RE: SANS Are We Doomed?

This kind of stuff is, in my opinion, exactly why management and consumers grow sick of hearing about information security and cyber-risk in general. For years now, security folks have been shouting to high heaven about the end of the world, cyber-terrorism, the cyber-jihad and all of the other creative phrasings for increased levels of risk and attacks.

SANS at least asks for good things too that represent hope, but the list is always small. It is always, as they point out, so much easier to create a list of threats and attack points than a list of what we have done, and are doing right. That’s human nature, to point to the short comings.

My point is that just as many real world risk pundits have said, we have to look at things through a higher level lens. We have to create RATIONAL security. Yes, we have to protect against increases in risk, black swans, 0 day exploits, huge bot-nets and all of the other examples of “bleeding edge threats”, but we have to realize that we have only so many resources to bring to bear and that risk will NEVER approach ZERO!

Here is a real world example:

I recently worked an incident where a complete network compromise was likely to have occurred. In that event, the advice of another analyst was to completely shut down and destroy the entire network, rebuild each and every device from the ground up and come back online only when a state of security was created. The problem: the business of the organization would have been decimated by such a task. Removing the IT capability of the organization as a whole was simply not tenable.

Additionally, even if all systems were “turned and burned” and the architecture rebuilt from the ground up, security “Nirvana” would likely not have been reached anyway. Any misstep, misconfigured system or device or mobile system introduced into the network would immediately raise the level of risk again. So would connecting the newly built “secure” network to the Internet. If 1 minute after the network went live a user clicked on the “dancing gnome” from a malicious email, then the network is in a risk state again. Not to mention or even dive into the idea that an internal attacker or rogue admin could exist inside the environment, even as it was being rebuilt.

Thus, the decision was made to focus not on mitigation of the risk, but on MINIMIZING it. Steps were taken to replace the known compromised systems. Scans and password changes became the order of the day and entire segments of the network were removed from operation to minimize the risk during a particularly critical 12 hour cycle where critical data was being processed and services performed. Today, this IT environment remains in a semi-trusted state, but they are quickly implementing a phased approach to restore full trust to the environment and bring it into compliance with security best practices.

Has there been some downtime? Sure. Has there been some cost? Sure. How about user and business process pain? Of course! But the impact on their organization, business bottom line and reputation has been absolutely less than if they had taken the “turn and burn” approach. They still have risk. They still have threats. They still have vulnerabilities, BUT they are moving to deal with them in a RATIONAL fashion.

RATIONAL response to risk is what we need, NOT gloom, doom and FUD. Finding the holes in security will always be easy, but understanding what holes need to be prevented, wrapped in detection and protected by response is the key. Only when we can clearly communicate to management and consumers alike that we have RATIONAL approaches to solving the security problems are they likely to start listening again. After all, who does anything different when the Internet security level moves from “mochachino” to “dirty martini” or vice versa???

This entry was posted in General InfoSec, Rants by Brent Huston. Bookmark the permalink.

About Brent Huston

I am the CEO of MicroSolved, Inc. and a security evangelist. I have spent the last 20+ years working to make the Internet safer for everyone on a global scale. I believe the Internet has the capability to contribute to the next great leap for mankind, and I want to help make that happen!

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