Thursday, November 24, 2011

Monitoring the Policy

I noticed an interesting thing about security policies the last time I started in a new job. Every time I start with a new company I read the entire Security Policy. (It should be required reading for anyone in a security job for an organization, but I’m impressed that I usually end up becoming the “Security Policy Authority” after that exercise, just because nobody bothers going through it J). The impression is generally that a good set of security controls are in place. However, as  time passes, I start to see the exceptions, the new controls that are still being implemented, the legacy stuff that should have been retired but is still lingering around, etc. It always takes time to understand the gap between the policy and its current implementation.

After seeing that so many times, I wonder: why aren’t organizations monitoring the policy implementation? In fact, it should be one of their key metrics! You measure your policy against the threat landscape and your risk appetite, than check if that policy is in fact being enforced.

Unrealistic expectations about the implementation of the security policy are extremely common. The executive sees a document to be approved and signs it. It probably has the same feeling as Capt. Picard saying his famous “Engage!”. But after that, he doesn’t pay attention to the huge number of exceptions granted or just delegates that process, in such a way that what’s on paper ends up being  very far from what’s actually being done. An Internal Audit department might be able to help, but I’m not just making the point of verifying, I’m talking about actively monitoring it as a guidance metric. Audit usually doesn’t go that far. I’m also talking about benchmarking different Lines of Business and Technologies, in a way that a CISO would be able to understand where he’s getting more support from, who is resisting the implementation of the policy and even whether it makes more sense to drive investments to more enforcement or to deploy additional controls. I think some would call it an “actionable metric”.

I’m interested in hearing from people currently monitoring their security policy implementation level? How are you doing it? How are you using that data? Any tools being used (maybe GRC)?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Log reviews and PCI

There are two ways to automate log reviews. There's the common approach:


Buy a product with PCI Compliance reports, check the box for each of those, send the reports by email to someone who will say they are being reviewed. done.


A lot of organizations do that, but it's really just checkbox compliance with the standard and does not add anything in terms of security value. Ask yourself, what are those "PCI Compliance Reports"? How can someone know what needs to be reviewed in our logs if the standard itself does not specify that?

The other way can use the same product mentioned above, but on this case you have real people (with knowledge about what's in those logs and what you need to look for) writing the rules for alerts and reports. A process for periodical reviews of those conditions is also necessary.

There's no "Enable PCI" solution for log review. Only dumb QSAs buy that.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Policy exceptions

Michelle Kinger has a very good post at infosec island talking about the harm from exceptions to security policies. I also mentioned that in my unrealistic expectations posts.

There are many discussions about security and risk metrics, but it’s rare to see anyone mentioning something to control the number of exceptions granted; a key indicator to any security program should be related to the exceptions granted/revoked ratio and to the exceptions stock. If you have an always upwards trend in your chart, it’s time to review the policy or the incentives for people to follow the policy. Having a policy with good controls that no one adheres to is just the same as having no controls, with the down side of giving the wrong perception about your security state.  

Friday, November 4, 2011

Security by virtualization: where is the secure OS?

I can’t disagree with Simon Crosby when he says “virtualization holds a key to better security”. Isolation is the basic security building block here, being achieved by virtualization.  And that just makes me sad. Relying on virtualization for that just shows how unsuccessful  we’ve been on building decent Operating Systems.

Operating Systems are generally built with the isolation concept in mind, trying to prevent one application from interfering with others. Almost all modern OSes have that concept as part of their design goals. Yet, we go deep into wasting resources to duplicate the OS and emulate the hardware layer to each virtual machine. Really, can anyone tell me why would we have to rely on virtualization for isolation if Operating Systems were capable of doing that?