Monday, 17 December 2012

Myth #4: We comply with PCI DSS

There are a lot of organisation who think they are compliant with the controls in the PCI DSS, but really aren’t.  There are even more that were compliant at a point of time in the past, but aren’t now.  But let’s for the moment assume that an organisation really is compliant with the 6 objectives, 12 requirements and 225 controls in the PCI DSS.  Does this mean that they are more secure?

The Verizon 2012 Data Breach Investigations Report provides statistics on organisations that suffered a data breach, but should have been compliant with the PCI DSS.  If they were compliant they were 24× less likely to suffer a loss.  This is a really clear statistic, companies really are far more secure if they are compliant with the PCI DSS.

Of course this shouldn’t be a surprise, since the standard is just good security practice, and if organisations take this good practice and apply it to everything, it naturally follows that they will be more secure.

But there were still breaches from PCI DSS compliant organisations.  This doesn’t imply that the standard isn’t good enough – there is no such thing as perfect security – but more perhaps reflects that the only part of an organisation covered by the standard is the cardholder data environment.  It’s possible to have a compliant cardholder data environment, but neglect security in other areas, and still get compromised.

Compliance drives security, but does not equal security.

If PCI DSS is used as a basis for the entire security culture, then this myth is confirmed.

Phil Kernick Chief Technology Officer

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Myth #3: We have the best hardware

We have the best hardware.  We have firewalls from more than one vendor.  We have anti-virus appliances at the gateway.  We have excellent logging capabilities.  We’ve just implemented a data loss prevention solution.  And we’ve had the smartest engineers hook it all up.  Of course we are secure, our vendors told us so!

If you go back to Myth #1, most of the businesses that suffered a data breach had the best hardware.  It didn’t stop the bad guys.

The Verizon 2012 Data Breach Investigations Report has some really enlightening statistics about the timing of data breaches.  Most compromises happened within minutes of initial attack, and data exfiltration happened within minutes of compromise.  But detection of the compromise didn’t happen for months, and containment took weeks after that.  And many of these breaches happened to companies with all the best hardware.

The thinking underpinning this myth is that as technology created the problem, it can also solve it.  As most of these technical systems are scoped, implemented and managed by capable technologists, they are unfortunately blind to the truth.  Information Security is a People Business.  It’s not about the technology.  It’s never been about the technology.

People are the easiest system to attack, and people can subvert any security control.  And much to the annoyance of the technologists, they can’t be patched, and they can’t be upgraded!

Hardware provides a solid platform, and without it security isn’t possible.  But policy, configuration and management trump functionality every time.  Many businesses focus too much on capex and so will overspend on the former, and underspend on the latter.

That makes this myth busted.

Phil Kernick Chief Technology Officer

Monday, 3 December 2012

Myth #2: We’ve outsourced our security

We don’t need to worry about security because we’ve outsourced it.  I’ve increasingly heard this from clients, so clearly many large businesses believe it to be true.  As this myth is quite pervasive, it needs more analysis: what do our clients mean by “security”, what do they mean by “outsourced”, and why have they taken this path?

Let’s start with outsourcing.  It’s one of the 10 year cycles in the IT industry: outsource non-core functions, then discover that they actually are core and bring them back in.  Wash, rinse and repeat.  For security this can make more business sense than for IT in general, as most businesses are not set up to support security 24×7, can’t retain the specialists they would need to do so anyway, and aren’t in the security business.  So outsourcing isn’t inherently a problem.

But maybe they aren’t talking about staff.  Maybe it’s just infrastructure that’s been outsourced.  The Cloud Security Alliance has an entire body of knowledge on how to do this well.  So having infrastructure managed by a third-party isn’t inherently a problem either.

So does having your security outsourced make you inherently more secure?  According to the Verizon 2012 Data Breach Investigations Report, the answer is no.  An organisation is just as likely to have had a data breach if the assets are managed internally as externally.  This is a disappointing result, but hardly surprising as managing IT is not the same as managing security.

What many businesses really think they are outsourcing is accountability for security, and that isn’t possible.  Businesses need to define their own security policy, and then select an outsourcer based on their capability to meet it, and then keep them honest.  Otherwise they end up with the outsourcers risk appetite, which might be quite different from their own.

In the end, you really do get only what you pay for.  If your outsourcer is certified to an recognised international standard, such as ISO27001 then you will pay more, but you will get a secure result.  If you go down the cheap and cheerful route with security outsourcing, unfortunately you probably won’t end up either cheap or cheerful.

This myth is plausible, as it is possible to successfully outsource security, but it isn’t easy.

Phil Kernick Chief Technology Officer