Identity Provides Security Context

January 3, 2008

We were talking to Eric Norlin about 2008 trendspotting. Given NetVision’s core raison d’etre we see a growing groundswell toward what we are calling “context” (see Eric’s post). Eric expanded our definition – which is good. But let me clarify what we mean for in our narrower definition for a second.

What we’re seeing is identity management monitoring (at least in a corporate context) being used as a stalking horse for achieving proof of compliance and risk management regarding the insider threat. As in: “I am required to demonstrate that I have control over admin rights so I need to monitor this group membership for all changes”, and other similar examples.

What we’re also observing is that providing such security (or evidence thereof) requires trolling through a lot of event data – often after the fact. As a result we’re seeing more and more customers asking us to link our risk assessment product with our change auditing product so that the search for risky behavior isn’t unguided. That’s what we mean by context. Instead of looking at the universe of data after the fact in order to document a conclusion you instead target your data gathering to areas of risk and obvious policy violation in the first place.

I am no expert on the subject of listening in on the phone calls of the world to find evidence of a threat to national security. But I believe what we’re talking about is metaphorically equivalent to whatever the national government does in order to decide what to listen to.

The question we hope to answer is: “Can this be done without creating a false negative” or overlooking a breach of security or policy which doesn’t rise to theoretical definition of risk. More on that later but opine if you have one.

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Is compliance possible?

December 10, 2007

This excerpt from an article caught my eye this morning

Compliance is hardly rocket science-or is it? Directives to use firewalls and change vendor-supplied default passwords are simply security best practices. But in other areas, merchants struggle to interpret the standards, haggling with auditors, consultants and sometimes the PCI Council itself over exactly how to protect cardholder data.

Source: Can mid-market merchants comply with PCI standards? – Network World

It’s referring to the difficulties faced – in particular – by mid market companies in achieving PCI compliance but the principles apply in other regulatory areas too.  It’s a point I made in our whitepaper.  The unfortunate reality is that unless there are very clear requirements defining “success”, many companies will spend unnecessary dollars trying to stay in front of an ill-defined process.  My friend Matt  Flynn (also from NetVision) has put some thought into at least one aspect of this problem that he has published in his blog and on the NetVision site as a whitepaper on “Surviving an Identity Audit”.

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.