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.


Using Endpoint Security Products against you

Pretty interesting read on several vulnerabilities relating to Symantec Endpoint Protection

The article discuss various means to remotely compromise the management console and plant code in the distribution package.

There are several takeaways here:

  • Given that your security product is supposed to be securing your entire environment, your management console must be locked down, patched, etc.
  • If you haven’t performed an audit on your management console settings, you are asking for trouble. At the very least, explain why you have certain rules in place (file/folder exceptions come to mind)
  • Does your management console have a auditing function? Do you check it?
  • Are the endpoint packages that you create, verified and signed?
  • (To the vendors) Do services really require local SYSTEM to run?
  • If your endpoint product is compromised, you can no longer trust it or the system that it is protecting.

When you’re contractually/legally required to do something, you better do it…

If you happen to be a company in the field of protecting personal information (PI), you would think that you’d take precautions. If your shop cannot do what it says on the tin, customers will flock to others that can.

Especially when you have a court order to do so.

Lifelock an ID Theft protection company received a court order in 2010, quoted by Wired:

Lifelock had been ordered to remedy that situation, but according to the complaint filed today, it has failed to do so.

Not ground breaking news but protecting information involves people, processes and technology. Encryption, password management, need to know, patching are all basic measures not followed.

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?

Project Management Fundamentals

One of the tools required for a consultant is the ability to project manage. The entire engagement may have sub projects, involve a lot of staff and stakeholders all of which increases complexity. Complexity increases the risk profile for engagements, hence any reduction in complexity is always welcome.

Having said that, the core items relating to basic project management are often overlooked. There are legitimate reasons behind this but the truth remains that there is no excuse for not getting things right in the first place. Yes, I’ve been here but hopefully have learnt something from the experience and will not do it again.

This is a short list of common mistakes that some PMs make and tips which I have learnt or have gained from working with some brilliant PMs.

You might ask: What does this have to do with Security?

Security is a rapidly changing area. All security professionals work to very short delivery dates. Mistakes, job reworking, delays are extremely costly, especially in a recovery situation. The importance of ‘getting it right’ the first time is critical!

Define and enforce Scope

Scope creep is a project killer. It happens and could be one of the following (not an exhaustive list): poor planning, inadequate requirement analysis, lack of funding.

Define the boundaries and stick to the scope at all costs, enforce the scope. Don’t allow scope creep to set in. It is a matter of pride, both yours and the project sponsor.

Going the extra mile: if it changes, get the person requesting the scope to justify the change. Discuss alternatives and embed a ‘penalty option’ for the requester. The penalty provides contrast to the alternatives as you will need more resources to get the job done and provides a balanced view of the scope change.

Metrics for everything

How do you know if you hit a milestone if you have no way of measuring it?

Anything that impacts on the project: time, resources, funding, etc. must have a metric.

It provides tangible evidence for a lot of things: due diligence, coverage, costs, elapsed time, you name it.

Going the extra mile: If there is no metric, think of what the goal of the metric is, think of a suitable metric, keep it simple and create one. Sometimes, you can’t retrospectively create a metric. There is no such thing as a small task that should not be measured. Finally, repeatable automation of metrics gathering is a lifesaver!

Do not underestimate the power of the Subject Matter Expert (SME)

Assumptions are risks!

Unless if you are the SME, the SME is your friend. More often than not, they will have a better idea on what is possible (or impossible).

Iterate through each assumption and ask for their input. Where possible and if appropriate, go through the entire plan and show them the bigger picture.

They may also have a better way of doing the task which may improve on delivery. Win-win situation.

Going the extra mile: Engaging SMEs as early as possible will make them feel important and their input would be valuable. Keep in mind, they are SMEs and may not have a PM mindset, so get them to think like a PM, take them to an area free of distractions and ask them, ‘what is required to get the task done? What do you need to get the job done? etc…’.

Dreaded Deadlines

Like scope, stick to it. Enforce a dead line for your subordinates. Deadlines make people accountable. Deadlines are more important when tasks are on the critical path. As mentioned, slippage is expensive.

Don’t consider the deadline as the end of the task, try to get the task done before the deadline, even if you have included contingency time.

Going the extra mile: be people friendly when defining deadlines, don’t call it a deadline. Importantly, to get them to be part of ‘the team’, you have to understand their deadlines, constraints! when you relate to their world, it builds rapport, they are more likely to proactive.
They could also go the extra mile by getting extra resources, re-prioritising your task as a high priority, etc.

Importance of communications

Communication is core to getting everyone working in unison.

Is a phone call necessary, is an e-mail necessary? Consider the criticality of the message you’re trying to send across. Scheduling a meeting, can be done via e-mail and chased by phone if an urgent response is required.

Think closely about the aim of the communication, articulate that clearly.

Everyone is time poor, unless if they really need to know, avoid paragraphs full of information.

Mass communication should be structured in a way that a primary school kid should be able to understand and importantly, acknowledge/follow.

Going the extra mile: important points first (including actions), what the goal is, what is involved, keep it positive, be short and succinct.

While there are may other areas of improvement and each point can be explained in much detail, consider this to be the start of a well oiled consulting/project management experience.

Integrating Security with Asset Management Part 2


  • Business alignment with security projects will help persuade the decision makers to¬† approve and endorse security projects
  • Being creative helps to obtain business alignment

As mentioned, when looking at frameworks eg: ISO27001, SANS top 20, etc. several of them mention Asset Management as an action and it is a task quite high on the list.

Several things will need to be done:

  • Out of scope for this blog but a procurement structure is in place so that staff know who to go to for acquiring equipment.
  • Procurement and security policies, standards and guidelines, covering acquisitions to securing devices in place
  • Policies are communicated to staff

All is good now but how does it provide benefits for the business?

Well, this is where metrics come in.

The decision makers will want to know how successful your project will be and they will be interested in how the project has saved the business money, increased productivity, etc. Metrics is a way to provide this information.

The ability to measure provides opens opportunities to be ‘creative’ with business goals.

Let’s look at business strategies:

  • Saving costs
  • Reducing downtime
  • etc.

Taking the two examples:

  • Saving costs-Asset discovery, license management, lease management, whole of life, power consumption, etc…
  • Reducing downtime-hardware failure, software failure, system performance, etc…

There should be enough information in the Asset Management database to establish metrics to determine the basics:

  • Number of systems
  • Where are they located
  • When systems go out of warranty

Now with some cross matching against other systems you can do things like:

  • Find out which systems have not been on the network for a while and find out where they are (are they in a cupboard, if they are, can they be redeployed saving the cost of purchasing a new system, configuring, etc).
  • Find out which systems are nearing the end of their warranty (if they are going to be out of support, a new system can be pro-actively ordered reducing downtime and for asset management purposes you won’t need to upgrade them, saving time and resources)
  • etc.

All of these are strategies that can be translated to security wins:

  • If you know the system is in storage, you know it requires updates to be compliant or if it is to be deployed to new staff, the status of the device must be updated.
  • If a system is old, there is a good chance that it may have legacy software which may be a security risk

With this intelligence, the asset management would provide a return on investment and help achieve security goals.

Aligning Security with the business: Recent News


  • 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.

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.

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.

Integrating Security with Asset management Part 1


  • First in a sequence of blogs which will outline how to implement security measures with business support.
  • Know what you know and investigate what you don’t know
  • Leverage existing systems but apply some intelligence to achieve security goals
  • Refine by identifying the weaknesses, fix the weaknesses and monitor for improvements.

Simple question: Can you tell me right now, who has disabled their AV?

It’s amazing to find the number of organisations that would not be able to give you an answer to that.

‘You cannot protect what you can’t see’

Consider these scenarios:

  • decentralised procurement/budgets, leading to authorised/unauthorised purchases such as a computer, for one reason or another, the asset is not tracked in the asset register, computer is compromised, leading to security issue.
  • staff connect a custom built system to the network, system gets infected, causes issues on the network, leading to security issue.

I’ve been an advocate of having asset management as part of a security function for quite some time, it may not be managed by the security team but the security team could and should have some input and exposure. Reasoning behind this stem from the implementation of the SANS 20 Critical Security Controls.

The first control is to create an Inventory of Authorised and Unauthorised Devices

The win is that you know what to protect within your organisation, providing the availability of statistics. As mentioned, statistics then can be used for a lot of things: metrics, milestones, forecasting, planning, KPIs, etc.

Remember, before any system is implemented, it is important to note that business support and approval must be obtained otherwise the project will be doomed for failure.

No matter how good your asset management is, you will get rogue purchases, staff circumventing the system. This is where planning, policy and processes are required to stop the leaks.

Not everything has a technological solution, in fact, planning/strategy, policies, procedures and guidelines help drive the technology selection process for an organisation.

Planning/strategy allow for the right decisions to be made so that the company infrastructure can be designed to support the organisation. This also provides uniformity to a common goal for all staff.
Policies are required to steer procurement decisions for the organisation and also used to curb deviations from the corporate norm. (for procurement and delinquent departments)
Standards are defined to ensure alignment with the policies for procurement, IT and all staff. As mentioned, standards are also there for system identification
Guidelines assist planners by outlining what could be used within an environment

With this in place, the laws of the land is set out and referred to by all.

A good resource for policy creation is the SANS Security Policy Project:

The primer is a good read.

Having these in place will help reduce the number of ‘rogue’ devices within the organisation as well as set the framework for a solid asset management system.

The Business as Stakeholders


  • 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


  • 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.