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Looking Back on the forecast of IT Trends and Comments for 2012


“The beginning of a new year marks a time of reflection on the past and anticipation of the future. The result for analysts, pundits and authors is a near irresistible urge to identify important trends in their areas of expertise…” (from our January newsletter) We made a lot of predictions this past year and now it’s time to review them and assess our accuracy.

Five Leadership Lessons from Simpson-Bowles


In January 2010 the U.S. Senate was locked in a sharp debate about the country’s debt and deficit crisis. Unable to agree on a course of action, some Senators proposed the creation of a fiscal commission that would send Congress a proposal to address the problem with no possibility of amendments.   It was chaired by former Senator, Alan Simpson, and former White House chief of staff, Erskine Bowles.

Darrel West and Ashley Gabriele of Brookings examined the leadership lessons in this article. I was struck by the application of some of the lessons to the SIEM problem.

1) Stop Fantasizing About Easy Fixes

Cutting waste and fraud is not sufficient to address long-term debt and deficit issues. To think that we can avoid difficult policy choices simply by getting rid of wasteful spending is a fantasy.   It’s also tempting to think that the next Cisco firewall, Microsoft OS or magic box will solve all security issues; that the hard work of reviewing logs, changes and assessing configuration will not be needed. It’s high time to stop fantasizing about such things.

2) Facts Are Informative

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously remarked that “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” This insight often is lost in Washington D.C. where leaders invoke “facts” on a selective or misleading basis. The Verizon Data Breach report has repeatedly shown that attacks are not highly difficult, that most breaches took weeks or more to be discovered and that almost all were avoidable through simple controls.   We can’t get away from it — looking at logs is basic and effective.

3) Compromise Is Not a Dirty Word

One of the most challenging aspects of the contemporary political situation is how bargaining, compromise, and negotiation have become dirty words. Do you have this problem in your Enterprise? Between the Security and Compliance teams? Between the Windows and Unix teams? Between the Network and Host teams? Is it preventing you from evaluating and agreeing on a common solution? If yes, this lesson is for you — compromise is not a dirty word.

4) Security and Compliance Have Credibility in Different Areas

On fiscal issues, Democrats have credibility on entitlement reform because of their party’s longstanding advocacy on behalf of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Meanwhile, Republicans have credibility on defense issues and revenue enhancement because of their party’s history of defending the military and fighting revenue increases. In our world, the Compliance team has credibility on regular log review and coverage of critical systems, while the Security team has credibility on identifying obvious and subtle threats (out-of-ordinary behavior). Different areas, all good.

5) It’s Relationships, Stupid!

Commission leaders found that private and confidential discussions and trust-building exercises were important to achieving the final result. They felt that while public access and a free press were essential to openness and transparency, some meetings and most discussions had to be held behind closed doors. Empower the evaluation team to have frank and open discussion with all stakeholders — including those from Security, Compliance, Operations and Management. Such a consensus built in advance leads to a successful IT project.

Top 5 Security Threats of All Time


The newspapers are full of stories of the latest attack. Then vendors rush to put out marketing statements glorifying themselves for already having had a solution to the problem, if only you had their product/service, and the beat goes on.

Pause for a moment and compare this to health scares. The top 10 scares according to ABC News include Swine Flu (H1N1), BPA, Lead paint on toys from China, Bird Flu (H5N1) and so on.   They are, no doubt, scary monsters but did you know that the common cold causes 22 million school days to be lost in the USA alone?

In other words, you are better off enforcing basic discipline to prevent days lost from common infections than stockpiling exotic vaccines. The same is true in IT security. Here then, are the top 5 attack vectors of all time. Needless to say these are not particularly hard to execute, and are most often successful simply because basic precautions are not in place or enforced. The Verizon Data Breach Report demonstrates this year in and year out.

1. Information theft and leakage

Personally Identifiable Information (PII) data stolen from unsecured storage is rampant. The Federal Trade Commission says 21% of complaints are related to identity theft and have accounted for 1.3M cases in 2009/10 in the USA. The 2012 Verizon DBIR shows 855 incidents and 174M compromised records.

Lesson learned: Implement recommendations like SANS CAG or PCI-DSS.

2. Brute force attack

Hackers leverage cheap computing power and pervasive broadband connectivity to breach security. This is a low cost, low tech attack that can be automated remotely.   It can be easily detected and defended against, but it requires monitoring and eyes on the logs. It tends to be successful because monitoring is absent.

Lesson learned: Monitor logs from firewalls and network devices in real time. Set up alerts which are reviewed by staff and acted upon as needed. If this is too time consuming, then consider a service like SIEM Simplified.

3. Insider breach

Staff on the inside is often privy to a large amount of data and can cause much larger damage. The Wikileaks case is the poster child for this type of attack.

4. Process and Procedure failures

It is often the case that in the normal course of business, established process and procedures are ignored. Unfortunate coincidences can cause problems.   Examples of this are e-mailing interim work products to personal accounts, taking work home in USB sticks and then losing them, sending CDROMs with source code by mail and then they are lost, etc.

Lesson learned: Reinforce policies and procedures for all employees on a regular basis. Many US Government agencies require annual completion of a Computer Security and Assessment Test.   Many commercial banks remind users via message boxes in the login screen.

5. Operating failures

This includes oops moments, such as backing up data to the wrong server and sending backup data off-site where it can be restored by unauthorized persons.

Lesson learned: Review procedures and policies for gaps. An external auditor can be helpful in identifying such gaps and recommending compensating controls to cover them.

Big Data, Old News. Got Humans?


Did you know that big data is old news in the area of financial derivatives?   O’Connor & Associates  was founded in 1977 by mathematician Michael Greenbaum, who had run risk management for Ed & Bill O’Connor’s options trading firm. What made O’Connor and Associates successful was the understanding that expertise is far more important than any tool or algorithm. After all, absent expertise, any tool can only generate gibberish; perfectly processed and completely logical, of course, but still gibberish.

Which brings us back to the critical role played by the driver of today’s enterprise tools. These tools are all full featured and automate the work of crushing an entire hillside of dirt to locate tiny grams of gold — but “got human”? It comes back to the skilled operator who knows how and when to push all those fancy buttons. Of course deciding which hillside to crush is another problem altogether.

This is a particularly difficult challenge for midsize enterprises which struggle with SIEM data; billions of logs, change and configuration data all now available thanks to that shiny SIEM you just installed. What does it mean? What are you supposed to do next? Large enterprises can afford a small army of experts to extract value, whereas the small business can ignore the problem completely but for the midsize enterprises, it’s the worst of all worlds – Compliance regulations, tight budgets, lean staff and the demand for results?

This is why our  SIEM Simplified  offering was created: to allow customers to outsource the heavy lifting part of the problem while maintaining control over the critical and sensitive decision making parts. At the EventTracker Control Center (ECC), our expert staff watches your incidents and reviews log reports daily, and alert you to those few truly critical conditions that warrant your attention. This frees up your staff to take care of things that cannot be outsourced. In addition, since the ECC enjoys economies of scale, this can be done at lesser cost than do-it-yourself. This has the advantage of inserting the critical human component back into the equation but at a price point that is affordable.

As Grady Booch observed “A fool with a tool is still a fool.”

tool

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