In theory, consumers and businesses could punish Symantec for these
oversights by contracting with other security vendors. In practice, there’s
no guarantee that products from other vendors are well-secured, either
— and there is no clearway to determine how secure a given security
product actually is.
Too many firms take an “appliance” or “product” (aka ‘technology”) approach to security. There’s a saying that’s been attributed to many security specialists over the years but is quite true:
If you think technology can solve your security problems,
then you don’t understand the problems and you don’t
understand the technology.
Its still true today.
The ‘appliance’ attitude is often accompanied by either an unwillingness to do a proper risk analysis and apply organizational changes to make the InfoSec structure self-reliant and where necessary self healing,
that is institute a proper ISMS – which is often quite a lot of initial effort and then ongoing effort, which bring to mind another old quotation:
The biggest problem a security consultant has is getting
managers to perform regular risk assessments. They don’t
want to hear that it’s an on going process. The attitude
was “why bother if I can’t just check it once and be
done with it”.
Not just the risk analysis but the risk management, and treat both as an ongoing cycle. As I say, a proper ISMS is needed – of which ISO27001/2 is a good example – rather than an ‘appliance’ or piece of OTS software such as those mentioned in the article, which often run on a ‘fire and forget’ mode and are installed by a netadmin or hostadmin who has little to no real, meaningful security understanding.
Security is a process not a product
is quite true but understates the case. “Process” mean commitment from the Board and management, which in turn means there is budget to implement the possibly ongoing organizational changes to deal with
changes in the security profile to deal with the changes in technology and threats — as indeed the recent shifts to BYOD and ‘Cloud’ have shown — and the risk management processes, the people and the training.
Companies that are not willing to deal with this are going to suffer.
Breaches and hacks may have, up to now, been an embarrassment and inconvenience, perhaps the cost of sending out notification letters, a short blip in stock value. But consumer awareness is growing, and in
the e-commerce world consumers are coming to expect many basic quality and security baseline features. And that too is an evolving issue. sites like PayPal and eBay devote a lot of energy not simply to security but to the whole process of evolving security, being aware of evolving threats and methods and vulnerabilities.
But its also easy to do it all wrong, to go though the motions with no real results.
We can see that with the way the US Government is dealing with InfoSec and in doing so generating the artificial ‘skills gap’ of InfoSec specialists. What they are doing is demanding the low-level operatives, in effect ‘enhanced’ sysadmins and netadmins who are trained in using the appliances and configuring Windows devices and servers. This is ‘tactical work. What they are avoiding doing is the strategic work, addressing organizational and structural issues, doing proper risk analysis and management, the heavy ‘paperwork’ of implementing ISO27000 or ISO31000. One reason for this is that it is going to be disruptive, “drag them kicking and screaming out of the 19th century”.
We can point quite clearly to various US government departments since they are high profile, well publicized in the media and reports, and quite recidivist, but there are no shortage of other organizations, commercial, NGO and governmental, throughout the world that have implemented just enough “security to say “well that doesn’t apply to me”. All to often that ‘just enough’ is in the form of appliances and OTS software for otherwise poorly configured Windows systems, run by an under-staffed, under-trained (because its under-budgeted and managed by people who don’t understand Risk Management) people. And there’s a lot of “Denial” going on.
This is why I like dealing with first and second tier banks and the large insurance companies that have been around for a long time. They’ve been doing Risk Analysis and management in the meat-world for a long time and segueing that into Cyberspace is no big deal for them. Their main issue is that they have to be a bit un-conservative to deal with rapidly advancing technology.
But as the real world shows, even they aren’t completely immune.
So any organization saying “I’m all right” and “I don’t need to do these things” and “I’m OK with my appliances and OTS software” is deluding themselves.
Related articles across the web
The take-away that is relevant :
Cyber risk should not be managed separately from enterprise or business risk. Cyber may be only one of several sources of risk to a new initiative, and the total risk to that initiative needs to be understood.
Cyber-related risk should be assessed and evaluated based on its effect on the business, not based on some calculated value for the information asset.
A few other things in there too, but those are the leading ones that I think the techie geeks that are attracted to InfoSec need to learn is expressed well in those two phrases. Its not about the technology, its about the business. Its why I hate the term “Cyber-“. Information Security risks existed in the days of typewriters, carbon copies and filing cabinets. Security risks existed in the days of hand written messages and horse-back couriers.
Why do I say this?
Back in my banking days one officer at the bank said
The bank *IS* the computer
I saw his point but ultimately the bank is its dealings with people.
If people loose confidence in the bank, it will fail.
It has happened in the past; it can happen again, and all the
“Cyber-security” in the world won’t help.
Is interviewing is a much better method that self-certifications and a checklist, if time and resources allow.
In the ISO-27001 forum, my friend and colleague Gary Hinson has repeatedly pointed out, and I fully support him in this, that downloading check-lists from the ‘Net and adopting question lists from there is using a solution to someone else’s
problem. If that.
Each business has both generic problems (governments, sunspots, meteor strikes, floods & other apocalyptic threats and Acts of God) and ones specific to it way of working and configuration. Acts of God are best covered by prayer and insurance.
Gary recommends “open ended questions” during the interview rather than ones that require a yes/no answer. That’s good, but I see problems with that. I prefer to ask “Tell me about your job” rather than “Tell me how your job … can be made more efficient”.
My second point is that risk management will *ALWAYS* fail if the risk analysis is inadequate. How much of the RA should be done by interviewing people like the sysadmins I don’t know, but I have my doubts. I look to the Challenger Disaster. I started in the aviation business and we refines FMEA – failure Mode Effect Analysis. Some people think of this in terms of “impact”, but really its more than that, its also causal analysis. As Les Bell, a friend who is also a pilot and interested in aviation matters has pointed out to me, “Root Cause Analysis” no longer is adequate, failure comes about because of a number of circumstances, and it may not even be a single failure – the ‘tree’ fans both ways!
Yes, FMEA can’t be dome blindly, but failure modes that pertain to the business – which is what really counts — and the fan-in/out trees can be worked out even without the technical details. Rating the “risk”: is what requires the drill-down.
Which gets back to Donn Parker‘s point in a number of his books, though he never states it this way. The FMEA tree can be heavily pruned using diligence as he says: standards, compliance, contracts, audits, good practices, available products. The only thing he leaves out are Policy and Training. Policy gives direction and is essential to any purpose, the choice of standards and products, and identifying what training is needed.
All in all, the article at https://blog.anitian.com/flawed-it-risk-management/ takes a lot of words to say a few simple concepts.
In my very first job we were told, repeatedly told, to document everything and keep our personal journals up to date. Not just with what we did but the reasoning behind those decisions. This was so that if anything happened to use kn knowledge about the work, the project, what had been tried and thought about was lost, if, perhaps, we were ‘hit by a bus on the way to work‘.
At that point whoever was saying this looked toward a certain office or certain place in the parking lot. One of the Project managers drove a VW bus and was most definitely not a good driver!
So the phrase ‘document everything in case you’re hit by a bus’ entered into the work culture, even after that individual had left.
And for the rest of us it entered into our person culture and practices.
Oh, and the WHY is very important. How often have you looked at something that seems strange and worried about changing it in case there was some special reason for it being like that which you did no know of?
Unless things get documented …. Heck a well meaning ‘kid’ might ‘clean it out’ ignorant of the special reason it was like that!
So here we have what appear to be undocumented controls.
Perhaps they are just controls that were added and someone forgot to mention; perhaps the paperwork for these ‘exceptions’ is filed somewhere else or is referred to by the easily overlooked footnote or mentioned in the missing appendix.
It has been pointed out to me that having to document everything, including the reasons for taking one decision rather than another, “slows down work”. Well that’s been said of security, too, hasn’t it? I’ve had this requirement referred to in various unsavoury terms and had those terms associated with me personally for insisting on them. I’ve had people ‘caught out’, doing one thing and saying another.
But I’ve also had the documentation saving mistakes and rework.
These days with electronic tools, smartphones, tablets, networking, and things like wikis as shared searchable resources, its a lot easier.
Sadly I still find places where key documents such as the Policy Manuals and more are really still “3-ring binder” state of the art, PDF files in some obscure location that don’t have any mechanism for commenting or feedback or ways they can be updated.
Up to date and accurate documentation is always a good practice!
 And what surpises me is that when I’ve implemented those I get a ‘deer in the headlight’ reaction from staff an managers much younger than myself. Don’t believe what you read about ‘millennials’ being better able to deal with e-tools than us Greybeards.
Perhaps that’s cynical and pessimistic and a headline grabber, but then that’s what makes news.
What I’m afraid of is that things like this set a low threshold of expectation, that people will thing they don’t need to be better than the herd.
An article on Linked entitled ‘The Truth about Practices” started a discussion thread with some of my colleagues.
The most pertinent comment came from Alan Rocker:
I'm not sure whether to quote "Up the Organisation", ("If you must have a policy manual, reprint the Ten Commandments"), or "Catch-22" (about the nice "tidy bomb pattern" that unfortunately failed to hit the target), in support of the article. Industry-wide metrics can nevertheless be useful, though it's fatal to confuse a speedometer and a motor.
However not everyone in the group agreed with our skepticism and the observations of the author of the article.
And Anton aren’t the controls you advocate so passionately best practices? >
NOT. Make that *N*O*T*!*!*! Even allowing for the lowercase!
From the left hand doesn’t know what the right hands is doing department:
Ngair Teow Hin, CEO of SecureAge, noted that smaller companies
tend to be “hard-pressed” to invest or focus on IT-related resources
such as security tools due to the lack of capital. This financial
situation is further worsened by the tightening global and local
economic climates, which has forced SMBs to focus on surviving
above everything else, he added.
Well, lets leave the vested interests of security sales aside for a moment.
I read recently an article about the “IT Doesn’t matter” thread that basically said part of that case was that staying at the bleeding edge of IT did not give enough of a competitive advantage. Considering that most small (and many large) companies don’t fully utilise their resources, don’t fully understand the capabilities of the technology they have, don’t follow good practices (never mind good security), this is all a moot point.
And this doesn’t actually stop them form making use of ‘insider information’ they just have to declare it within 30 days.
No, wait, sorry … you mean that the legislators are saying that legislators shouldn’t do something that is illegal anyway? Or that, if they do something that is already illegal, it is OK as long as they declare it within 30 days? …
It gets worse:
I’d like to claim the system is rigged so ‘the rich get richer’ but if I did that some people who claim they are right wing would accuse me of being left wing. Indeed, this tells me that their political outlook has not progressed since 20 June 1789. This one-dimensional view fails to describe the rich variety of political attitudes in the Washington, never mind the rest of the USA and points elsewhere on the physical compass.
Just those two show we need more that 4 axes to describe a political stance. But as I mentioned in a previous post, journalists are simple-minded and expect the rest of the world to be as limited in outlook and understanding.
Try this test:
How does this all relate to InfoSec, you ask.
Well part of that Political Compass is a view of ‘how authoritarian’.
And that gets back to issues we have to deal with such as Policy and Enforcement, Do We Let Employees have Access to the Internet, and the like.
Hans Eysenk pointed out that the right wing (e.g. Fascism and Nazism) had a lot in common with the left wing (communism). Both are repressive, undemocratic and anti-Semitic. So on these issues, at least, the left-right distinction is meaningless.
How many more such simplistic distinctions such as those foisted on us by journalists are equally meaningless.
Some while ago my Australian fellow ex-pat Les Bell, who apart from being a CISSP is also a pilot, pointed out to me that the method of ‘root cause analysis‘ is no longer used in analysing plane crashes. The reality is that “its not just one thing”, its many factors. We all know that applies in most areas of life.
I suspect most people know that too; its not restricted to the digerati.
There is the old ditty that explains how because of a nail an empire was lost, but no-one is proposing that we fix the failing of the “American Empire” by manufacturing more nails.
Except possibly Journalists.
You gotta love the low-tech solution. It’s really never NOT about people, is it? 🙂
Darn tooting right!
Its always people. Any way you look at it.
Which is why I go on about The 11th Domain.
Why the CBK places so much emphasis on technology when the (ISC)2’s motto is “Security transends technology” and why the “people” aspect, social structures of organizations, behavioural psychology, group psychology and lot more, all of which are “about people” and probably have a greater leverage as far as InfoSec “Getting Things Done” (Especially in a stress-free manner_.
As I said previously, I think we’re doing it wrong; and I don’t mean just Risk Assessment!
Apparently (ISC)2 did this survey … which means they asked the likes of us ….
Faced with an attack surface that seems to be growing at an overwhelming rate, many security professionals are beginning to wonder whether their jobs are too much for them, according to a study published last week.
Right. If you view this from a technical, bottom-up POV, then yes.
Conducted by Frost & Sullivan, the 2011 (ISC)2 Global Information Security Workforce Study (GISWS) says new threats stemming from mobile devices, the cloud, social networking, and insecure applications have led to “information security professionals being stretched thin, and like a series of small leaks in a dam, the current overworked workforce may be showing signs of strain.”
Patching madness, all the hands-on … Yes I can see that even the octopoid whiz-kids are going to feel like the proverbial one-armed paper-hanger.
Which tells me they are doing it wrong!
Two decades ago a significant part of my job was installing and configuring firewalls and putting in AV. But the only firewall I’ve touched in the last decade is the one under my desk at home, and that was when I was installing a new desk. Being a Linux user here I don’t bother with AV.
“Hands on”? Well yes, I installed a new server on my LAN yesterday.
No, I think I’ll scrub it, I don’t like Ubuntu after all. I’m putting
in Asterix. That means re-doing my VLAN and the firewall rules.
So yes, I do “hands on”. Sometimes.
At client sites I do proper security work. Configuring firewalls, installing Windows patches, that’s no longer “security work”. The IT department does that. Its evolved into the job of the network admin and the Windows/host admin. They do the hands-on. We work with the policy and translate that into what has to be done.
Application vulnerabilities ranked as the No. 1 threat to organizations among 72 percent of respondents, while only 20 percent said they are involved in secure software development.
Which illustrates my point.
I can code; many of us came to security via paths that involved being coders, system and network admins. I was a good coder, but as a coder I had little “leverage” to “Get Things Done Right”. If I was “involved” in secure software development I would not have as much leverage as I might have if I took a ‘hands off’ roles and worked with management to set up and environment for producing secure software by the use of training and orientation, policy, tools, testing and so forth. BTDT.
There simply are not enough of us – and never will be – to make security work “bottom up” the way the US government seems to be trying We can only succeed “top down”, by convincing the board and management that it matters, by building a “culture of security”.
This is not news. I’m not saying anything new or revolutionary, no matter how many “geeks” I may upset by saying that Policy and Culture and Management matter “more”. But if you are one of those people who are overworked, think about this:
Wouldn’t your job be easier if the upper echelons of your organizations, the managers, VPs and Directors, were committed to InfoSec, took it seriously, allocated budget and resources, and worked strategically instead of only waking up in response to some incident, and even then just “patching over” instead of doing things properly?
Information Security should be Business Driven, not Technology Driven.
 Or devolved, depending on how you look at it.
- Information Security By the Numbers (michaelpeters.org)
- Malware in Medical Equipment Poses Serious Threat to Hospital Security (eweek.com)
- Re: CISO Challenges: The Build vs. Buy Problem (1:2) (h30499.www3.hp.com)
- Information Security Awareness Through Analogy (clerkendweller.com)
Talk about difficult to read! I hate sites like this, only slightly more than ones that use a completely black background.
A large part of my “11th Domain” bleating is about communication – thinking in terms of the other person, their needs and views and how the ‘message’ you’re sending will be received and interpreted.