Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pay attention

The recent Verizon Breach Report hammers home once again is that people are still not taking the basic, known steps to secure their systems.


I'm not sure what the cognitive breakdown is. Perhaps it's the human mind's tendency to be attracted to the new and different while ignoring the routine. My own experience in security work mirrors this. Whenever a new security initiative drops down from on high, for the first month or two, I see staff scurry about implementing the controls and following policy. Then after the shine wears off, an interesting phenomenon happens. It's not that they forget about security. In fact, they are still fixated on it. I hear things like "Well, we can't do Project XYZ. How would that affect our security?" "Oh, if you're going to build a new server, then we need to make sure it's in line with security plans." Being sarcastic or not, at least they're thinking about security. But I suspect it's not all sarcastic. I often see very long detailed project plans about how to secure some new esoteric service - often with meticulous lockdown steps enumerated for even the most unlikeliest of attacks.

But of course, a quick check of basic processes finds that the same people who are bringing up security for every new initiative or system change are also getting sloppy with the daily routine things they're supposed to be doing. They're making extraneous firewall changes; they're using weak passwords; they're not patching; they're turning off logging to fix something and leaving them off; Oh, and they don't notice that because they're not reviewing logs either. They're busy and they'll get to all these things when they can. And then they forget.

The solution is often to install a massive administrative and technical compliance infrastructure to double-check everything that everyone is supposed to be doing. Assume the breach, even for the internal processes. Costly in time and money, but sometimes unavoidable.

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