Security Risk or Feature Request – Software due diligence – who controls your reputation?

If you can think of a business process nowadays, there’s probably either an outsourced service or off the shelf piece of software that will perform it for you. As part of any outsourcing arrangement, due diligence will be performed. However, what happens when you buy a piece of software?

If an organisation suffers a data breach thanks to an outsourcing partner not living up to their part of the bargain, there’s always the potential to mitigate reputational damage through plausible deniability. However, when you install and manage a piece of software, whatever happens is all your fault, so what can you do to make sure that software vendors take your reputation as seriously as you do?

Security Testing – In an ideal world, software would undergo a rigorous testing regime. Back in the real world though, software will usually undergo an element of functional testing with security testing either being an afterthought or the end user’s problem. Before you buy software that your trusting with your reputation, ask the vendor for their most recent security testing results. If they try to make it your problem, look elsewhere. If they are an open approach (CANVAS LMS is a good example here), stick with that vendor and don’t let them go.

Remediation Process – Ask the vendor for their documented process for actioning vulnerability reports. If the vendor shows your a full process documenting risk assessment and communication procedures including a liberal sprinkling of response timelines, give them a tick in the box for this one. If they give you a blank look, their competitors may want to help you.

Do your own testing – So, if you’ve found the unicorn that is a vendor taking information security seriously, why would you want to do your own testing? Penetration testing arranged by a vendor will often take place in a sterile environment that doesn’t necessarily resemble the real world. A real world configuration may introduce previously undiscovered flaws.

Show me – The cynical part of me strongly believes that if a vendor smells a sale, they’ll. tell you whatever you want to hear, so don’t take them at their word, have them show you that they take the security of your customers’ data seriously.

Performing due diligence is just as important for COTS that could have an impact n your sensitive data as it is for an outsourcing partner. Above all else, if you find a vendor who uses the term “Feature Request” instead of the more commonly used “Urgent Security Fix” run away as quickly as you can – they’re not taking security of your information as seriously as you are!

Bang for Bucks Security – 7 Reasons why Businesses are Insecure (Drazen Drazic CEO)

If we had to pick what the most frequently asked question is that we get asked by CEOs, CIOs, CSOs and other senior IT Management, it would be; what is the quickest way to find out what security risks and exposures their company has. We all know that it’s not that simple but to be fair, it’s a good question if you are starting from a base of nothing.

But you can’t get an decent answer to such a question unless you have decided that you are serious about protecting your information assets. Unless you have these “basics” in place.

Back in 2007 I wrote the post “The 7 Reasons why Businesses are Insecure” on Beast or Buddha. (

I have rehashed today, as pertinent and timely as ever as it comes to attention this month in our newsletter “Bang for Bucks Security”.

Bang for Bucks Security

I won’t start by saying that implementing a strong framework is going to solve all business IT security problems. It won’t, but with one, at least you have one big advantage over now – you have a better picture and understanding of where your problems may lie and you’re less likely to be taken by surprise.

At present, most organisations have little understanding of the risks they face – where they are exposed, what they are exposed to and how these exposures could impact the business! So what are the problems?
1. Management and Governance – If the CEO and Senior Officers of the business do not ultimately own the responsibility and accountability for the security of the business, then it just does not get the appropriate attention. When we do “State of Security” reviews for our clients, we pretty much have 90% of our report written after the first hour if we find this layer of the framework not in place. ie; you can be guaranteed that if there is not an effective and ongoing management and governance layer in place, overall security within the organisation is weak. Matt Jonkman in a previous interviews with me  iexplains it well;

“Security is the CEO’s problem. The security engineers are the tools the CEO should be employing. CEOs should be directly involved in the risk decisions far more than I see on average. They need to know not exactly what technically is going on, but exactly what risk is being introduced or mitigated. It’s security 101. They should be involved from the ground all the way to incident response. It is NOT the security engineer’s decision whether to spend money to mitigate a risk based on what the impact might be. It’s the CEO that should know what that impact would mean in dollars, and how many dollars are available to be expended. I think these things are far too often delegated from officers of a company to managers without the proper oversight and long term involvement.”

2. Environment Awareness – It never ceases to amaze me how many organisations will promote being secure and having strong IT security practices and controls in place, yet not have a clear understanding of their environment. How can you say you are secure if you don’t know what it is that you supposedly protect? Most organisations have little idea about what they own – ie; IP address ranges, networks, systems and applications. Few have assigned data and system owners to all parts of the environment.

3. Policies and Standards – Most companies now have security policies and standards but are they of much value? If you don’t have an effective management and governance layer in place to own, manage, maintain and enforce good practice and if you have gaps in awareness of what makes up the corporate environment, how good are they?

4. Policy Compliance and Awareness – Policies and standards are all good and well but if you’re not doing what you say you should be doing, the security program is useless. Stating the obvious I know, but this is the story more often than not from our experience.

5 . Assurance Program – Few organisations “test” to confirm they are doing what they say they should be doing. ie; testing the effectiveness of the above mentioned layers of the framework. An ongoing assurance program helps to identify issues arising from the deployment of new technologies and problems from weak practices in existing technologies. Few organisations do:

1. Ongoing environmental scoping – mapping and keeping up to date records of what their environment is.
2. Ongoing vulnerability assessment and management – a proactive VA program helps identify issues before they become a problem.
3. Regular security testing of key systems and applications, including penetration testing and application reviews.
4. Security review of new systems before they go into testing and production. 90% of newly deployed web applications in our experience have critical security issues yet organisations still trust that their developers understand security and don’t test….scary!
5. Review of the their policies and standards – are they relevant, up to date and cover the scope of the complete business environment?
6. Review of the effectiveness of the compliance program(s). Testing to see if what the organisation says should be done is being done.

6. Incident Management and Response – If any of the above fails and an incident occurs. (Assuming the organisation knows an incident has actually taken place, and take the tip, most companies have no idea unless it’s one that has walked right up to them and slapped them in the face). Most organisations have little or nothing in the way of documented and tested response plans. (Lets add DR to this also). How can an organisation quickly and effectively respond to something if there is no plan?

7. Strategy and Performance Assessment – In any strategic planning cycle, performance and strategy re-assessments are a vital component in keeping a strategy effective and up to date. Few organisations take a holistic view when assessing the effectiveness of their IT security strategy. I know “metrics” and performance assessment in the IT security industry has been debated since day 1, but lets not confuse systems and detection metrics, as a couple of examples, with “strategy” level review.

An IT Security strategy should encompass a set of metrics that include benchmarks across the various phases and sub-phases of the strategy. The goal of the metrics is to help; define the strategy framework, communicate the strategy (by specifying performance measures), track performance (by collecting valuable information pertinent to the phase of strategy), increase accountability (by linking metrics to performance appraisals and business plans) and to align objectives of individuals, teams and the organisation itself. In most cases this is easier said than done but investigation should still be undertaken into the creation of a metrics and strategy re-assessment process that covers at a minimum;

1. Articulation of the Security Strategy.
2. Translating Strategy into Desired Outcomes.
3. Devising Metrics.
4. Linking Metrics to Leading and Lagging Indicators.
5. Calculating Current and Target Performance.
(based on work done by Rayport and Jaworski, eCommerce)

The 7 layers above form the Strategic Security Management Framework (SSMF). It’s a framework we developed some time ago to assess the effectiveness of IT Security practices in an organisation. It’s a framework that we still use today. It’s a framework that many of our clients now adopt.

By nature of doing business electronically, an organisation cannot remain secure without a proactive plan / strategy that takes a holistic and enterprise view of the risks the organisation faces.

A strategic framework is vital in the field of security management because it provides a structure to help analyse the complex requirements and highlights the dimensions of importance. An effective strategic security management framework is vital in describing the business’ short and long term plans to; secure its environment, what its goals are, how it plans to achieve those goals and how it will continue to achieve new goals required to keep pace with evolving security challenges. It should be linked to other strategies within the business such as relevant components of the overall corporate strategy and the IT strategy and functional strategies that will evolve from the security strategy itself.

As I said, managing security around a framework will not in itself solve all the problems but it is the start. Without one, organisations will continue to flounder around a bunch of disjointed practices, rarely relating to other practices and with little context to the overall objectives of securing a whole business environment.

This is where busineses are failing today.

Regulation and Compliance – It’s all relative and what you are used to…

This old Beast or Buddha post from 2009, our CEO, Drazen Drazic looked at regulation and compliance. It’s worth reviewing again and seeing where we stand in 2013 as the Government starts to follow the likes of the US now in terms of assessing whether more regulation and compliance is needed.

We welcome your thoughts and comments….

Continue reading

Mandatory Data Breach Notification

With the discussion again starting about Australia’s position on Mandatory Data Breach Disclosure (, we presented the following to the government in 2012 when RFC was opened in regards to this potential legislation. What are your thoughts?


The following are our [Securus Global] thoughts on Mandatory Data Breach Notification, in response to the Discussion Paper: Australian Privacy Breach Notification (Oct, 2012).

Organisations most likely to be affected by the introduction of such laws also tend to already have better information security and privacy policies in place.

Where we are coming from: If you have good practices and controls in place, you’re probably also more likely to detect a breach and would, under these new laws, have to openly disclose. (Fair enough).

Continue reading

Cyber Crime Act 2001

If computer “hacking”/penetration testing is something you are interested in, and to make a career of it to work with a reputable company to test the security of companies’ environments, as we’ve said before, contact us for information on how you can get started and we’ll help you with areas of study. Most people start off on their own and become self-taught until a certain stage where it helps to join the likes of a Securus Global. If you fit into any of these categories, here’s the document you should read first. Don’t get yourself into trouble. Learn the law:
Download the Cybercrime Act and understand the scope of boundaries of what you can do on your own. And if in any doubt about your research, don’t do it…check with people who know first.

New PCI DSS requirements will come into effect on June 30

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is a requirement set down by several of the world’s leading payment card providers for any retailer who processes debit or credit card information.

However the scope of PCI DSS compliance, and the fact that individual requirements vary depending on the size of a company, can often make it confusing for businesses to understand.

And it may soon become even harder to internally evaluate PCI DSS compliance with new updates coming into effect on June 30.

Retailers will now be required to “establish a process to identify and assign a risk ranking to newly discovered security vulnerabilities”, according to the security standards council – something which was previously only considered a best practice.

This means that businesses will not only have to be aware of and understand vulnerabilities, they must also be able to rank those vulnerabilities based on the relative risk to their systems.

The importance of having a secure system for managing payment card information has been highlighted in the media lately, with news breaking earlier this week (June 26) that the US Federal Trade Commission has filed a lawsuit against Wyndham Worldwide, accusing the hotel group of not properly securing customer information leading up to the theft of 600,000 payment card accounts.

Facebook donates $10 million as part of privacy class-action settlement

Facebook has become the latest company to pay the price for not properly considering the privacy of users.

The social media giant has agreed to donate US$10 million to charity as part of a legal settlement reached in May.

The proposed class-action lawsuit was brought on by five users, who argued that Facebook had violated their right to privacy by publicising their ‘Likes’ on paid advertisements without permission.

However, Facebook may have got off lightly. A study conducted in January 2011 by Edison Research found that 51 per cent of Americans aged 12 and over – or around 160 million people – were now using Facebook.

Had the lawsuit included every one of those users, Mark Zuckerberg’s empire may have been facing billions of dollars in payments.

Companies who operate in the online environment have a responsibility to protect the privacy and secure information of clients.

But as new technology emerges and businesses find new ways to interact with customers, companies may find themselves left with unexpected vulnerabilities.

If you’re concerned about the privacy of your client information, then a due diligence assessment is an excellent way to review the security protocols of your business.

A security due diligence assessment is a third party evaluation of the threats and compliance gaps in your system, and provides you with a thorough list of recommendations aimed at ensuring complete user privacy.

PCI DSS plays an important role in business operations

The importance of having the correct systems in place to handle commercial payments has been discussed at a leading economic forum.

In an address to the Australian Payments Clearing Association (APCA) on May 28, the governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), Glenn Stevens, has explained how various organisations have been instrumental in delivering a safe trading environment.

While in previous decades the majority of business transactions took place using written cheques and certificates, the digitisation of many accounting processes meant that entire industries were now able to interact and close sales on a faster turnaround.

However, with new developments came the need to provide regulation and balance to the transaction clearing processes.

While the larger end of the scale is governed by the Payment Systems Board (PSB), the payment card industry data security standard (PCI DSS) is used to ensure commercial enterprises are processing and storing their client’s information in a compliant manner.

Mr Stevens explained that the PSB was responsible for “the stability of financial market infrastructure” and was largely focused on high-value payments” in financial markets and the local stock exchange and currency markets, rather than daily transactions between client and business.

He went on to say that a number of developments meant that the RBA and the PSB were facing increased levels of change.

Most notably, the need to meet the “global push to strengthen financial regulation in the wake of the global financial crisis” was becoming a high priority – with investor confidence and market stability on the line.

Mr Stevens asserted: “All this means financial market activity that is important to Australia will be increasingly reliant on centralised financial market infrastructure.”

“Hence the resilience of that infrastructure will be critical, and the obligation of the official sector to provide proper oversight to ensure that resilience will correspondingly increase.”

It is easy to see how Mr Steven’s comments can also relate to smaller operations – with the systems in place at a company having a direct impact on both the capacity and image of the enterprise as a whole.

Meeting the standards set out by the PCI compliance council not only helps to protect the daily operations of a business – it also ensures that the infrastructure it has in place helps to deliver services that actively improves on client confidence.

As Mr Stevens explained: “This is a continuation of a trend that has been under way for some time, and to which we have already responded with a significant boost in the resources we devote to these issues within the Bank.”

We are not enemies. Do not be afraid.

It’s a natural reaction. You receive a security test report only to find that there are security issues with your system. You immediately start plotting ways to cover them up, smooth them over, and remove them from record. Stop!

Every security consultant has experienced this reaction and every security consultant worth a damn has told their client that it’s okay. Just like functional bugs, security issues are a fact, a certainty of complex software, and the best way to deal with them is out in the open.

It’s not your fault

As the person responsible for a system, whether management, operations, development or testing, it’s easy to be defensive and shift blame. The reality is it’s almost never important whose fault a security issue is, and even when it is, it’s unlikely to be your fault alone. And even then, it’s just not productive. Continue reading

Aus-US alliance to combat cyber crime

A new collaboration between Australia and the United States will improve cyber security standards at home – as well as across the globe, according to Nicola Roxon.

The Australian attorney-general, who is also the minister for emergency management, stated last week (May 18) that recent discussions between US and Australian policymakers in Canberra spelled good news for cyber security management.

Roxon said: “Countries everywhere are increasingly reliant on critical infrastructure such as telecommunications, which enables online activities that contribute to global commerce and trade and play an increasingly important role in national security.”

She added that while such activities have a widespread benefit to the Australian and US economies, they also pose new risks and challenges when it comes to cyber security management.

The two nations will work closely in the coming years to actively combat malicious activity in the online space – and will meet regularly to discuss effective strategies for cyber security co-operation. The May 18 statement of cyber security intent follows a number of other statements jointly signed between the United States and Australia that will foster greater collaboration when tackling international crime.

According to Roxon, the latest collaboration will primarily centre around digital control systems and other aspects of critical infrastructure.

Under the new agreement with the United States, the two countries will create collaborative education and training opportunities , as well as an exchange of information – such as IT and cyber security best practices.

National cyber incident response teams in both nations will also work closely with one another to share information and awareness on specific cyber security incidents and issues. Representatives from Australia and the US will meet annually for progress reviews – identifying successes and challenges.

Earlier this year, Roxon also announced the creation of an Australian branch of CREST – the Council of Registered Ethical Security Testers.

This represents another significant collaboration with international security efforts – CREST Australia is affiliated with CREST Great Britain, which requires its members to meet competency requirements by passing a series of exams.

CREST Australia’s role is to create and enforce the ground rules for Australian cyber security testing – a move that will ensure penetration testing and other work carried out by security professionals is carried out to a recognised standard.

In March, Roxon asserted that the creation of CREST Australia would establish clear and uniform cyber security testing standards.