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. (http://beastorbuddha.com/2007/11/10/the-7-reasons-why-businesses-are-insecure/index.html)
I have rehashed today, as pertinent and timely as ever as it comes to attention this month in our newsletter “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.