Tag Archives: Assets

Canals, Law Firms and InfoSec – Lessons learned from the Mossack Fonseca data breach

Another day, another leak.

This time the victim of the leak is Mossack Fonseca, a Panama Law firm which has been exposed for facilitating shady tax arrangements. The size of the breach is enormous, the volume alone could displace what Panama is traditionally known for, the canal.

Naturally, findings from the breach would never see the light of day but speculation is always fun so…what could we learn from this breach?

1. Trust is king otherwise use identity management and access control

The locks in the canal serve to direct water to the right places.

No one knows if this was an inside job but one thing is certain, ‘John Doe’ who conducted the breach had the motivation to carry out the leak. If this was an inside job, this person would have had a lot of access within the organisation. Identity management, separation of duties and access control limit the amount of data any one individual has access to. In any organisation handling sensitive data, all of this is very important to limit the potential loss of data from a disgruntled employee.

2. Don’t forget physical access

A hole in the lock allows water to seep through where it’s not supposed to.

John Doe could have access to backups, tapes, systems, USB ports, you get the idea.

3. Are you looking – Egress points

If no one is inspecting the locks for leaks, how do you know if there is a problem?

Süddeutsche Zeitung, the newspaper organisation reporting the breach acquired about 2.6 terabytes of data. Let’s assume for a second that the person doing the leak was not an insider who stole mirrored drives from Mossack Fonseca servers or copied the data to a USB hard drive, how did the 2.6 terabytes of data get out?

If it was done remotely, that’s 2.6 terabytes over the wire. If you had a SOC/NOC in a law firm, one thing that you should be keeping an eye out for is mass exfiltration, out of hours transfers and any other anomalous activity. Sure, John Doe could have been drip feeding but with 2.6 TB of data, that would take an excruciatingly long time. If your NOC is not talking to your security team, well, that too is a problem.

4. Data loss protection is not a silver bullet

Just stopping blue coloured liquid will not stop leaks.

Süddeutsche Zeitung reports that the haul consisted of e-mails, pdf files, photo files, and excerpts of an internal Mossack Fonseca database. A quick review of the leaked documents shows that Mossack Fonseca was handling both structured and unstructured data. Documents derived from a predefined template eg: official company letterhead form structured data. Passports, share certificates and other documents that do not adhere to MF’s document management standards is classified as unstructured data. Documents could also be tagged specifically for DLP. DLP works by detecting structured or tagged documents ‘moved’ to an ‘unauthorised’ location where DLP would then block the movement or trigger an alert for further action.

Doing DLP right, MF would have to identify all critical/sensitive documents, tag or convert documents to a standard format before it could be picked up by DLP. This requires a lot of work and failure to do so means that data could slip right under the watchful eye of DLP. Not to mention that there are ways to circumvent DLP which, segways nicely into our final point.

5. Security is like an onion

A failure in one lock should not prevent the entire system from failing.

The hot topic of encryption makes another entrance. Encrypted data makes life hard for inspection based systems such as DLP and that’s assuming that inspection based systems can detect and decrypt the encryption in the first place. A tagged document could be encrypted in a password protected ZIP/RAR/<insert favourite exfiltration format here> and if you’re lucky, inspection based systems may only log the activity. In this scenario, you will need all of the above to reduce the risk of the data breach from occurring.

There may be other lessons learnt from this breach, feel free to share below.



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.

Defining Security Scope: Another way of saying ‘know thy enemy’

You cannot protect what you can’t see


  • Know your assets and threats based on industry, size, image, political, social factors, etc.
  • Conduct high level identification and assessment of the threats
  • Produce suitable mitigation strategies/countermeasures for the threats until the risk is at an agreed level by the business

Without knowing your assets and understanding the threats against your assets it is extremely  difficult if not impossible to protect your environment.

Identifying your assets will be discussed in a later blog. Let’s quickly discuss threats.

Each industry has its specific threats and they range from amateurish to well-funded nation states.

There are models available to help map out what threats your organisation could potentially face.

The areas to consider are:

  • Industry-Is it a high competition industry
  • Size-How large is the organisation?
  • Image-Does the company have a great dependency on its image/brand, what should happen if it were to be compromised?
  • Political-do political events affect the organisation?
  • Social-Is the organisation operating in an environment where social tensions work against the organisation?


Each area has a specific threat and depending on the threat, a suitable risk mitigation strategy should/must be considered, reviewed and implemented.

To put it into perspective, your corner store is probably not going to be targeted by a nation state.

However, a large/vocal pro-Western company may be a target of an anti pro-Western organisation, political affiliation, etc.

For each threat there is a countermeasure, mitigate, accept, insure, delegate, etc.

Once all of this has been considered, a scope can be defined to allow for the security team and affiliates to adhere to and follow.

By understanding the scope, it allows for any organisation to help understand and formulate an appropriate strategy to counter the threats.

Naturally, this will need to be reassessed on a regular basis (think diversification, acquisitions, etc) to ensure that the organisation is protected.