Tag Archive | Information Technology

Security is a Myth

If you own a printer or a smartphone, you’ve probably done some rethinking about a few things over the past week or two. The recent rash of headlines to hit the mainstream media have produced much speculation, misinformation and meetings with Congress, but they have been successful in reaffirming one thing:

Security is a myth.

On the surface, the act of collecting semi-personal information about our calling habits and surreptitiously shipping this data off to mobile phone carriers is bad. At a minimum, having 140 million printers and multifunction scanners and faxes on our networks that are vulnerable to attack is bad.

But the real problems go much deeper.

Consider that our mobile phone carrier told us all about CarrerIQ, but we didn’t care. Yes, it’s right there in the fine print. Very fine. Our End User License Agreement told us that they were going to steal our personal information and use it to analyze our usage habits, and then we happily signed the paperwork. We had a chance to say no, but we either didn’t care, didn’t take the time to understand the security implications, or made the decision to trade our personal data for convenience.

We do it every day.

We should also consider that Angry Birds isn’t much different than CarrierIQ, and the information is going to a pretty-much-unknown-third-party. Our names, addresses, possibly even our GPS coordinates given the appropriate permissions. Yet we happily trade that information for a few minutes of enjoyment.

It’s bad that smartphones are shipping off our personal information, but it’s much worse that we said it’s OK.

And we introduce hardware and software to our work environments in the same manner. Hardware and software that was never designed to be secure. Sophisticated multifunction devices that host web servers and command shells that accept software updates and connections from anyone. These devices are like hacker outposts.

It may be bad that these devices are vulnerable, but it’s much worse that they have access to all of the other assets on our networks.

If you want to know what it’s like to attempt security in today’s world, try jumping into a pool without getting wet. The odds are the same. Everything around us is vulnerable, from our resumes to our Facebook walls, from our mailboxes to our personal interactions. The true saving graces are that there are always less secure entities than you and there are only 24 hours in a day.

Now if this sounds a bit cynical, please don’t misinterpret: I believe that good will always prevail over evil.

We just might get a little wet along the way.

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Information Security – Whose Job is IT?

As the owner of an information security firm, I am frequently faced with the challenge of figuring out who to deliver our message to. Most security practitioners would respond that security is everyone’s responsibility, and I don’t disagree. However when you’re in the business of marketing security services, and not just implementing, that shotgun mentality will just make a big, messy hole.

Yesterday I overheard my business partner on the phone with a prospect, a Compliance Officer for a large credit union. As my partner’s pitch raised to a crescendo, he was suddenly interrupted, replying “so that’s not your responsibility? So… I should talk to IT?” No matter how successful you are, you’re going to get your share of objections, rejections and denials. But deflections are different, particularly in security. Let me explain.

For a long time, information security was considered an IT problem. Why? Because the solutions – things like firewalls, antivirus software and access control lists – were only available from IT. This system worked for a while because the controls were well matched for the threats. But it created an unfortunate precedent, one that would eventually disarm businesses everywhere.

Fast forward to 2011. Today’s threats don’t look or act the way they did ten, five or even two years ago. And even though today’s threats are still rudimentary in nature, they cleverly outwit traditional security controls by avoiding them altogether. The firewalls and antivirus software that made IT synonymous with security are failing, and it’s causing a new problem – an identity problem. IT is not your security team. But if IT doesn’t do security, who does?

It’s not an easy answer, but if you can find the risk owners, you’re on the right track. Here are some suggestions, in order of greatest liability:

  1. At the highest level, business owners are responsible for the health and welfare of their employees, clients and businesses, and as such are implicitly accountable for ensuring the security of business assets. Whether it’s awareness training or data protection, the buck stops here. Of course, each business has unique risks, and every security program will, and should look different. Business owners are the primary risk owners.
  2. Next come asset owners. This is a term borrowed from ITIL and other organizational frameworks that seek to identify the chief decision makers for information and other systems. Asset owners, after business owners, are next in line for risk accountability, because they make decisions about business assets. The Human Resources Manager, the Comptroller, the Director of Development – these are all good examples of asset owners. This could be a large group of individuals, depending on the size of the organization.
  3. The next in line would come those involved with compliance or audit. After all, it is these individuals that are measuring how well regulatory, statutory, commercial and other legal requirements are being met.
  4. Last are the employees of the business. Each and every member of the organization has a role on the security team and is a cog in the security machine. It is the responsibility of each individual to understand their role and responsibilities and implement the required behaviors to the best of their ability. Employees are the organization’s biggest, brightest and most capable security control – when they fail, it becomes a major weakness.

So where does that leave IT? As a service provider, your Information Technology team is simply doing what they are asked to do. Whether your security program is strong and mature or non-existent, remember that it wasn’t (or shouldn’t be) IT that made it that way. IT’s job is to provide technology services that meet specific Service Levels to their clients – the departments, end users and asset owners in your business. They’ll be happy to secure your assets, but only after a business leader, asset owner or Compliance Officer has made the critical decision to do so.

So the next time someone calls you and asks if you’d like to talk about information security at your company, you know what to say.

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