Buzzwords Are Killing Real Security!

If you’re a security professional and there’s a new phrase or product going around with which you are unfamiliar, there’s a better than even chance you won’t need that thing. Ever.

The reasons are myriad, but the major offenders are:

  1. It’s something that product vendors invented to scare you into thinking you’ve missed something; [e.g. Advanced Persistent Threats]
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  2. It’s something Gartner was paid to promote into a magic quadrant of some sort, [e.g. most of Gartner’s output]
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  3. It sells column inches, or;
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  4. It’s something you already have but now it has a sexier name. [e.g. Logging and Monitoring is now Security Incident and Event Management (SIEM)]

For me, this pet peeve started with ‘The Cloud’. Suddenly everything had to be “In The Cloud”, that adoption of Cloud-based services was the only way to stay up with your competition …blah blah blah. Basically The Cloud was the only way you were going to stay in business in the digital age.

“But wait David!” I hear you gasp; “Isn’t The Cloud just an application on the Internet? Haven’t we had this capability for, I don’t know, DECADES!?!” Why yes Dear Reader, we HAVE had this capability for decades, but clearly you didn’t know you needed it until it had a fancy name and had vendors shoving the concept down your throat!

I know of organisations who quite literally renamed their ‘Managed Security Services’ to ‘Cloud Security Services’ without changing a SINGLE piece of infrastructure or a single process. And yes, this hid all manner of sins, but for some reason the new name stopped clients asking difficult questions like; “Can you tell me how it works?”

By sheer coincidence, I gave a webinar last week titled “Ignore Future Attacks, Fix Your Broken Security Program First”, it could just as easily be called “Ignore Buzzwords, Fix Your Broken Security Program First” and the content would be almost identical. We need to stop focusing on the new when we usually don’t even know what assets we’re trying to protect, who has access to what, or what any given system should look like from a normalised perspective.

Business needs information in context in order to compete, and the data that makes up that information is stored somewhere on a physical system. I don’t care if it’s virtualised, containerised or whatever-ised, it’s still a piece of hardware running an operating system sitting in a room somewhere (yes, I know it can be distributed). Nevertheless, there is NOTHING you need outside of an established good security practice to protect this data from what’s out there now, and what will be out there in the future. REGARDLESS of its name!

Segmentation, configuration standards, access control, logging and monitoring and a host of other old fashioned and boring names all boil down to one thing; baseline. What should a system look like all day every day, and how do I report anything different. No innovation in security capability (i.e buzzword) will be of any use whatsoever if you don’t have the basics right, because you’ll have no idea what you have, let alone how it should normally behave.

Ignore the hype, ignore the press, ignore Gartner and their ilk, focus on the stuff that you’ve likely relegated to a ‘previous generation’s problems’. They are still your problems too.

All About the Data

Forget Cyber, Forget Cloud, It’s ALL About the Data!

Ever wonder why data breaches are now called cyber attacks, or an application on the Internet is now called The Cloud? It’s for the same reason that Coca Cola is constantly changing it’s ‘look’, adding ‘new’ flavours of what is basically the same sugary mess. And why they’ve changed their slogan FORTY SEVEN times in their 125 year history;

To keep things fresh, to keep you thinking about them, and of course, to help you spend money.

So is this necessarily a bad thing for the field of information security? The answer is clearly no if these marketing ‘tricks’ actually help keep you secure though valid awareness programs and good services. But a resounding YES if it’s just a new buzz-phrase used to sell the same services with less due diligence.

Too many vendors and self-interested lobby groups are frighteningly good at demand generation. From new buzz-phrases, the invention of perceived needs, and playing on an organisation’s fear of losing a competitive edge, these have all been the cause of many bad purchasing decisions. This is especially frustrating when the tools for making good decisions have been around for decades. Literally.

For example; ISO 27001 – probably the best known and de facto security framework – has it’s roots in BS 7799 first published in 1995, ISACA’s COBIT was released in 1996, and even PCI (which is just a controls based standard for the protection of cardholder data) has some merit in its 10th year in existence. If these aren’t enough, the ages-old – but still VERY much alive – concept of Confidentiality, Integrity and Availability has been around for so long that no-one seems to know when it started.

And these are just the overarching frameworks for the security of data, beneath them you have equally well known, mature, and readily available tools for the protection of your data assets:

1. Governance – The Business side and the IT side having meaningful conversations;

2. Risk Assessment – An examination of the business needs applied to the current ability to achieve those goals;

3. Vendor Due Diligence – a THOROUGH review of the external help you’ll likely need;

4. Asset Management – You can’t manage what you don’t even know you have; and

5. Vulnerability Management and Change Control – If you have absolute control over the changes you make internally, the only things that can increase risk are from the outside. These two tools work hand-in-hand.

All of these tools are covered to a varying degree in the above frameworks, and represent standard good security practices established for longer than most of us have been alive. Without these processes in place, you don’t have data security. Full stop.

So if they are that established, why are they not as well known and pervasive as they should be? Simple, and for the same reason no-one likes paying for insurance; there is no obvious positive impact on the bottom line. Where’s the ROI for spending money on security? But this assumes that an ROI involves making MORE money, but is not LOSING money just as impactful? Fines, damages / reparations, and the inevitable loss of reputation all have significant negative impact.

Instituting an appropriate level of data security for your business is actually quite simple, keeping it in place requires much more effort but is equally simple; follow the decades-old advice of the existing frameworks.

[Ed. Written in collaboration with Voodoo Technology, Ltd.]

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