Category Archives: security assessment

Cyber Security: Three Parts Art, One Part Science

As I reflect upon my almost 40 years as a cyber security professional, I think of the many instances where the basic tenets of cyber security—those we think have common understanding—require a lot of additional explanation. For example, what is a vulnerability assessment? If five cyber professionals are sitting around a table discussing this question, you will end up with seven or eight answers. One will say that a vulnerability assessment is vulnerability scanning only. Another will say an assessment is much bigger than scanning, and addresses ethical hacking and internal security testing. Another will say that it is a passive review of policies and controls. All are correct in some form, but the answer really depends on the requirements or criteria you are trying to achieve. And it also depends on the skills and experience of the risk owner, auditor, or assessor. Is your head spinning yet? I know mine is! Hence the “three parts art.”

There is quite a bit of subjectivity in the cyber security business. One auditor will look at evidence and agree you are in compliance; another will say you are not. If you are going to protect sensitive information, do you encrypt it, obfuscate it, or segment it off and place it behind very tight identification and access controls before allowing users to access the data? Yes. As we advise our client base, it is essential that we have all the context necessary to make good risk-based decisions and recommendations.

Let’s talk about Connection’s artistic methodology. We start with a canvas that has the core components of cyber security: protection, detection, and reaction. By addressing each of these three pillars in a comprehensive way, we ensure that the full conversation around how people, process, and technology all work together to provide a comprehensive risk strategy is achieved.

Protection:

People
Users understand threat and risk, and know what role they play in the protection strategy. For example, if you see something, say something. Don’t let someone surf in behind you through a badge check entry. And don’t think about trying to shut off your end-point anti-virus or firewall.

Process
Policy are established, documented, and socialized. For example, personal laptops should never be connected to the corporate network. Also, don’t send sensitive information to your personal email account so you can work from home.

Technology
Some examples of the barriers used to deter attackers and breaches are edge security with firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention, sandboxing, and advanced threat detection.

Detection:

The average mean time to identify an active incident in a network is 197 days. The mean time to contain an incident is 69 days.

People
Incident response teams need to be identified and trained, and all employees need to be trained on the concept of “if you see something, say something.” Detection is a proactive process.

Process
What happens when an alert occurs? Who sees it? What is the documented process for taking action?

Technology
What is in place to ensure you are detecting malicious activity? Is it configured to ignore noise and only alert you of a real event? Will it help you bring that 197-day mean time to detection way down?

Reaction:

People
What happens when an event occurs? Who responds? How do you recover? Does everyone understand their role? Do you War Game to ensure you are prepared WHEN an incident occurs?

Process
What is the documented process to reduce the Kill Chain—the mean time to detect and contain—from 69 days to 69 minutes? Do you have a Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plan to ensure the ability to react to a natural disaster, significant cyber breach such as ransomware, DDoS, or—dare I say it—a pandemic?

Technology
What cyber security consoles have been deployed that allow quick access to patch a system, change a firewall rule, switch ACL, or policy setting at an end point, or track a security incident through the triage process?

All of these things are important to create a comprehensive InfoSec Program. The science is the technology that will help you build a layered, in-depth defense approach. The art is how to assess the threat, define and document the risk, and create a strategy that allows you to manage your cyber risk as it applies to your environment, users, systems, applications, data, customers, supply chain, third party support partners, and business process.

More Art: Are You a Risk Avoider or Risk Transference Expert?

A better way to state that is, “Do you avoid all risk responsibility or do you give your risk responsibility to someone else?” Hint: I don’t believe in risk avoidance or risk transference.

Yes, there is an art to risk management. There is also science if you use, for example, The Carnegie Mellon risk tools. But a good risk owner and manager documents risk, prioritizes it by risk criticality, turns it into a risk register or roadmap plan, remediates what is necessary, and accepts what is reasonable from a business and cyber security perspective. Oh, by the way, those same five cyber security professional we talked about earlier? They have 17 definitions of risk.

As we wrap up this conversation, let’s talk about the importance of selecting a risk framework. It’s kind of like going to a baseball game and recognizing the program helps you know the players and the stats. What framework will you pick? Do you paint in watercolors or oils? Are you a National Institute of Standards (NIST) artist, an Internal Standards Organization artist, or have you developed your own framework like the Nardone puzzle chart? I developed this several years ago when I was the CTO/CSO of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It has been artistically enhanced over the years to incorporate more security components, but it is loosely coupled on the NIST 800-53 and ISO 27001 standards.

When it comes to selecting a security framework as a CISO, I lean towards the NIST Cyber Security Framework (CSF) pictured below. This framework is comprehensive, and provides a scoring model that allows risk owners to measure and target what risk level they believe they need to achieve based on their business model, threat profile, and risk tolerance. It has five functional focus areas. The ISO 27001 framework is also a very solid and frequently used model. Both of these frameworks can result in a Certificate of Attestation demonstrating adherence to the standard. Many commercial corporations do an annual ISO 27001 assessment for that very reason. More and more are leaning towards the NIST CSF, especially commercial corporations doing work with the government.

The art in cyber security is in the interpretation of the rules, standards, and requirements that are primarily based on a foundation in science in some form. The more experience one has in the cyber security industry, the more effective the art becomes. As a last thought, keep in mind that Connection’s Technology Solutions Group Security Practice has over 150 years of cyber security expertise on tap to apply to that art.

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Businesses Beware: Top 5 Cyber Security Risks

Hackers are working hard to find new ways to get your data. It’s not surprising that cyber security risk is top of mind for every risk owner, in every industry. As the frequency and complexity of malicious attacks persistently grows, every company should recognize that they are susceptible to an attack at any time—whether it comes as an external focused attack, or a social engineering attack. Let’s take a look at the top 5 risks that every risk owner should be preparing for.

  1. Your Own Users. It is commonly known, in the security industry, that people are the weakest link in the security chain. Despite whatever protections you put in place from a technology or process/policy point of view, human error can cause an incident or a breach. Strong security awareness training is imperative, as well as very effective documented policies and procedures. Users should also be “audited” to ensure they understand and acknowledge their role in policy adherence. One area that is often overlooked is the creation of a safe environment, where a user can connect with a security expert on any issue they believe could be a problem, at any time. Your security team should encourage users to reach out. This creates an environment where users are encouraged to be part of your company’s detection and response. To quote the Homeland Security announcements you frequently hear in airports, “If you see something, say something!” The biggest threat to a user is social engineering—the act of coercing a user to do something that would expose sensitive information or a sensitive system.
  2. Phishing. Phishing ranks number three in both the 2018 Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report Top 20 action varieties in incidents and Top 20 action varieties in breaches. These statistics can be somewhat misleading. For example, the first item on the Top 20 action varieties in breaches list is the use of stolen credentials; number four is privilege abuse. What better way to execute both of those attacks than with a phishing scam. Phishing coerces a user through email to either click on a link, disguised as a legitimate business URL, or open an attachment that is disguised as a legitimate business document. When the user executes or opens either, bad things happen. Malware is downloaded on the system, or connectivity to a Command and Control server on the Internet is established. All of this is done using standard network communication and protocols, so the eco-system is none the wiser—unless sophisticated behavioral or AI capabilities are in place. What is the best form of defense here? 1.) Do not run your user systems with administrative rights. This allows any malicious code to execute at root level privilege, and 2.) Train, train, and re-train your users to recognize a phishing email, or more importantly, recognize an email that could be a phishing scam. Then ask the right security resources for help. The best mechanism for training is to run safe targeted phishing campaigns to verify user awareness either internally or with a third-party partner like Connection.
  3. Ignoring Security Patches. One of the most important functions any IT or IT Security Organization can perform is to establish a consistent and complete vulnerability management program. This includes the following key functions:
  • Select and manage a vulnerability scanning system to proactively test for flaws in IT systems and applications.
  • Create and manage a patch management program to guard against vulnerabilities.
  • Create a process to ensure patching is completed.

Most malicious software is created to target missing patches, especially Microsoft patches. We know that WannaCry and Petya, two devastating attacks, targeted systems that were missing Microsoft MS17-010. Eliminating the “low-hanging-fruit” from the attack strategy, by patching known and current vulnerabilities or flaws, significantly reduces the attack-plane for the risk owner.

  1. Partners. Companies spend a lot of time and energy on Information Security Programs to address external and internal infrastructures, exposed Web services, applications and services, policies, controls, user awareness, and behavior. But they ignore a significant attack vector, which is through a partner channel—whether it be a data center support provider or a supply chain partner. We know that high-profile breaches have been executed through third partner channels, Target being the most prominent.The Target breach was a classic supply chain attack, where they were compromised through one of their HVAC vendors. Company policies and controls must extend to all third-party partners that have electronic or physical access to the environment. Ensure your Information Security Program includes all third partner partners or supply chain sources that connect or visit your enterprise. The NIST Cyber Security Framework has a great assessment strategy, where you can evaluate your susceptibility to this often-overlooked risk.
  2. Data Security. In this day and age, data is the new currency. Malicious actors are scouring the Internet and Internet-exposed corporations to look for data that will make them money. The table below from the 2018 Ponemon Institute 2018 Cost of a Data Breach Report shows the cost of a company for a single record data breach.

Cost for a Single Record Data Breach

The Bottom Line

You can see that healthcare continues to be the most lucrative target for data theft, with $408 per record lost. Finance is nearly half this cost. Of course, we know the reason why this is so. A healthcare record has a tremendous amount of personal information, enabling the sale of more sensitive data elements, and in many cases, can be used to build bullet-proof identities for identity theft. The cost of a breach in the US, regardless of industry, averages $7.9 million per event. The cost of a single lost record in the US is $258.

I Can’t Stress It Enough

Data security should be the #1 priority for businesses of all sizes. To build a data protection strategy, your business needs to:

  • Define and document data security requirements
  • Classify and document sensitive data
  • Analyze security of data at rest, in process, and in motion
  • Pay attention to sensitive data like PII, ePHI, EMR, financial accounts, proprietary assets, and more
  • Identify and document data security risks and gaps
  • Execute a remediation strategy

Because it’s a difficult issue, many corporations do not address data security. Unless your business designed classification and data controls from day one, you are already well behind the power curve. Users create and have access to huge amounts of data, and data can exist anywhere—on premises, user laptops, mobile devices, and in the cloud. Data is the common denominator for security. It is the key thing that malicious actors want access to. It’s essential to heed this warning: Do Not Ignore Data Security! You must absolutely create a data security protection program, and implement the proper policies and controls to protect your most important crown jewels.

Cyber criminals are endlessly creative in finding new ways to access sensitive data. It is critical for companies to approach security seriously, with a dynamic program that takes multiple access points into account. While it may seem to be an added expense, the cost of doing nothing could be exponentially higher. So whether it’s working with your internal IT team, utilizing external consultants, or a mix of both, take steps now to assess your current situation and protect your business against a cyber attack. Stay on top of quickly evolving cyber threats. Reach out to one of our security experts today to close your businesses cyber security exposure gap!

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October Is National Cyber Security Awareness Month: Be Part of Something Big

2018 marks the 15th year of National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM). The Internet touches every aspect of our lives, and keeping it safe and secure is everyone’s responsibility. You can make a difference by remaining diligent and staying cyber aware. Be part of something big this month. Learn more, be aware, and get involved.

Connection is an official Champion of NCSAM. We’re dedicating the month of October to spreading the word about the importance of cyber security, and providing tools and resources to help you stay safe and secure online.

Each week during October highlights a different cyber security theme, addressing specific challenges and opportunities for change. Stay tuned for information about the top cyber security threats, careers in cyber security, and why it’s everyone’s job to ensure online safety. What are you doing to keep the Internet safer and more secure? Be sure to check back each week to stay informed, and get tips from our experts about how you can participate in keeping everyone safe online.

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