Ask The Experts: Advice to New InfoSec Folks

This time our question came from a follow up on our last advice article to new infosec folks (here). Readers might also want to roll back the clock and check out our historic post “So You Wanna Be in InfoSec” from a few years ago. 

Question: “I really want to know what advice the Experts would give to someone looking to get into the information security business. What should they do to get up to speed and what should they do to participate in the infosec community?”

Adam Hostetler replied:

To get up to speed, I think you should start with a good foundation of knowledge. Already working in IT will help, you should then already have a good idea of networking knowledge, protocols, and architecture, as well as good OS administrative skills. Having this knowledge already helped me a lot at the beginning. Then I would move into the infosec world, read and listen to everything you can related to infosec.  There’s much much more security related knowledge online than ever before, so use it to your advantage. You also now have the opportunity to take info sec programs in colleges, which weren’t really available 10 years ago. Social Networking is very important too, and how you would likely land a job in infosec. Go to events, conferences or local infosec meetings. Some of the local infosec meetings here in Columbus are ISSA, OWASP, and Security MBA. Find some in your area, and attend something like Security B-Sides, if you can. Get to know people at these places, let them know you’re interested, and you might just end up with your dream job.

John Davis chimed in:

If you want to get into the risk management side of the information security business, first and above all I recommend that you read, read, read! Read the NIST 800 series,  ISO 27001 & 27002, the PCI DSS, CobiT, the CAG, information security books, magazine articles, and anything else you can find about information security. Risk assessment, ERM, business continuity planning, incident response and other risk management functions are the milieu of the generalist; the broader your knowledge base, the more effective you are going to be. To participate in the infosec community, there are several things you can do. Probably the best and quickest way to get started is to attend (and participate in) meetings of information security professional organizations such as ISSA, ISACA and OWASP. Talk to the attendees, ask questions, see if they know of any entry level positions or internships you might be able to get into. There are also infosec webinars, summits and conferences that you can participate in. Once you get your foot in the door someplace, stick with it! It takes time to get ahead in this business. For example, you need four years of professional infosec experience or three years experience and a pertinent college degree before you can even test for your CISSP certification.

As always, thanks for reading! Drop us line in the comments or tweet us (@lbhuston or @microsolved) with other questions for the Security Experts.

Three Ways to Engage with the InfoSec Community


Folks who are just coming into infosec often ask me for a few ways to engage with the infosec community and begin to build relationships. Here a few quick words of advice that I give them for making that happen.

1) Join Twitter and engage with people who are also interested in infosec. Talk directly to researchers, security visionaries and leadership. Engage with them personally and professionally to build relationships. Add value to the discussions by researching topics or presenting material that you are familiar with.

2) Join an open source software project. Even if you aren’t a coder, join the project and help with testing, documentation or reviews of some kind. Open source projects (they don’t have to be security projects) can benefit from the help, an extra set of eyes and the energy of new folks contributing to their work. You’ll learn new stuff and build great relationships in the development and likely infosec communities along the way. 

3) The way that most folks go about it works as well. Go to events. Network. Meet infosec people and engage them in discussions about technical and non-technical subjects. Groups like ISSA, ISACA, ISC2, OWASP and other regional security events are good places to meet people, learn stuff and develop relationships with folks working on hard problems. Cons can be good for this too, but often have less chances for building rapport due to the inherent sensory overload of most con environments. Cons are a good place to grow relationships, but may not be the best events for starting them.

That’s my advice. All 3 items are hard work. They offer a chance for you to learn and engage. BUT, you have to work to earn respect and rapport in this community. You have to contribute. You must add value. 

As always, thanks for reading and until next time, stay safe out there! 

Ask The Experts Series – Workstation Malware

This time around we had a question from a reader (thanks for the question!):

“My organization is very concerned about malware on desktop machines. We run anti-virus on all user systems but have difficulty keeping them clean and are still having outbreaks. What else can we do to keep infected machines from hurting us? –LW”

Phil Grimes (@grap3_ap3) responds:

In this day and age, preventing infection on desktop workstations is a losing battle. While Anti-virus and other measures can help protect the machine to some extent, the user is still the single greatest point of entry an attacker can leverage. Sadly, traditional means for prevention don’t apply to this attack vector, as tricking a user into clicking on the “dancing gnome” often launches attacks at levels our prevention solutions just can’t touch.

Realizing this is the first, and biggest step to success here.

Once we’ve embraced the fact that we need better detection and response mechanisms, we start to see how honeypots can help us but also how creating better awareness within our users can be the greatest investment an organization might make in detection. Teach your people what “normal” looks like. Get them in the habit of looking for things that go against that norm. Then, get them to want to tell someone when they see these anomalies! A well trained user base is more efficient, effective, and reliable detection mechanism an organization can have. After that, learn how to respond when something goes wrong.

John Davis added: 

Some of the best things you can do to combat this problem is to implement good, restrictive egress filtering and ensure that users have only those local administration rights to their workstations that they absolutely need.

There are different ways to implement egress filtering, but a big part of the most secure implementation is whitelisting. Whitelisting means that you start by a default deny of all outbound connections from your network, then only allow those things outbound that are specifically needed for business purposes. One of the ways that malware can infect user systems is by Internet surfing. By strictly limiting the sites that users can visit, you can come close to eliminating this infection vector (although you are liable to get plenty of blowback from users – especially if you cut visiting social networking sites).

Another malware infection vector is from users downloading infected software applications to their machines on disks or plugging in infected portable devices such as USB keys and smart phones to their work stations. This can be entirely accidental on the part of the user, or may be done intentionally by hostile insiders like employees or third party service providers with access to facilities. So by physically or logically disabling users local administration rights to their machines, you can cut this infection vector to almost nil.

You still have to worry about email, though. Everybody needs to use email and antivirus software can’t stop some malware such as zero day exploits. So, for this vector (and for those users who still need Internet access and local admin rights to do their jobs), specific security training and incentive programs for good security practices can go a long way. After all, a motivated human is twice as likely to notice a security issue than any automated security solution.

Adam Hostetler also commented:

Ensure a policy for incident response exists, and that it meets NIST guidelines for handling malware infections. Take the stand that once hosts are infected they are to rebuilt and not “cleaned”. This will help prevent reinfection from hidden/uncleaned malware. Finally, work towards implementing full egress controls. This will help prevent malware from establishing command and control channels as well as combat data leakage.

Got a question for the experts? If so, leave us a comment or drop us a line on Twitter (@microsolved). Until next time, stay safe out there!