Friday, August 17, 2012

How to make rich men use poor man's tools?

I was reading this great post from Johannes Ullrich on the SANS ISC Diary (in which he describes a very nice and simple script to help using DNS query logs as a malware detection resource) when I realized that although there are tons of very nice tricks and solutions out there (normally described as “Poor Man’s tools” - PMT) that are simply not used by medium and large organizations. I’ve seen that happening multiple times, but normally what happens is:

1.       Techie guy finds the solution and thinks: cool! Proposed to middle management

2.       Middle management thinks:

a.        “no way we will spend time and resources on this” OR

b.       “it’s too simple to be good” OR

c.        “I’ve never heard about this on those vendor webcasts so it’s not worth” OR

d.       “oh no if do this once the executives will deny all my budget requests expecting me to solve everything with things like this” OR

e.      It’s “open source”, doesn’t work in an organization like us” OR

f.        “I can’t trust this thing it doesn’t come from IBM/Microsoft/Oracle” OR

g.       Put your stupid reason here

3.       If for a miracle it moves up the food chain, it’s denied by higher management for one of the same reasons listed on #2

So we end up with organizations struggling with problems that could be solved with those PMTs. I’m more than aware that some of those concerns, specially around maintenance costs, are not totally unfounded. But there are organizations that actually do those things, normally due to different cultures (Universities, DotCom companies), and pretty successful with that. So, what could we do to change the way that organizations deal with PMTs and increase their adoption?

I think we need to sell the idea of Simple Solutions Task Forces. Every IT group in a big Enterprise, including Security (don’t even start by saying Security is not and IT group, there’s at least one piece of it that is), should have its own SSTF. People that would look at problems and say “hey, we can actually fix that with this little script”. I’ve seen so many very expensive products that are nothing more than simple scripts disguised as pretty shiny boxes, so in the end the result may not be that different in terms of features and the cost/time to deploy the solution can be really reduced. As it would be proposed and implemented by a specialized and formalized group, all the required precautions around documentation and support would be covered.

Another option would be to just create the framework for  those solutions in the organization. Someone like those Standards and Methodologies groups would put together what is necessary for anyone to implement a PMT in the enterprise: a support and a documentation model, code repository, roles and responsibilities minimum requirements. With that available, anyone could champion a PMT implementation while providing the necessary assurance that it won’t become a unsupported black box Frankenstein.

From my side, I was thinking about assembling a crowdsourced Security PMT repository and see if we can create some momentum to give these solutions a little more visibility and chance to find a place in sun. We know our problems, we have the tools; what about using them?

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