The information security sector is rife with negativity and pronouncements of doomsday, and while this title is no better, this blog is not meant to scare, but to provide an alternative view of the worst case scenario; a data breach and resulting forensics investigation. The fact remains that if your data is online, someone has the necessary skill-set and wants it badly enough, they are going to get it. So the sooner you prepare yourself for the inevitable, the better you will be able to prevent a security event from becoming a business-crippling disaster.
By the time you make your environment as hack-proof as humanly possible, the chances are you have spent far more money than the data you’re trying to protect was worth, which in security equates to career suicide. Instead, you are supposed to base your security posture on the only thing that matters; a business need, then maintain your security program with an on-going cycle of test > fix > test again.
Unfortunately what happens in the event of a breach is that you are told what was broken and how to fix it from a technical perspective. This is analogous to putting a plaster / band-aid on a gaping wound. You’re not actually fixing anything. A forensics investigation, instead of being seen as the perfect opportunity to re-examine the underlying security program, is seen as an embarrassment to be swept under the carpet as soon as possible. Sadly, valuable lessons are lost, and the organisation in question remains clearly in the sights of the attackers.
For example, let’s say a breach was caused by an un-patched server. The first thing you do is fix the server and get it back online, but all you have you have done is fix the symptom, not the underlying cause;
- How did you not KNOW your system was vulnerable? – Do you not have vulnerability scanning and penetration testing as an intrinsic part of a vulnerability management program?
- How did you not know your system wasn’t patched? – Is not patch management and on-going review of the external threats landscape also part of your vulnerability management program?
- Did the breach automatically trigger a deep-dive examination of your configuration standards to ensure that your base image was adjusted accordingly?
- Did you fix EVERY ‘like’ system or just the ones that were part of the breach?
- Did your policy and procedure review exercise make ALL necessary adjustments in light of the breach to ensure that individual accountability and requisite security awareness training was adjusted?
- Were Incident Response, Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plans all updated to incorporate the lessons learned?
And perhaps the most important part of any security program; Is the CEO finally paying attention? Ultimately this was their fault for not instilling a culture of security and individual responsibility, so if THIS doesn’t change, nothing will.
If the answer is no to most of these, you didn’t just not close the barn door after horse bolted, you left the door wide open AND forgot to get your horse back!
Most breaches are not the result of a highly skilled and concerted attack, but by those taking advantage of the results of systemic neglect on the part of the target organisation. i.e. MOST organisations with an Internet presence! Therefore, organisations that can work towards security from the policies up, and the forensics report down, have a distinct advantage over those who do neither.
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