Tag Archives: Featured

Solving “Big Problems” in Security by Building a Service Model

Remediating strategic security concerns can be very difficult, particularly in large organizations with diverse and rapidly evolving product lines. While security is critically important for every part of an organization, individual security risks are not necessarily the most urgent problem to solve for all teams at the same time.

That means our ability to effect widespread change on a reasonable (to us) timetable can be a real struggle. Oftentimes, security teams will fail because they tried to solve all of the world’s problems at once.

At first brush, it makes sense to go after the problem everywhere it exists, considering economies of scale and all. Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate so well when attempting to push work on teams with competing priorities. “Fix this now” is not really an effective motivator.There is another way though that works particularly well for the “BIG” problems, and that’s developing a service model that teams can take advantage of on a timetable that works well for them.

Metrics Develop Interest

If you can’t measure it, you can’t sell it. Regardless if your “big problem” is log management, threat management, or identity access management you can measure it specifically for every team in your organization. Some may be successful, others may struggle, but if you start measuring it regularly and effectively you can demonstrate a problem that can be solved.

Capabilities Solve Problems

Tools are not solutions (no matter how much your vendors may insist otherwise). Solutions are principally capabilities an organization must develop to evolve. Other teams in your organization have no idea what any particular tool does for them, and they have no reason to retain that information if you explain it to them.

Instead, develop a story around the capabilities you want to deliver as a service that addresses the specific problem your organization has. Remember your metrics? Those are now riding shotgun on the road to risk remediation. Keep them handy and keep them coming, month after month. Trending data is beautiful thing!

Service Models Are Tangible

A service needs to be a tangible thing. Would you buy a service from Amazon, Google, or Microsoft if you they couldn’t demonstrate it to you? Neither would others in your organization you are trying to sell to. You must be able to clearly show how the capabilities your are proposing will not only directly affect the metrics you are delivering (i.e. reduce risk), but also show how it will improve the management of that team’s solution. Good security practices often result in big operational wins.

Operationalization is key. There should be a clear path (in the form of a process flow) from service request to service fulfillment. You should also be able to demonstrate how the management of the service will be maintained over time.

That also means clearly understanding the financials. Gaining executive approval to deliver a service in this way is largely dependent on demonstrating a firm understanding of what it will cost to establish the service and maintain the service, as well as a pricing model to calculate how much it will cost to onboard typical use cases. You can demonstrate a positive cost/benefit ratio by highlighting the operational benefits.

….and keep it simple! Your target audience needs to know what you are doing for them, not how you are doing it for them. Keep it high level.

Market the Solution

At this point, you have trending metrics creating market demand and a very consumable solution with a clear cost model. The marketing is practically done for you, but there is still real work to be done. The most effective thing you can do is begin to socialize the solution across the organization in a very positive way and ensure your new capabilities are already on roadmaps around the organization.

Developing a service model like moves Information Security from being a source of unwelcome work to a solution provider that can demonstrate real, tangible value to the organization in a very consumable way.

Best of all, taking a measured approach such as this generally leads to teams taking a fresh look what caused this “big problem” with their solution in the first place. Typically, this will result in the streamlining of accounts, systems, or processes in order to reduce the cost of on-boarding the capabilities you are offering.

This is a BIG security win, a BIG operational win, and a BIG financial win!

Was this interesting or helpful? Like, Comment, or Share and I’ll write more.

Closing Open Doors by Bringing Vulnerabilities to Resolution – Six Essential Questions

New vulnerabilities are discovered every day,Vulnerabilities and they are an intruders’ best friend. It’s a bit like a burglar finding the door
unlocked and wide open; he’s going to have a really easy day at work and you’ll be wondering for a long time why you left it open.

Therefore, it is absolutely critical to resolve them as soon as possible before they are exploited.

A vulnerability report can be a bit daunting though, especially for a complex solution which relies on many different technologies.  Over the years, I‘ve found that asking these six questions can help bring even the most obscure vulnerability to resolution.

Question #1: Can I remove/upgrade the vulnerable software?
Many times we find a solution is installed with supporting software components that may no longer be required. If this is the case, the easiest way to resolve the vulnerability is to completely remove that component. Best of all, once removed, you no longer have to worr
y about new vulnerabilities presenting themselves in the future for this piece of software.

There are also times that version upgrades may be available for these software components. Upgrading those components to the latest version not only resolves the vulnerability, but also ensures you are working with the latest and fully supported version of that software.

Question #2: Would a configuration change resolve this vulnerability?
Some vulnerability’s cannot be patched, and can only be corrected with a configuration change to the system.

A good example of this is SSL 3.0, an encryption standard used by many web services that has recently been found to be insecure. Changing the configuration of the web service to use TLS 1.2 not only resolves the vulnerability, but also brings the solution in to compliance with PCI and other security standards.

Question #3: Can a security patch be applied?
If the affected software is still supported by the developer, a security patch may be required. If this is the case, submit a request to have the patch installed after testing it thoroughly with your solution.

Question #4: Is the supporting data accurate?
Vulnerability scanners are not perfect, and false positives are a real possibility. Fortunately, the vulnerability report will contain supporting data that was used to determine the presence of a vulnerability. If you suspect a false positive, validate it by performing a manual inspection to invalidate the results the vulnerability scanner provided. If you confirm that it is indeed a false positive, submit evidence to your vulnerability management team to have the finding removed from the report.

Question #5: Can the vulnerability be mitigated?
If the software is current, and the developer does not have an expected release date for a security patch, an alternative method may be required to bring this vulnerability to resolution. This may involve firewall rules to restrict access, or the disablement of non-essential services that would be required for an attacker to take advantage of the vulnerability. Once mitigated, submit evidence of the mitigation to your vulnerability management team to have the finding removed from the report.

Question #6: Is an exception warranted?
There are rare circumstances where a vulnerability must be accepted.  It may be a business process that relies on an end-of-life solution, or the vendor is unable/unwilling to supply a security patch. Whatever the case, when a vulnerability must be accepted it is essential to raise awareness through your vulnerability governance processes. The appropriate security teams can then work to determine what other defenses could be leveraged in to limit exposure. This may involve segmenting the solution from the rest of the network or increasing the visibility of anomalous activity on the solution.

Internet Security @ Home: How to Protect Your Kids Online

CB102240Protecting our children is one of the most important things we are charged with as a parent, and for thousands of years parents have used their own experiences growing up in order to know what to protect their own kids from. It only took three summers of burnt fingertips in the 80’s for me to learn that, when it comes to my own children, they probably shouldn’t try to throw a lit firecracker.

Fast forward to the new millennia, and parents are faced with an interesting challenge. Our children are growing up with an amazing array of technology and communication options way beyond anything we ever had available to us. For instance, Nintendo’s “Duck Hunt” wasn’t a very good reference point for me to know how to protect my kids on Facebook.

Nevertheless, it’s our job to protect our kids, and as an IT professional with a strong background in securing Microsoft-based systems, I thought I would provide some tips and tricks to make your household a little bit safer.

Tip 1: Have a Household “Acceptable Use Policy”

OK, don’t call it an acceptable use policy, but that’s really what it is and you really, really want to keep it short, simple, and to the point. If you think your boss has a short attention span, your kids’ will be even shorter. So, next to every computer in the household post a one page set of rules for using the computer. Also, don’t forget to laminate it, kids tend to spill stuff (at least in my house).

Here are some items from mine:

  1. Use of this computer is a privilege, not a right
  2. When asked to leave the computer, you have 15 seconds to do so
  3. All activities on this computer are monitored*
  4. Computer time is limited to ## minutes per day
  5. If a stranger contacts you anywhere online (Facebook, Instant Messenger, or email)… tell mom or dad right away
  6. If you see anything inappropriate… tell mom or dad right away
  7. If anyone, even one of your friends, upsets you…. tell mom or dad right away

I put the * at the end of #3 because, although there is software to do so, it’s actually pretty impractical to actively monitor everything your child does online… if you’re going to do that, you might as well just sit there with them. However, your child doesn’t need to know that. 😉

Tip 2: Understand the Threats

When thinking about threats, we tend to focus on the ones that make the news…. Viruses and predators. While those are certainly threats to take very seriously, it is far more likely that your child will be the target of cyber bullying at some point. Cyber bullying can occur over Facebook, Twitter, IM, Text, Phone, Skype or even in a game like Minecraft.

Understand where and how your child communicates with people he or she knows, and make sure you have a process in place to routinely check on that communication. Also, and I can’t emphasize this enough, talk to your children about bullying…. Cyber or otherwise. They need to know help is available if they are a target and they need to know it’s unacceptable target anyone else.

Tip 3: Children Should Have Their Own PC

I realize this isn’t practical for everyone, but this is one of the best pieces of advice I have heard recently. While parents certainly aren’t infallible, kids are going to do a lot of dumb things on their computer. So keeping their Internet activities limited to a separate computer than the one you use for online banking and shopping might be a really good idea.

Ideally, this computer should be located in a public space, but again I’m sure that’s not practical for everyone. If the computer must be located in their bedroom at home, insist that if the computer is powered on (even if they are not using it), their door stays open.

Additionally, if you have multiple kids using a computer, give each kid a user account of their own with their own password (make sure you know the password… snooping is the right of any parent).

Also, more than anything else, make sure the kids are not an administrator on their computer or any other computer. Just give them a standard account and keep the administrative password for yourself.

Tip 4: Use OpenDNS.com

I cannot recommend OpenDNS.com enough for home users. It is a completely free product for home use, and will protect your computer from numerous threats on the Internet simply by ensuring your computer won’t be able to find the address of nefarious sites by filtering them out.

Their web site, OpenDNS.com, has very good instructions for the novice home user to enable their service. You will have to fill out a sign up form, but the service is completely free and highly recommended. It’s the easiest thing you can do to actively block a lot of threats against your children.

Tip 5: Charge Cell Phones/iPods Somewhere Public

Remember that the computer is not the only device you need to be concerned about in your house. Cell phones, iPods and Nintendo DS’s can be just as much of a threat to your child’s wellbeing and your sanity. By charging those devices in either the kitchen or other public location, you ensure it’s going to stay somewhere you have access to it for several hours a day. It also prevents your child from being distracted by those devices when they should be sleeping.

Tip 6: Don’t Rely on Filtering Software

Products like NetNanny are great, but they are no replacement for parental monitoring. At best, products like NetNanny protect your kids from accidentally (ok, maybe on purpose) visiting inappropriate web sites. Unfortunately though, there are a lot of sites that your children will want to visit that aren’t going to be blocked by NetNanny, but may still have inappropriate content. Sites like YouTube (which host an amazing array of videos horribly irritating to anyone over 16) contain lots of content targeted at kids, and their rating system is hardly reliable.

The point is, a product like NetNanny  can be helpful, but it can’t block content on a SmartPhone, XBOX, or iPod, and it can’t block inappropriate content being sent to your child by friends through Facebook, IM or text. It’s good for younger kids, but older kids will find a way around it.

Tip 7: Beware Grandma’s PC

Your kids are really, really smart. If you place all of these restrictions on them, they are going to start to look for ways around them to do whatever it is they want to do. While you may not be able to prevent them from doing so 100% of the time, you can minimize the damage where they are most of the time.

My mom has her PC in her office in the basement, and she is all too happy to let the grandkids go down there and play on it (it keeps them quiet). It’s down a flight of stairs and behind three doors. My kids can hear her coming a mile away and know they can get away with anything at Grandma’s anyway.

So, my advice, sit down with the grandparents and try and put in some control measures at their house as well. Or, at least restrict your little one’s use of the computer while visiting the grandparents.

Tip 8: Use Security Software

Trend Micro, Symantec and McAfee all make great commercial products to protect your Home PC from different types of malware such as viruses and worms. Most of those products will cost between $50-100 annually though, which may not fit in everyone’s budget. However, some banks provide the software at a sharp discount, and I’ve also seen really good deals on Amazon as well.

Microsoft has an excellent product called Microsoft Security Essentials. It is free for XP, Vista and Windows 7 and works surprisingly well. It can be downloaded for free from Microsoft.com/Security. It’s not nearly as good as the paid options, but it’s certainly better than nothing.

Tip 9: Educate Yourself

The very best thing you can do is educate yourself on the threats that exist and the methods available to you to mitigate them. Microsoft & Symantec both have free products to help you protect & monitor your children online as well.

Microsoft Safety & Security Center

Facebook Family Safety Center 

Symantec Online Family

Finally…

Make sure your children understand that what they say or post online will likely never go away. Even if they delete something, there are all kinds of archival sites on the web that may still keep a copy or one of their friends may “Share” or “Retweet” what they said or posted.

Colleges and employers are getting more and more aggressive in their searches of social media while screening applicants and they are not always straight forward about it. Ever “like” a business or your school? That action alone gives those schools and businesses visibility into your profile.

Ever “friend” someone you didn’t quite remember meeting? Maybe not, but I’m sure your teenager with 900+ “friends” and applying to college wouldn’t think twice about it… though it could actually be the college or business they are applying to.

So, the rule of thumb in our house is to never say, do, or post anything online you wouldn’t want Grandma to see.

Buy The Book: “The Exceptional Presenter” by Timothy J. Koegel

The Exceptional Presenter“Every time you open your mouth to speak in public, you are a public speaker.” – Koegel

It’s easy to forget how often we really present at work. It’s not just those rare occasions where we are asked to stand up in front of a large group of people. It’s every time we are speaking with our co-workers, regardless if it’s one-on-one in the hallway or with a small group in bona fide meeting room. In short, it’s every single day.

I was a Communications & Marketing double major in college, and an IT consultant for 13 years before moving into corporate IT three years ago. So, presenting has always been something I’ve strived to be better at. After all, no matter how good you are, you can always be better. So when an instructor of mine recommended this book to our class as “essential,” I ordered it the same day, and I am so very glad I did.

In 165 pages, Koegel walks the reader through every aspect of presenting, from basic presentation structure to posture and voice control. I learned more about proper presentation skills from that book than I did in four years of college and nearly two decades of practical experience.

Koegel devotes the first two chapters to selling the reader on why it is important to be an exceptional presenter, and he does a darn good job of it. Most people probably don’t consider the cost of “average” presentation skills to not only their career, but also to the business. To move forward and affect change, you must be able to sell your ideas to your audience. Good presentation skills drive our groups, departments, organizations and ultimately our business forward.

“Those who practice improve. Those who don’t, don’t.” – Koegel

Koegel spends chapter nine, “Practice,” convincing the reader on the importance of practicing their presentation skills. Unfortunately, practicing our presentation skills is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when we get home in the evening, unless we are scheduled to present to a particularly large audience in the near future.

I decided to do the next best thing, and have been working on “fixing” at least one poor habit of mine each week while at work. For instance, I have a habit of keeping my hands in my lap while in a meeting (that’s bad… page 66). Generally, I do that because I’m freezing and I’m just trying to stay warm. Keeping your hands on the table though makes you appear more engaged in the conversation and interested in what others have to say. It’s that subtle body language nobody ever thinks about until you read it in black and white and think “…oh yeah, I do that.”

“Keep it short. Keep it focused. Keep it relevant.” – Koegel

In chapter four, “Organized: Structuring Your Story,” Koegel  instructs the reader on how to design a presentation so that it not only conveys the necessary information, but also keeps the audience’s attention throughout. Sometimes, that means being brief and not speaking any longer than absolutely necessary to drive home your point.

Koegel provides an excellent idea in the book, encouraging the reader to write down the key points of their presentation, and then compare that with how much time you have been allotted. If you have only two points to make, do you really need thirty minutes to do so? Attention spans are short, so efficiency in communicating your message can be much more effective. If you have extra time, engaging the audience in a discussion will do wonders for their retention of the information you are trying to convey.

I think that idea can be extended to the use of PowerPoint in a presentation. Sometimes I wish PowerPoint had a 140 character limit like Twitter… any more than that and you might as well send everyone an email to read later.

The goal of any good PowerPoint slide should be instant recognition. That is, the second the audience sees the slide they should be able to quickly discern what the speaker is going to be discussing. That way they stop paying attention to the slide and focus on the speaker instead. Slides are a great tool when they are used to recapture attention as you walk through a presentation, but distracting if they try to convey too much information.

“Do not accept average when you can be exceptional.” – Koegel

Koegel starts and finishes his book by encouraging the reader to be exceptional. The effective socialization of ideas is critical to success in any large organization. Exceptional presentation skills are a key part of that and certainly beneficial to your own personal brand as well.

There is certainly a substantial amount of information in his book to absorb, so putting it all in to practice overnight is probably unreasonable even for the best of us. If you take just a few pointers from the book though, and incrementally improve your presentation skills, you’ll be well on your way becoming “The Exceptional Presenter.”

Footnote
After reading “The Exceptional Presenter,” I figured I could apply some of those same techniques to being an “Active Attendee” as well, and tried something new during a leadership meeting. Looking around the room I saw 12+ managers staring at 12+ laptop screens (I was one of them). I decided that, much like texting while driving, “it could wait.” I closed my laptop lid to focus on those that were presenting. Though I wasn’t one of the managers presenting that day, I felt I could at least provide a source of eye contact for those that were. Sometimes being an “Active Attendee” is just as important as being an “Exceptional Presenter.”