If AI is the Answer, You’ve Asked ALL the Wrong Questions

For those reading this who are cybersecurity professionals (and who else would read this crap?); In your entire career, have you ever come out of the back-end of a risk assessment and said; “We need Artificial Intelligence.”


I seriously doubt it, unless you happen to sell artificial intelligence, or more likely, you’re trying to pass off your product as artificial intelligence.

But let me just clarify before I continue whining; AI is exciting as Hell, and I cannot WAIT to see what comes next. I am not in the ‘Skynet’ camp, and I even disagree with people a thousand times smarter than me. No, not my wife (this time), but the likes of Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates and Elon Musk, all of whom have issued their own warnings/predictions on the subject. I think AI is going to make our lives better in almost every way. Almost.

But not in cybersecurity at the organisation level. Not yet. Most businesses simply don’t have anywhere near the foundations in place to implement it appropriately, let alone effectively. Implementing any technology on top of broken processes and/or an indifferent security culture may only serve to make things worse.

I can see it in working the threat intelligence arena, where a behemoth like Alphabet – and their mind-boggling access to almost everything -, can fund something like Chronicle. But this is just one small part of a security program, feeding into the ages-old clichés of ‘defence in depth’ or ‘layered security’. AI is certainly not the panacea those with a vested interest would have you believe. Basically, if you don’t have the same access and deep pockets as Alphabet, you should be probably be focusing on the hundreds of other things you should have done long before now.

And even if there was an AI ‘appliance’ that you could just plug-and-play on your network, do you honestly think the bad guys won’t work out how to circumvent it with some AI tricks of their own? Regardless of the technology, the good guys always have to play by the rules and the bad guys will always do whatever it takes. This is not a fight we are EVER going to win, so stop trying. The only thing we can do, and the sole premise of my career, is to minimise the damage. Security folks are the definitive guys bringing a knife to a gunfight. But we will fight.

This is neither cynical, nor a cop-out, it’s reality, and spending money on a technology you’ll never understand, or maintain yourself, is not going to change that.

But none of this will stop organisations spending money on nonsense. On the one side you have product vendors, technology-centric consultants, hype in the press, and indifferent CEOs. On the other side, you have the ages-old security basics and a very limited number of stubborn practitioners. It’s not really that surprising that acronyms and the latest shiny-things get all the attention, just unfortunate.

In fact, it’s no different from ‘get rich quick schemes’ or ‘diet pills’, there are very few shortcuts to wealth and none to losing weight. Both involve getting off your lazy arse and doing something. So does security.

But most of all I simply can’t abide vendors who try to fit every single problem into the one thing they can do. From operationalising the whole of GDPR with ISO 27001, to solving every limitation of digital payments with biometrics, the attraction of the silver-bullet is just too much for some to resist. AI and machine learning are the latest purveyors in a long line of empty promises.

Perhaps I’m no better, all I can do is help you implement the basics. But I’ll guarantee what I’m selling is a damned sight cheaper and significantly more permanent! 🙂

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WPA2 / KRACK, and the Coming Storm of Marketing BS!

This is going to be my shortest blog ever, because basically it’s just a warning: IGNORE THE MARKETING BULLSHIT AND THE DOOMSDAY JOURNALISTS!

Every time there is an outbreak of malware, or a new vulnerability exposed, or a protocol deprecated, the marketing departments of every security vendor go into overdrive. Their only goal; to make more money. Not to help, not to provide sound advice so that people don’t make bad decisions based on FUD, and not even because they know what the Hell they’re talking about.

Just money.

And the newspapers do what they do best; create panic with little to no understanding of the subject.

Yes, WPA2 has likely been broken, but because of the integrity of the researcher who discovered it we won’t have any information about it until later today. Which means we currently have no idea of the impact.

Apparently this is the guy you need to be watching;

So here is what I would be doing right now if I were you:

  1. Determine what the impact would be on your organisation is WPA2 were truly broken;
  2. Update EVERY relevant device, as by now most of the bigger manufacturers should have a patch or a workaround;
  3. Tell your entire employee base NOT to panic, but they too should update their home computers (anti-malware etc.), mobile devices and home routers;
  4. Update your incident response plan to cover any issues.

The one thing you should NOT do is be part of the problem! Don’t spread rumours, spread fact, and be part of the SOLUTION! Share this blog if you want, or at least articles like it.

The security industry is rapidly becoming a bunch of used car salesmen, let’s each do our part to get THIS one right.

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Ransomware, Stop Focusing on the Symptoms!

Once again, a ransomware outbreak (WannaCry) has dominated the media headlines, and cybersecurity vendors are scrambling to capitalise. At the time of this writing, the top 3 spots on Google to the search phrase ‘ransomware’ are 2 vendor ads, and one ad for cyber insurance. All but one thereafter on page 1 results are doom and gloom / blamestorming ‘news’ stories. The one exception? Good old Wikipedia.

This is the exact same thing that happened the last time there was a ransomware attack, and the time before, and is the exact same thing that will happen the next time. Because there will be a next time.

From the Press’s perspective, this is just what they do, and you’re never going to see headlines like; “NHS Goes 6 Months Without a Breach!”, or “NHS Blocks Their 1,000,000th Attempted Hack!”. Only bad stuff sells, and frankly no-one gives a damn about cybersecurity unless they’re a victim, or they can make money off it.

I have dedicated many blogs to the criticism of cybersecurity vendors for being little better than ambulance chasers. This blog is no different. So let’s be very clear;

Ransomware is NOT a TECHNOLOGY problem!!

If your organisation is the victim of an attack, 99 times out of 100 it’s entirely your fault. Either your people, your process, or a combination of both were inadequate. And I’m not talking about your security program not being cutting-edge/best of breed, I’m talking about it being wholly inappropriate for YOUR business. It does not matter what business you’re in, you have a duty of care to know enough about security to address the issues.

Yes, the bad guys are a$$holes, but we’ve had bad guys for millennia and they will always be part of the equation. Security is, and has always been, a cost of doing business, so sack-up and take responsibility. And if you aren’t even doing the security basics, not only will technology be unable to help, but you deserve what you get.

Harsh? Yes, absolutely, because they basics don’t bloody well cost anything! Not in capital terms anyway. It takes what I, and every other like-minded consultant out there have been preaching for decades;

Common sense!

  1. Don’t keep your important files on your computer –  Keep your data on external encrypted hard drives and/or cloud drives. If it’s not ON your system, you can’t lose it. In a perfect world you can Forget the Systems, Only the Data Matters.
  2. Patching – Your systems would have been immune from WannaCry if you have installed a patch made available by Microsoft in MARCH! I could rant for hours about this one, but there’s no point. You know you should be patching your systems, and if you don’t know that, you are clearly not from this planet. Your laptop or you PC is just a means to manipulate the data. Ideally you should completely reinstall your PC/laptop every 6 months to ensure that you have only 1) the latest and greatest versions of everything, 2) no extraneous crap you no, longer use/need, and 2) no hidden malware.
  3. Back-Ups – I don’t care how little you know about computers, if you have one and are online, you damned well know you should be backing up your data. And not just to one location, several locations. Everyone from your operating system, to your bank, to your grandkids have told you about back-ups, so there’s no excuse.  External hard drives are cheap, and the online Cloud drives are numerous. Use them all. Yes, I know this is different for a business, but not much.
  4. Don’t open every attachment you get – I feel stupid even writing this one, and it’s not just me talking from a position as a security professional. This is me talking from the position of someone who can read.

So from an organisation’s security program perspective, if you’d had 4 basics in place, WannaCry would not have been an issue:

  1. Policies, Standards and Procedures – The dos, don’ts, how-tos, and what-withs of an organisation;
  2. Vulnerability Management – where patching sits;
  3. Incident response – where back-ups sit; and
  4. Security Awareness Training – self-explanatory


SOME technologies can make this stuff easier / more efficient, but fix the underlying processes and people issues first. That or get yourself a huge chunk of cyber insurance.

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Cybersecurity Collage

Without 3rd Party Security ‘Vendor Brokers’, AWS and Azure May Not Be For You

…at least for PCI anyway. It’s just too damned difficult to get all the security wrappers PCI requires without Vendor Brokers.

Cybersecurity has now be made too complex – by security vendors – to be able to mix-and-match with individual vendors from the AWS/Azure marketplaces. I don’t know of any single vendor who can cover even a majority of the PCI requirements related to platforms.


  1. Firewall Management;
  2. Configuration Standard(s);
  3. Anti-Virus;
  4. Vulnerability Management;
  5. Patching;
  6. Access Control;
  7. Authentication Mechanism(s);
  8. Logging & Monitoring;
  9. Web Application Firewall; and
  10. File Integrity Monitoring

There are many reasons for this, one of which is that ever since security became a multi-billion £/$/€ a year industry, hundreds of companies have started up to try bring us the ‘silver bullet’ appliances.  Not only do silver bullets not exist in cybersecurity – and you should be shot for using the phrase in any way that’s non-derogatory – but where are the overwhelming majority of those companies now?

They either failed, or have been ‘collected’ by larger companies who have tried to duct-tape the disparate products into silver-bullet solutions.

Which have also failed.

It’s not that the original products didn’t work, some of them actually did, it’s that;

  1. Organisations threw technology at business problems without knowing why they were doing it;
  2. The big companies that collected the smaller ones tried to integrate the individual products together under one GUI, instead of unifying the functionality under a single code base; and
  3. There has never been, and there never will be, a one-size-fits-all solution to security.

But the market is still ripe for innovation, and there will continue to be companies starting up with the goal of bringing a single product to market that will catch the latest security hype/wave/buzz and make them their fortunes (UEBA for example).  They may even succeed, but only if they make their impact in the first year or two, otherwise the market will have moved on.

And if they’re VERY lucky, the larger companies will be naive / ignorant enough to buy them and save them the trouble.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against combining single products into a larger solutions. In fact it’s the only way to go, but only if it’s done correctly.  Single product companies have 100% focus, which gives them drive, short-term goals, and a dedication to making their one product the best. The second you absorb that company however, every one of those attributes that put them on (or near) the top, are lost in the larger mix.  The functionality is diluted, innovation ceases, and the the whole thing quickly becomes obsolete.

True integration of functionality can only be accomplished with a single code base, and a single platform, which means that any organisation that absorbed the smaller companies better have a plan in mind to migrate not only the applications over to their growing solution, but they will need to consider all of the clients who bought the product prior to the M&A.  These guys often suffer from a total lack of customer service and support, and there’s no way they’ll buy into the larger program.

In my experience, the due diligence necessary to combine product companies is not overly abundant, and until it is, we should all be VERY careful when we look to resolve our security issues with multi-function solutions.

I call these Vendor Brokers ‘collage companies’, as the picture might be pretty, but it’s in no way whole.

Here are a few questions you might want to ask your potential providers;

  1. Can your solution replace some / most of my current functionality?
  2. Do you provide a consultancy ‘wrapper’ around these solutions to help us manage them against our business goals?
  3. Will the output from your solution feed into my current collection mechanism, or can my current output feed into yours?
  4. Are the various aspects / functions of your solution ‘home grown’, or obtained through acquisition?  If acquisition, how have you unified the back end code and platforms?
  5. How do you ensure that the different functions of the solution receive a similar attention to what the single product vendors provide?
  6. Do you have a single customer support process to handle all functionality questions?

Regardless of the shenanigans going on in the security product market, your choice of Vendor Broker should only be driven by what your risk assessment and gap analysis said you need, and your due diligence should cover any requirements you may have regarding integration and ongoing maintenance.

If is doesn’t, don’t expect Vendor Brokers to help, they have enough problems keeping their own houses in order. 

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PCI L1 Service Provider

From FinTech Concept to PCI Compliant in 6 Months?

Anyone wanting to start a new business in FinTech/payments – digital wallets for example – has to address PCI. Like it not, payment cards are still the dominant form of non-cash payment on the planet. By far.

So what if you have a great idea in this amazing world of opportunity, but your skill-set is in payments and innovation, and not IT or cybersecurity. How do you get your service to market, AND play by the rules? Can you do this in time to be ahead of game given the incredibly short timeframe of today’s competitive advantage?

Well, you could just self assess, but you are restricting yourself to a maximum of 300,000 transaction annually.  But more importantly, would you trust your money to a service provider who self assesses? No, neither would I.

However, I’m talking about full Level 1 Service Provider compliance through a reputable QSA (yes, there are some out there). How can you set up the infrastructure, get all the documentation in place, AND get all the way through a PCI DSS Level 1 assessment in 6 months? And if you do, have you really done it properly?

The answer is yes, you can, but there are MANY caveats, and if you deviate from these steps you will not get there. I am only interested in helping organisations get compliant properly, I have no interest in adding more crap service providers to the ecosystem.

First, you have to completely ignore the PCI DSS. Any plans you make to design both your physical infrastructure and your security program from scratch must be with real security in mind. Never compliance alone. For that, many organisations turn to the ISO 27001 standard. There are others, but try finding affordable consultants who can help you implement them. As long as you realise they are all just frameworks, not step-by-step instructions, then you’re ready to start asking questions.

So What Are the Steps to Compliance?


  1. Get Help – This should be no surprise. I don’t perform emergency appendectomies, I’m not remotely qualified, why would you try to achieve compliance when that’s not your experience or skill-set. Yes, is can be expensive, but nowhere near as expensive as any of the alternatives. There are some very good consultants out there, do your homework and find the best one for you.
  2. Outsource the Infrastructure – Unless you’re an expert in everything from hardened operating systems, to logging and monitoring, to firewall management, you will want to outsource as much of the platform as you possibly can. Unfortunately, finding a single provider who can take on anything more than physical hosting and some networking stuff is still ridiculously difficult. Amazon Web Services (AWS) for example is about as bad as you can get. Unless of course you want a dozen or so independent service providers to manage along with Amazon.
    You MUST ask the right questions, and this is where your  consultant comes into play. S/he will write your RFP, interview providers, and eventually produce a responsibility mapping of services against the PCI DSS. This will match their Attestation of Compliance, as YOU should only do business with L1 PCI compliant service providers.
    You are welcome to use my mapping if you don’t have one: PCI DSS v3.2 SP Responsibility Mapping
  3. Policies, Standards & Procedures – You have to start somewhere, so you will likely want to buy a Policy Set. Once again, you have to be very careful as there are dozens of options but few will be fit for purpose. In this case, ‘fit for purpose’ means the service must 1) get you through compliance, 2) provide a platform for your unique culture, and 3) be self-sustainable for the long-term.
    If you buy a Policy Set with ‘PCI’ in the title, you have already failed. Buy one that your consultant can customise on your behalf, and then teach you to manage yourself. Get one that; 1) Is already mapped to both the PCI DSS and your chosen framework (usually ISO 27001), 2) has document management built in (numbering, content standards, assigned coordination etc.), and 3) is easily distributed to the subject matter experts best placed to maintain them.
    I have written a quasi-white paper on how to choose the right the right service, you use the questions as an RFP: ‘Selecting the Right Policy Set
  4. Hire a Completely Independent QSA – While it may be very tempting to have your consultant take care of all the ‘PCI stuff’, bite the bullet and keep these separate. No, you don’t have to be an expert in this stuff, but if you are relying completely on your consultant you are building in a single source of failure. By all means have your consultant run with the assessment, but be involved. If you don’t, you’ll have no idea what you paid for in the first place. In fact, you may even want to build in some SLAs regarding how much remediation is required from by QSA. There will always be some, but if it involves significant scope creep or capital cost, your consultant has failed you. Remember, you have outsourced almost the entire function of PCI to your platform provider, validation of compliance should be a formality.

Of course this is oversimplified, but I’m already way over my self-imposed word limit. However, while I haven’t included any of the inevitable challenges, the process is a simple as security itself, it’s up to you to find someone who can make it simple.

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