Nuance Detection: Not Always an Electronic Problem

This month’s theme is nuance detection. As Brent stated in his blog earlier this month, “the core of nuance detection is to extend alerting capabilities into finding situations that specifically should not exist, and if they happen, would indicate a significant security failure.” When IT oriented people think about this, their minds naturally gravitate to heuristics; how can we establish reliable “normal” user behavior and thereby more easily catch anomalies? And that is as it should be.

But it should also be noted that these “situations that should not exist” are not limited only to cyber events that can be detected and monitored electronically. There are also programmatic and procedural situations that can lead to system compromise and data breach. These need to be detected and corrected too.

One such possible programmatic snafu that could lead to a significant security failure is lack of proper access account monitoring and oversight procedures. Attackers often create new user accounts, or even better for them, take over outdated or unused access accounts that already exist. These accounts are preferable as there are no active users to notice anomalous activity, and to intruder detection systems everything seems normal.

I can’t stress enough the importance of monitoring the access account creation, monitoring and retirement process. The account initiation and approval process needs to be strong, the identification process needs to be strong, the monitoring and retirements processes need to be strong and the often ignored oversight process needs to be strong. A failure of any one of these processes can lead to illicit access, and when all is said and done access is the biggest part of the game for the attacker.

Another dangerous procedural security problem are the system users that make lots of errors with security repercussions, or that just can’t seem to follow the security rules. Maybe they are harried and stressed, maybe just forgetful. Or perhaps they just think the whole “security thing” is just a waste of their time. But whatever the reasons, these foci of security incidents need to be detected and corrected just like any other security problem.

And once again, there should be regular processes in place for dealing with these individuals. Records of security and compliance errors should be kept in order to facilitate detection of transgressors. Specific, hierarchical procedures should be put in place for addressing the problem, including levels of discipline and how they should be imposed. And once again, there should be an oversight component to the process to ensure it is being carried out properly.

These are just a couple of the programmatic and procedural security situations that demand detection and correction. I’m sure there are many more. So my advice is to look at your security situation holistically and not just from the high tech point of view.