Tag Archives: Security

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.

What makes for a well oiled security strategy

Summary:

  • CIOs/CISOs need to be able to determine and provide a unified communication strategy to other CxOs and staff outlining what needs to be protected, risks associated and how to mitigate these risks.
  • Security efficiency is achieved by integrating as much as possible as normal business functions.
  • To measure the effectiveness of any security program, it must be measurable
  • Scope, timing, statistics and integration is required.

As all good security conscious organisations, you have security policies, security software, procedures, etc is all well and good but how effective is it?

Coming from an incident response/project management background every task is quantified hence (aim), scope, timing and statistics/metrics are extremely important. Integration is to ensure that there is no disjoin between the business and security functions, this also avoids missing out/overlooking security tasks.

The CIO/CISO is steering the security ship, communicate to other C level executives and get their support to communicate to other staff.

Aim needs no introduction, for completeness, the aim is to protect the organisation’s assets by identifying risk against the assets and developing measurable strategies to ensure that the exposure is reduced in the shortest period of time.

  • To understand the impact of the situation and to reduce resource utilization in critical situations, scope is very important,¬†what assets are you trying to save/protect? Prioritise what is critical to the business. This also has the added benefit of getting everyone on the same page by knowing that information staff handle should also be protected accordingly.
  • Timing is critical. Timing is used to test how long it takes before a threat is detected, to see how long it takes to break into a system, time to immobilise incident response teams, to neutralize any threat, determining resourcing consumption/availability, etc.
  • Statistics/metrics is used throughout to determine if a response has a positive effect, milestones are used to determine when to stop neutralising a threat and assist with the next course of action, mark how far a system has been compromised before detection, etc.
  • Finally, much of this should be integrated/embedded into the business ideally through an existing business function. Functions such as system life cycle management, asset management, incident reporting, etc.

If we relate this to a racing team we have the following:

  • Aim: to win the race
  • Scope: only dealing with cars and not trucks etc, prioritise on improving the performance of the car, provide constructive feedback to the driver, etc…also each discreet unit perform a well defined, unique task
  • Timing: it’s a race, quickest team wins, how long each component/process/team is taking
  • Statistics: How fast is fast? How do you know you’ve improved? Where can you improve?
  • Integration: This is what makes the team, every discreet unit works together with a common goal.

What is the end result:

  • business intelligence gained from this can be applied to other disciplines eg: strategy/planning, project management, forecasting/projections, etc thus delivering tangible benefits to the organization
  • business agility can be achieved as changes can be implemented quickly and effectively
  • risk assessment/planning
  • from a security point of view, security visibility will improve, anomalies would be easier to detect, posture is easier to assess, improved delivering simplicity when performing security functions

In the upcoming blogs, we discuss a working example where this can be integrated.

Security is a balance between offence and defence.

Summary:

  • How do you know that your defences are good if you don’t test them?
  • What lengths would your adversaries take to compromise your systems?
  • Adopt the same offensive mentality as your adversary in order to test your defences

You have your security strategy, you know (most of*) your threats/vulnerabilities, you implemented a top-down well oiled security program, policies, procedures, processes, technology, etc. You’re now safe…

Really…?

As mentioned in a previous blog, security must be tested either by you or by your threat.

The Mandiant Threat Landscape report shows that intruders can be on your network for 243 days before being detected. (1)

Let’s be ignorant and ask a few questions:

  1. How did they get through our defences?
  2. Why did it take so long for them to be detected?

etc…

Let’s assume that all the policies and technology is capable of keeping the adversary out, how would *you* know? Business is evolving, computational power is getting cheaper, inter connectivity is expanding, attack information is easily accessible and adversaries adapt. With all of that in mind, is your security program evolving?

This gap between the security program and the adversaries’ capabilities is the current risk to the organisation.

From the last blog, an assessment would have been made to find out an organisation’s assets and threats. As part of the threat analysis, some consideration would have been made to examine the likelihood and the capabilities of the threat.

Risk mitigation will consider the threat analysis then apply the appropriate risk treatment.

A lot of threats could be addressed by going through a ‘checklist’, this would be considered to be a ‘baseline’. However to stop a determined adversary, advanced threats, etc some innovation is required. As a penetration tester, you need to be innovative and think outside of the square to find ways to get in, this is where innovation is practised.

Back to answering question 1, To be a good security professional you have to think like *the* threat, adversary, a pen tester in order to minimise the risk of a threat from compromising your organisation.

As for the second question, it is obvious that the adversary was not detected at the time of entry and that raises other questions: how well oiled is your security program? Is it measurable? Were the right vulnerabilities addressed?

To answer this, you need to put your defensive hat on…

1. https://www.mandiant.com/threat-landscape/

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

You cannot protect what you can’t see

Summary:

  • 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?

etc..

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.

The What, When, Where and Hows of security

What is security?

The objective of having security is to stop and/or limit the pain inflicted on the asset/organization.

Would a desperate car thief stop at the garage door to steal a rare car? Would a storm stop because it would cross international boundaries? Why would a determined person with malicious intent stop if they have a set goal in mind?

When do you know if you are secure?

If the asset is worth securing, how much time, effort, cash are you willing to put in to secure it? What are your threats?

You wouldn’t spend $50 to protect a jar of $3 biscuits against a 5 year old cookie monster. However, with a bit of innovation, it is quite possible to spend $1 to protect a jar of $3 biscuits simply by moving it out of sight.

Where is security placed?

Security must be a core part of what ever asset(s) you are protecting. It must be part of any project design/planning process. Security will cross over departments, systems, etc. Security is not down to one individual, it is a shared responsibility.

What would happen should a family member take down the cookie jar and place it in reach of a determined 5 year old cookie monster?

Is my Security implementation effective?

Security will be tested, if not by you it will be by that one determined individual.

Just like any test, you need to know what is it you’re trying to protect, what you need to be able to measure the effectiveness and the duration of the protection required.

Remember: Security HAS an expiry date! A security strategy must adapt and grow in accordance to the asset that it is protecting.

What good is a moat if your adversary has access to planes and helicopters?

How do I be ahead of the security game?

Innovation, before you can be innovative, you must have the appropriate tools at hand. Policies/Procedures/Information/Statistics/Metrics…

With that in mind, this blog will help anyone that is in charge of an asset that is worth protecting implement a well oiled security plan.

What is Well Oiled Security all about?

We’re here to improve your security maturity model, making it a well oiled machine.

Security…

  • is always evolving
  • is a risk minimization exercise
  • is a core part of the business
  • is transparent to business operations
  • is about accountability
  • involves everyone
  • is measurable
  • starts from the top and works its way down