Archive for the ‘IT Risk’ Category

IT Risk, Security and Money

June 19, 2008

I read an extraordinarily good post this week by Bruce Schneier on how to sell security.  Or perhaps more accurately: what thought process IT security buyers go through when deciding to purchase (or not).

I’ve had the luxury in my time of having ultimate responsibility for selling content security (anti virus/spam) products, database security products and now network access security products.

I have observed first hand the “cost of insurance vs. probability of negative outcome” calculus.  No one questions money invested in Antivirus solutions because everyone knows that the probability of a negative outcome without AV is a virtual certainty.  Same with SPAM.  They might wish for more effective insurance for the money.  They might question whether they need yet-another-layer to really solve the problem – I remember arguing that gateway scanning was important and getting almost no uptake until the Melissa virus came out and demonstrated that the next generation of viruses were going to be transmitted by email, not by floppy disk.  But at least a basic level of insurance is a given.

When selling database security solutions in the earliest days of that technology I saw the opposite calculus.  IT’s almost idealistic belief in the impenetrability of the applications they had developed to front-end their databases.  In those cases our best sales tactic was to ask if it was OK if we tried to perform a SQL injection or cross-site script in a lab environment just to “test our tools”.  We could routinely demonstrate that applications were easily penetrated.  Suddenly database security solutions jumped up the priority list a few notches in organizations with a lot to lose.

The Societe-Generale “situation” vaulted insider security into the collective security consciousness.  We’re still working out the risk vs. cost-of-insurance calculation.

But for the most part, as a life-long security solution purveyor I have found that every discussion becomes a risk vs. cost discussion.  And when the risk we’re addressing becomes the next most painful one on the list we will get a serious hearing.  That’s why good sales people learn very quickly to look for “compelling events” or to simply ask, “where does solving this problem rank on your current priority list”.  If your prospect cannot demonstrate that it’s under broader (than just themselves) organizational consideration somewhere in the top 5 (or perhaps 10 if it’s a larger organization) prepare yourself for a long sales cycle.

Now security is starting to become somewhat synonymous with compliance.  And that has given us the idea that if we just say our security product solves a SarbOx problem the budget will be instantly available.  But go to RSA and walk the floor and you will very quickly realize that when 1,000 vendors proclaim that they are solving the compliance problem in subtly different ways, a prospective customer could not be blamed for putting the clutch in for a bit while sorting out what they really need; no matter how dire we paint the consequences of inaction.

I have no end-world-hunger solutions here but I will say that I’m gravitating toward at least one small solution.  Let’s call a spade a spade.  Tag this: “Security is not Compliance”.  And trying to solve compliance problems with a security solution is likely to be kind of like trying to reduce the cost of oil by invading Venezuela (now this post will show up on the NSA radar screen) – there has to be a more cost effective way.  I’m leaning toward this Compliance or Auditing as a Service (CaaS or AaaS).  And in developing a go-to-market model around this I’m starting to think that many things in IT could benefit from at least someone thinking about the problem from an “As a Service” perspective.  The business model might not be there in all cases.  And politics within IT might present too great a barrier in others.  But when you start thinking about all IT problems the way Google and Amazon are likely thinking about them, perhaps we might find ways to offer more security capabilities as a utility.

Which just might make the cost of insurance negligible enough to make good security a no-brainer deal.


IT Audit Rule #3: Compliance is not a byproduct of an Audit

April 29, 2008

IT Audit Rule #1: An Audit Is An Arms-Length Process (e.g. a system cannot audit itself)

IT Audit Rule #2: IT Audits Don’t Prevent Loss

IT Audit Rule #3: Compliance Is Not a By-Product Of An Audit

This statement should be pretty obvious from the discussion of Rule #2. But just as a refresher. And audit is a measurement and verification tool. In the compliance case, about whether an activity and a state complies with whatever standard you’ve chosen to be compliant with. But an audit doesn’t make compliance happen.

A while back there was an interesting debate between Mark Macauley and Ian Glazer about Compliance and whether it could be delivered as a service (CaaS). At the end of Mark’s final response on the topic he uses these words – rather intentionally I suspect: “Compliance is 100% cost at the end of the day, and companies who have figured out that it is in their best interest to automate every process to be compliant, and automate the measuring of that process……….”

Let me take the liberty of making a taxonomy out of that:

– “automate every process to be compliant” = automation which channels behavior in acceptable ways (e.g. user provisioning).

– “automate the measuring of that process” = automation of an audit

Audits can measure compliance, but not make it happen…..except in the limit, where audit findings prompt better mechanisms to channel behavior in compliant ways. Again, this point is probably an obvious one but I continue to be surprised every time I have a discussion with someone about how to get an audit tool so they can “be compliant”.

Human Error or Human Misbehavior

February 12, 2008

Many minds seem to be wondering something like this: “is an organization’s data more at risk from an insider (employee, contractor, etc) purposely doing damage or from a well intentioned employee?”

It seems to be a relative certainty that one of the two represents the largest risk to an organization’s data.  I read this article about a Deloitte survey.  To the point that 91% of those surveyed said they were worried about the risk of employee misconduct related to information technology.  I’d call 91% many minds.

When I was at Trend Micro we used to say that there would always be a virus threat as long as there were humans using computers.  It has become trite to suggest that virus writers relied on the thoughtless-but-innocent behavior of users.

But is that also true when it comes to damage done by insiders? I would hypothesize that in absolute dollar numbers the highest risk of loss due to insider behavior is probably also from the well-intentioned person trying to do their job.  I won’t elaborate here on that topic because Matt Flynn has recently done that very well in a recent discussion with IT Business Edge.

Does the distinction matter?  When talking about insider security solutions with IT professionals  many times the conversation gravitates to concerns about a few malicious people often concluding that the real need for insider security solutions is confined to a few people who are so malicious that they cannot be effectively stopped.

I suspect that if the real economic damage to organizational data from all sources could be accurately charted we would find the most compelling justification for securing against inadvertent harm from insiders.


Context and Identity again…

January 26, 2008

When Dave Kearns makes a prediction you better think about betting on it or at least pay attention. From his 2008 predictions….

Risk management, which I lump under context-based access control (CBAC), will become very important in 2008.

Source: Risk management and access management come to the fore in ’08 – Network World

So that’s at least the second pundit using the word context in predictions. If I get his drift, Dave is predicting that risk awareness will become a key component to determining access. So context drives smarter preventative controls. Can’t disagree with that.

I believe that risk awareness will also be a key component in determining audit requirements, proof of compliance requirements, monitoring requirements, etc. So context drives smarter detective controls and processes too. I think this will be particularly true given the recent Audit Standard 5 guidance [for a full text treatment] given to auditors which encourages “auditors to use professional judgment in the 404 process, particularly in using risk assessment”.


Policing the Power of Identity – Security by and for Identity

December 3, 2007

I recently published a whitepaper entitled Policing the Power of Identity. It’s a vision (mine anyway) for the future use and success of identity in corporate computing. Use of identity gives us a “handle” to use in consistently assessing, analyzing, monitoring, etc. insiders. We developed multiple, fairly mature disciplines for dealing with “outsider” threats (firewall, IPS, anti-SPAM, anti-virus). We should have the same goal with protecting ourselves from insider threats – which are prevalent.

I could be accused by a reader of this whitepaper of giving the impression that I think identity is the problem. That’s not the case. But as corporate IT uses identity more exhaustively for all its good purposes then identity becomes a handy mechanism for identifying insider threat – both potential and realized. This process could most accurately be described as “Policing Computing Power BY (using) Identity”. But also, casually used, identity can create a false sense of security. And in such an imperfect-use scenario identity itself can be a problem (or more accurately, poor identity management can be a problem). In that case the process we prescribe is accurately described as “Policing the Power of Identity”. And such cases are exceedingly common if our IT customers and contacts are any indication.

Either way, our goal is never to attempt to cast identity itself as bad. But instead, to identify practices, tools and standards that use identity to provide better security and to improve identity management (aka security) practice. Along the way we believe that proof of compliance with regulations, policies or best practices will be a natural by-product of our efforts; at least in the area where identity is implicated.

If this sounds like an interesting line of discussion to follow, join the conversation or let me join yours. We’ve had a number of offline comments back on the premises in the whitepaper. I’ll add those to this blog in imminent posts.