Monday, December 1, 2008

The "A"

Information Security sits in a strange area somewhere between Business and IT in a little space that really hasn't been properly defined. It is exciting here.

Generally, most people in Information Security today did not start out as pure Information Security people, they evolved. And where they evolved from gives one a clue as to their mindset and how they see themselves.

Some come from an Audit background and you'll recognise these guys from their love of lists and frameworks - they dream of Cobit controls and little boxes that are waiting for ticks. Somehow they have tons of documentation and they know it all and can find it all. They generally drive Volvo's and like order.

But most InfoSec guys come from an IT background and it shows. I guess that, having said that, most hackers come from an IT background too. And it shows.

Now, lets consider the C-I-A triangle thingum. Quick lesson for those who don't know it - there are three aspects of information that Information Security wishes to preserve - the Confidentiality, the Integrity and the Availability. From my experience, most IT people are governed by Availability - the "A". In fact, when an IT contract is drawn up - there is no SLI or SLC but there will always be an SLA. With very specific terms, measurements and penalties.

If the Firewall crashes and has to be rebuilt. What will the IT manager be most interested in? The A - how fast can you get the traffic moving again?

So we have tools to measure uptime in 99.999999999999999s and such and anything that can cause network downtime (or if the network is up and the services such as mail are down - same difference) is taken care of. Spam, worms, viruses etc.

I guess that hackers (those that define what we do) are also IT background people. They seem to be more concerned with big-bang, widely deployed DoS attacks and stealing IT resources. At least, they used to be, until they discovered that they could make money from stealing information. Actually, I may be naive but I don't believe that the hackers we have today are the same as those we had in the past... I believe that we have a new generation of hackers - criminals who merely use the Internet to steal money because that it where the money is easiest to steal.

The problem is that we were lucky in a way that our old tools worked against the threats that we had - firewalls, antiviruses, etc etc. They don't work against people breaking into our networks and stealing information. For that we need a new generation of Information Security people (or the old generation to update their game)...

Here is a quick poll to see which generation you are in:

1. What is the one piece of information on your network that your competitors would love to see?
2. What is the percentage of mails coming into your network that are spam?
3. What mail is going to competitors?
4. What is the process for someone to order a pencil?
5. What is a blog?
6. Who in your organisation uses facebook for business?
7. How many of your PCs have up-to-date antivirus?
8. What is the worst virus out at the moment?
9. Do you believe that your Firewall is configured correctly?

The answers are as follows:
1. This is ESSENTIAL to know if you want to be in the next generation. And you can't guess this. You may think that it is something financial but most financial information can be guessed by your competitors anyhow. You may think it is a recipe or special way of doing something but any established company has had their recipe ripped off anyhow and can beat any new competitor by competitive pricing. It may be new product information. It may be staff information. It may be the CEO's contact list. Don't guess - find out.

2. Who cares? Certainly not the CEO. Maybe the CIO. "We are saving you x amount of bandwidth and your users x amount of time" is nice but won't save the business from closing down due to data loss. Operationalise this and get on with your job.

3. Good to know. I'm sure that if you told your CEO/CIO "Last week we detected 5 large emails going to our competitors from inside our R&D department" you'd have his full attention.

4. Good to know. Who does the ordering? Who does the okaying? Who does the paying? If you know all of this then you know how business works. And when things go wrong - you'll be able to help.

5. And do you want your staff to use them? And if they do, what can they put on them? What are they puting on them?

6. This is an interesting question because Facebook is usually an issue of "The A" (productivity). But it can be an issue of C and I.

7. Who cares? Again, this is an operational issue. Viruses that jump onto your radar are usually ones that attack "the A" but its the ones that are pushing information out of your organisation that are sneaky enough not to have sgnatures and not to be discovered. You will have PCs without up-to-date antivirus and you will have viruses. The trick is not to let your information be stolen by viruses. Also, keep backups so if a PC does get wiped out - you can get the information back again (but this is an operational issue again).

8. Trick question - the answer is - the one you don't know about. Old generation InfoSec guys can rattle off names of viruses that are all in the top 10 at the moment.. New generation viruses are targetted and usually do their worst before a pattern is out.

9. Old generation answer - yes. New generation answer - who cares? Information flows all over including in and out of the Firewall. Firewalls also usually rely on port security but most everything runs on port 80 anyhow so the Firewall should be configured but it doesn't kep us safe - more work needs to be done for that.

I find that it is not very easy to move from old generation to new generation InfoSec. The main difference is that old generation was very technical and appealed to the technical nature of computer geeks. The new generation is business oriented and requires more interaction with people, more meetings, more time with people. Ouch.

There will always be a place for technical people in Information Security but as the tools mature and "just work" there is less demand. And a background in technology is very useful when the technical guys try to "BS" you.

And "the A" is very important too. Protecting your network from being brought down. Protecting information from disappearing. Stopping viruses. Etc. But the new generation will need to consider "the I" and "the C" as well because the attacks against these and the importance of protecting information against disclosure or manipulation will increase.

This post was done to add my voice to what Rich says so quickly and concisely in the securosis blog.
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