State Of Security Micro-Podcast Episode 14

This is my first foray into the world of Podcast! I am the new Chief Operating Officer here at MicroSolved and we are getting ready to launch a new Log Analysis product. This micro-episode features members of the staff at MSI and will talk through some of the highlights of our new offering. This is our first attempt as a team so be gentle as we will get better! Thanks for listening!

 

Business Impact Analysis: A Wealth of Information at Your Fingertips

Are you a Chief Information Security Officer or IT Manager stuck with the unenviable task of bringing your information security program into the 21st Century? Why not start the ball rolling with a business impact analysis (BIA)? It will provide you with a wealth of useful information, and it takes a good deal of the weight from your shoulders by involving personnel from every business department in the organization.

BIA is traditionally seen as part of the business continuity process. It helps organizations recognize and prioritize which information, hardware and personnel assets are crucial to the business so that proper planning for contingency situations can be undertaken. This is very useful in and of itself, and is indeed crucial for proper business continuity and disaster recovery planning. But what other information security tasks can BIA information help you with?

When MSI does a BIA, the first thing we do in issue a questionnaire to every business department in the organization. These questionnaires are completed by the “power users” in each department, who are typically the most experienced and knowledgeable personnel in the business. This means that not only do you get the most reliable information possible, but that one person or one small group is not burdened with doing all of the information gathering. Typical responses include (but are not limited to):

  • A list of every business function each department undertakes
  • All of the hardware assets needed to perform each business function
  • All of the software assets needed to perform each business function
  • Inputs needed to perform each business function and where they come from
  • Outputs of each business function and where they are sent
  • Personnel needed to perform each business function
  • Knowledge and skills needed to perform each business function

So how does this knowledge help jumpstart your information security program as a whole? First, in order to properly protect information assets, you must know what you have and how it moves. In cutting-edge information security guidance, the first controls they recommend instituting are inventories of devices and software applications present on company networks. The BIA lists all of the hardware and software assets needed to perform each business function. So in effect you have your starting inventories. This not only tells you what you need, but is useful in exposing assets wasting time and effort on your network that are not necessary; if it’s not on the critical lists, you probably don’t need it.

In MSI’s own 80/20 Rule of Information Security, the first requirement is not only producing inventories of software and hardware assets, but mapping of data flows and trust relationships. The inputs and outputs listed by each business department include these data flows and trust relationships. All you have to do is compile them and put them into a graphical map. And I can tell you from experience; this is a great savings in time and effort. If you have ever tried to map data flows and trust relationships as a stand-alone task, you know what I mean!

Another security control a BIA can help you implement is network segmentation and enclaving. The MSI 80/20 Rule has network enclaving as their #6 control. The information from a good BIA makes it easy to see how assets are naturally grouped, and therefore makes it easy to see the best places to segment the network.

How about egress filtering? Egress filtering is widely recognized as one of the most effect security controls in preventing large scale data loss, and the most effective type of egress filtering employs white listing. White listing is typically much harder to tune and implement than black listing but is very much more effective. With the information a BIA provides you, it is much easier to construct a useful white list; you have what each department needs to perform each business function at your fingertips.

Then there is security and skill gap training. The BIA tells you what information users need to know to perform their jobs, so that helps you make sure that personnel are trained correctly and with enough depth to deal with contingency situations. Also, knowing where all your critical assets lie and how they move helps you make sure you provide the right people with the right kind of security training.

And there are other crucial information security mechanisms that a BIA can help you with. What about access control? Wouldn’t knowing the relative importance of assets and their nexus points help you structure AD more effectively? In addition, there is physical security to consider. Knowing where the most crucial information lies and what departments process it would help you set up internal secure areas and physical safeguards, wouldn’t it?

The upshot of all of this is that where information security is concerned, you can’t possibly know too much about how your business actually works. Ensure that you maintain detailed BIA and it will pay you back for the effort every time.

I’m running out of Post-Its to write down my passwords

We all know to use non-dictionary, complex passwords for our email or online banking or online shopping accounts; whether we put that into practice is another issue. Even less in practice is, using a different password for each of our accounts; that is, never use the same password twice.

Why? The online gaming site that you logon to crush candy may not be as prudent in its security as the financial advisor site that is managing your 401K. The gaming site may store your password in cleartext in their database, or use a weak encryption algorithm. They may not be subject to regulations and policies that require them to have a regular vulnerability assessment. Using the same password for both sites will place either of your accounts vulnerable and at risk.

If a breach occurs and a site’s user data and passwords are unscrambled – as with 3.3 million users of a popular gaming site (article here) – then the hacker can try the discovered password on the user’s other accounts – email, bank, company site logon. And if the user uses the same password across the board, bingo.

You might think unlikely, improbable – how will the hacker know which website to try the discovered credentials? If the email harvested from the gaming site is myemailaddress@gmail.com, they could try the credentials to log into gmail. If the email is @mycompany.com, the hacker would look for a login portal into mycompany.com. The attacker could look for social media accounts registered with that email address. Or any other website that may have an account registered with that email address. The last estimate in 2017 is that there are over 300 million Amazon.com users. The attacker could try the discovered credentials on this popular site; if your favorite password is your birthdate – 12250000 – and you use it for all your logons, the attacker would be on an Amazon shopping spree as you read this blog.

This cross-site password use is not a security issue only through an online data breach; you may have misplaced your trust and shared your password, or entered your credentials on someone else’s computer that had a key logger or you accidentally saved your logon, or browsed the internet using an open wireless hotspot where someone was sniffing the traffic, or through any other instance that your password finds its way to the wrong eyes.

OK, so I need a different password for each different account that I have. I’m gonna need a bigger keyboard to stick all the Post-It notes with the passwords to every account I have underneath it. Or, maybe I could use a password manager.

A password manager is a database program that you can use to store information for each of your online accounts, website, username, password, security questions, etc. They are encrypted, requiring one master password to unlock its contents, all your saved passwords; “Ash nazg durbatulûk” – one ring to rule them all.

Remembering one long, strong, complex, impossible-to-brute-force-or-guess password, you can then gain access to all your other impossible to guess passwords. Almost all password managers also have a feature to generate random, complex passwords that you can use for each of your accounts.

There are many password managers out there, some commercial paid-for programs, some free open-source, with varying features. Some store your data in the cloud, some fill-in the login form automatically in the browser with your account credentials, some you can copy and paste the credentials from the program and the data in the clipboard is erased after a specified time period… You should choose a password manager that is both secure and usable.

Secure in that the encryption used to store the saved credentials and data is impossible to crack. Research what level of encryption your organization requires data to be stored with. When using the password manager, is the data self contained or is it exposed or available for use to other programs, and how. Does the password manager program run in secure memory space or written to a pagefile or swap memory that can be dumped by an attacker.

The password manager should be usable so that the user will be more likely to use it on a daily basis. If it slows down the user too much, it will be ignored and old habits die hard, the user will revert to poor password use behaviors.

An example real-world use of a password manager: Desktop and mobile versions of an open-source password manager can be installed on the Mac, Windows, Linux, Android and iOS operating systems with the one database file containing the credentials data saved in a cloud service. The user can access, view and edit the credentials from any of the devices with the installed program.

Password managers can be an an essential tool in securing your credentials. Do your research; research specifications, read reviews, compare functionality and usability. Also look up which managers have had bugs or vulnerabilities, how quick were the patches released, how was the vendor’s response to the flaws.

Using the same password for even only 2 websites should be a no-no. And forget trying to remember unique passwords to over 20 online accounts (recent research found the average US user has 130 online accounts). Plus, many sites force you to change passwords (rightfully so) on a regular basis. What is my current password to xyz.com that I last logged on 18 months ago?

Password managers can help you use a unique, strong password for each account. A data breach at one website (which seems to be reported on a weekly basis now) should not force you to change your password for any other websites. But protect that ONE master password. It is the one ring that rules them all.

Resources:
https://expandedramblings.com/index.php/amazon-statistics/
https://blog.dashlane.com/infographic-online-overload-its-worse-than-you-thought/