offerings but are they in line with what your customers are asking?

Aligning Security with the business: Recent News

Summary:

  • Recent surveys show that CxOs lack appreciation for CISOs
  • It is up to us as InfoSec professionals to show the importance and value of integrating security with the business

Security is a cost…heard that one before? This is the primary goal of this blog, to change this mindset to ‘Security is an investment‘.

It is hard to show how security has saved an organisation’s bacon, after all, if nothing happens, everything must be fine…right?

Let’s put this into perspective:

  • Traditionally, businesses depend on IT solely for day to day inhouse functions. Now, it is required for new/modern functions such as: business intelligence/strategy, R & D/innovation, data warehousing, marketing, etc. This changes IT dependencies within a business from ‘just a tool’ to core business functions, entire departments are created through information technology.
  • Information is a valuable commodity, just ask the NSA or a competitor.
  • Freedom and accessibility to information is easily accessible to all, anywhere at any time. This increases both perceived and actual anonymity and educational standards in everyone.
  • As long as an organisation is valuable, there will always be malicious financially motivated threats: espionage, extortion, etc.
  • Information security is about maintaining the CIA: Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability of information.
  • As an adversary, carrying out a threat and disrupting the CIA by obtaining or destroying something of value has never been easier.

C-level executives need understand that the above points outline the current situation on information security.

Now for the evidence showing otherwise:

A recent survey show that CxOs have a lack of appreciation for CISOs.

One piece stands out, quote:

More than half of the C-suite executives in the survey said that CISOs provide valuable guidance on cybersecurity matters. However, they also felt that their CISOs did not possess enough broad awareness of organizational objectives or business needs to deserve a place at the leadership table.

This just re-iterates the importance of getting security functions aligned with the business.

http://www.csoonline.com/article/2460361/security-leadership/cisos-still-struggle-for-respect-from-peers.html

Adding to this is the fact that C level executives are not aware/don’t believe that cyber security is a priority. The Homeland security in the US thinks otherwise: C level execs need to know that Information Security is a business issue.

http://www.csoonline.com/article/2459642/security0/homeland-security-wants-corporate-board-of-directors-more-involved-in-cyber-security.html

Just as we are good technically, we also need to be able to be proficient on a management level (or get a CISO that is!). By being creative, providing ways to show that information security can provide a return on investment for the business is key to help change this mindset.

The Business as Stakeholders

Summary

  • The business must be involved as stakeholders as they are the owners of the data
  • The business must be made aware of not only the risks but also quantify the fallout
  • Financial, productivity, competition losses, legal or compliance violations are terms that the business understands
  • Any pitch must be at the CxO level in order to filter down to the business

It is easy to throw blame at the business for going out and acquiring systems without IT input however, if the business does not know who to contact to help with the selection process, what are they to do?

Like a high visibility vest, security people must be visible in order to provide protection. You want to be there for the business and come to you when it is too late.

Any security program must work with the business for a number of reasons:

  • Applicability: does the business require a particular security control/countermeasure (you would find out through a risk assessment but it also shows that you understand the business and that they are more likely to work with rather than against you)
  • Practicality: will the security control hinder productivity (if it does the business may complain or worse still, reject/counter act the control)
  • Metrics: the business will be able to provide constructive feedback, this way you can gauge the effectiveness of a countermeasure
  • Consequence: explaining what the consequence from a failure in business terms will help them better understand the importance of the security program

As an example, metadata in public documents would provide information about the internal structure of an organisation which can lead to targeted attacks.

Explaining to the CEO that:

  • what is information disclosure and how it occurs
  • provide a case study: his/her login details can be found in a public PDF that
  • can lead to an attacker being able to social engineer a password reset and
  • accessing the CEO’s email and latest financial statements via VPN
    is a potential risk (this is also another way of obtaining funding for two factor VPN).
  • This will lead to a loss of business confidence, CEO’s privacy and could be used against him in the future…

By pitching this to the CEO, he/she are aware of the risks, losses and can help you with obtaining the resources required for the security program and help leverage your way to send out the security message throughout the organisation.

The importance of strategy, metrics and KPIs

Summary:

  • Security has always been and will continue to be a moving target
  • Information Security has always been and will continue to be a fast moving target
  • Doing ‘security by audit’ only fail. Security strategies are required to adapt to new threats.
  • Strategy, metrics and KPIs must be available and flexible enough to adapt to changes in the business

There are people out there that may remember this:
Centralised computing (Mainframes)->Client/server computing->Centralised  computing(Data centres/virtualisation)->Decentralised computing(Cloud)…

During each stage, information has shifted back and forth between computing models and business boundaries.

What has always been at the core is the ability for any Information Security discipline to identify and secure this information where ever it may be.

There are organisations that are at the cutting edge and there are some that still use mainframes.

If the organisation’s security strategy is to ensure that all systems are behind a perimeter but yet, data is in a 3rd party cloud, the strategy is destined to fail.

This is one the reason why organisations only doing ‘security by checkbox’ continue to get compromised. Iterations of audits/standards must consider change in order to keep pace with the current threat environment. Ticking checkboxes can only provide you with a *baseline* level of security.

Security gaps appear between the last checkbox review and new developments from the adversary.

Strategy or to be precise, Information security strategy is designed to ensure that information remain secure, agnostic of business/computing model.

Strategy should consider and respect the basic security tenets: CIA triad, need to know, data at rest/transit, etc…

Metrics are used to gauge what the current state of play is. Nothing complex, just plain and simple information. Items of interest include: computing equipment, applications, data and associated classifications, etc.

KPIs are used to ensure that any program being implemented meet or exceed the intended level of protection. eg: ‘Strength’ of countermeasure, level of compliance, effectiveness/penetration of policy, etc. This is continuously reviewed based on the security strategy/scope, ie: strategy/scope changes the KPI changes.

As a specific working example (don’t implement to this level of detail, it should be from a higher level)

  • Strategy: ensure that the passwords remain secure and only accessible to me and another person, passwords are to be kept in a centralised location and not transmitted over the wire, etc…
  • Metrics: Who has accessed it? How many times has it been accessed? Number of attempted breaches? Number of successful breaches? etc
  • KPI: Has there been any attempts to gain unauthorised access to the passwords? How long did it take for the breach to be reported? Was it handled promptly and closed?

Without the above, adapting security to a changing environment is an extremely difficult task.