Aug 18 2009

Control selection and cost savings

Category: Security Risk AssessmentDISC @ 3:53 pm


Information Security Risk Analysis

In risk management, risk treatment process begins after completion of a comprehensive risk assessment.
Once risks have been assessed, risk manager utilize the following techniques to manage the risks

• Avoidance (eliminate)
• Reduction (mitigate)
• Transfer (outsource or insure)
• Retention (accept and budget)

Now the question is how to select an appropriate control to avoid or reduce risk. While selecting appropriate control to mitigate and avoid risk we need to consider compensating control to cut cost and supplemental control to increase protection for sensitive or classified assets.

Compensating control is a safeguard or countermeasure is employed by an organization in lieu of recommended security control from standards such as ISO 27002 or NIST 800-53. Compensating control provides an equivalent or comparable protection for information system to the original control requirement form standard. For example, even though most standards recommend separation of duties, but for a small operation it might be an unacceptable cost to separate the duties of system administration and system auditing. In that case system owner can utilize compensating control such as strengthening the audit and personnel security.

On the other hand with supplemental control, the system owner may decide to supplement the control to achieve more protection for sensitive and classified assets. If there is high likelihood or magnitude of impact is high should a threat exploit a given vulnerability you might want to consider a supplemental control because overall risk is high. For example you might want to utilize defense in depth method to safeguard your crown jewel.

Implementing and monitoring security control can be expensive, system owner are pressured by management to look for cost savings without any reduction in the security posture of an organization. The system owner can either inherit the common controls or segment the system exposure to reduce cost and risks.
Common controls are the security controls which have been implemented by another information system that your system can utilize. Basically working with another system owner who has utilized some of the security controls need to be implemented in your system. For example utilize the corporate office base line hardening configuration for Windows and Unix system instead of developing your own. This will significantly reduce the cost of developing, testing and maintaining a secure baseline configuration.

Best and cheapest method of cost reduction is to segment the information system into multiple systems which will add different layers and levels of security into each system. Basically you put your crown jewel in multiple layers of security if one control breaks there is another control in place to monitor and protect your assets. This will allow the system owner to focus implementing higher security controls to the segment with most sensitive or classified information instead of entire system

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Tags: common control, iso 27002, iso assessment, ISO audit, NIST 800-53, NIST audit, risk analysis, Risk Assessment, Risk management

Dec 16 2008

Unstable economy and insider threats

Category: Information Security,Insider ThreatDISC @ 2:42 am

State of affairs
Image by Pulpolux !!! via Flickr
During the current unstable economy, organizations face increased threats from insiders during tough economic years ahead. During hard time organizations not only have to worry about outsider threats but will be facing an increased threat from disgruntled employees who might see no future with the organization during unstable economy. During these circumstances, when new jobs are hard to come by, revenge or financial need might play a motivating factor for a disgruntled employee.

In July 2008, San Francisco city network administrator (Terry Childs who hijacked the city network) was arrested and charged with locking his own bosses and colleagues out of city network. Basically his bosses got caught sleeping on their jobs because they were not monitoring this guy who happens to have the key to their kingdom. San Francisco city network controls data for its police, courts, jails, payroll, and health services. After 8 days in jail cell Terry Childs finally relinquished the password to Mayor Gavin Newsom in his jail cell. Why San Francisco’s network admin went rogue

Here are some considerations to tackle insider threats

Manage and monitor access
Manage your users through single sign on source like Windows active directory or Sun single sign on directory, which not only enable control access to sensitive data but also let you disable access to all resources when employee leave the company from a single location. Single sign on solution also provide comprehensive audit trail which can provide forensic evidence during incident handling.

Limit data leakage
Intellectual property (design, pattern, formula) should be guarded with utmost vigilant. Access to IP should be limited to few authorized users and controls should be in place to limit the data leakage outside the organization. Protect your online assets, and disable removable media to prevent classified data being copied into USB drives, CDs, and mobile phones.

Principle of least privilege
Which requires that user must be able to access to classified information only when user has legitimate business need and management permission. Sensitive data should be distributed on need to know basis and must have system logs and auditing turned on, so you can review the access is limited to those who are authorized. Proactively review the logs for any suspicious activity. In case suspicious activity is detected, increase audit and monitoring frequency of the target to detect their day to day activity. Limit access to critical resources through remote access.

Conduct background check
Conduct background check on all new and suspicious employees. All employees who handle sensitive data must go through background check. HR should conduct background verification, reference check and criminal history for at least 5 years. What type of checks will be conducting on an individual will depend upon their access to classified information.

Risk assessment
Conduct a risk analysis of your data on regular basis to determine what data you have, its sensitivity and where it resides and who is the business owner. Risk analysis should determine appropriate data classification based on sensitivity and risks to data. Regular risk assessment might be necessary, due to passage of time data classification might change based on new threats and sensitivity of the data.

Digital Armageddon – The Insider Threat

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Tags: Background Check, Detect activity, Gavin Newsom, Intellectual Property, Manage access, Monitor access, Online assets, risk analysis, San Francisco, Security, Tough Economy

Nov 26 2008

Cyber threats and overall security assessment

Category: Information Warfare,Risk AssessmentDISC @ 3:13 am

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In the past when senior management (execs) needed to understand the financial implication of cyber threats and their exposures, they turned their questionnaires toward IT for relevant answers. In other words IT risk assessment was the answer in the past to understand the financial implications of cyber threats. The IT risk assessment is not the comprehensive or overall assessment of the company to understand the total implications of cyber threats. The overall assessment will not only include IT but also other departments like HR and legal etc… Basically cyber threats are neither IT issue and nor a legal or HR issue any more, it’s simply an enterprise management issue.

In old days the firewall was used as a major defense against potential cyber threats. The new cyber threats are sophisticated enough to demand better defense. New threats (virus, adware, worms, Trojan, spyware, spam, phishing) use modern techniques to bypass defenses. The potential risks of these new threats demand an immediate attention (of CFO or higher) and approval for resource allocation to protect against cyber threats. To make a solid business case for security ROI, senior level execs need to know the overall risk they are reducing, and their highest priority.


ANSI and ISA have jointly released a document to assist senior management to prepare for financial implications for cyber threats. Basic essence of the guide is to provide a tool to execs to understand the financial implications of potential cyber threats to their organizations.

“The 40 page guide was put together by task force of risk management execs from more than two dozen organizations. The new guide offered by ANSI and the ISA recommends that CFO ask their various team’s questions about the biggest threats to data confidentiality, integrity and availability,” to get to know the existing controls in place and any relevant mitigation plan. Risk analysis of this information can help execs to map the cyber threats risks into correct financial terms and make better resource allocation.
The senior execs who want to implement information security as a process in their organization should consider ISO 27001 (ISMS) as a best practice, which provides a reasonable on-going due diligence to protect and safeguard organization data.

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Tags: availability, Business, Chief financial officer, cyber threats, data confidentiality, exposure, Financial services, Human resources, Insurance, integrity, isms, ISO/IEC 27001, Management, overall assessment, risk analysis, Risk Assessment, Risk management, roi, Security

Aug 08 2008

PCI DSS significance and contractual agreement

Category: pci dss,Security ComplianceDISC @ 11:52 pm

The PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry & Data Security Standard) was established by credit card companies to create a unified security standard for handling credit card information.  The retail service industry now understands the strategic significance of PCI DSS compliance, which was demonstrated when TJX announced that their system was compromised for more than 17 months, where well over 50 million customers’ credit and debit cards were breached. Retail business which fails to comply will be subject to penalties and fines, possibly lawsuits, and may lose their credit card processing capability. Non-compliance will not only expose businesses to fines and penalties but also make it vulnerable to many threats, which can exploit the vulnerabilities in the system and put your business to unnecessary risk. These risks could have been avoided with some due diligence. When business is non-compliant, any major breach will have a significant impact on business viability.

To start a process of PCI compliance, a merchant should determine if PCI DSS applies to their organization.  PCI DSS is applicable if your customer PAN (Primary Account Numbers) is stored, processed or transmitted in your organization. After determining the applicability of the standard, the merchant needs to determine where their business falls in the categorization of businesses by their bank in terms of merchant level.

Before commencing the risk assessment the assessor will perform the system profile to determine the applicability of the scope and set the boundaries of the system covered under PCI-DSS assessment. Planning is the key to success of a project; this is the phase where all the planning and project preparation will take place.   Now the key to the success of your on-going compliance is to simplify the scope of the project. The best way to achieve this to put all the PCI related assets in a precise segment to limit the merchant card holder environment.

Comprehensive risk assessment will be performed on the identified scope where risk analysis will identify the gaps based on PCI DSS standards and risk rating will prioritize the gaps for risk management.  Thorough risk analysis will generate a quality technical and process gap analysis, where you decide the mitigation/compensating controls to comply with PCI DSS.  After completion of the risk assessment the task of the risk management begins, to eliminate the gaps in your environment and to comply with the standard. Depending on the numbers of gaps the risk management team should set realistic goals to complete the tasks in hand.  Best practices recommendations suggest that the organization should eliminate/mitigate the high risks (high impact & probability) gaps to the organization, but sometime organizations decide to go after the low hanging fruits to start with their risk management process.

When the risk management process gets close to finishing and you are well on your way to comply with PCI DSS, you might think that perhaps your job is done. Well in a way, it’s just a beginning of a process where your organization is supposed to maintain the compliance with PCI DSS.  Based on expert opinion, PCI DSS is a process not a project. What you have done so far, is baseline your environment. Ongoing compliance is achieved by monitoring the relevant PCI DSS controls. Ongoing compliance will depend on the quality of the merchant’s information security management system (ISMS). A strong  ISMS would include thorough monitoring, logging and reviewing controls to maintain and improve system security over time.  You can develop an automated PCI monitoring process to achieve consistent results and sustain compliance by continuously monitoring your system. ISMS (based on ISO 27001) certainly can be a great value to manage ongoing monitoring, maintenance and improvement cycle.

In a sense, PCI is neither a regulation nor a standard but a contractual agreement between the merchant and their acquirer bank, when merchants start transmitting PAN data that makes them contractually obligated to comply with PCI DSS. To understand their obligations, the merchant should make a proactive effort to understand their acquirer’s particular interpretation of PCI DSS requirements to get compliant.  Ongoing compliance will require adequate resources and automated controls in place to routinely monitor, maintain, review and improve the required systems. Ultimately, ongoing PCI compliance will enhance business efficiency and reduce the potential impact of adverse publicity on your business image.


Documentation Compliance Toolkit

PCI Compliance

Practical guide to implementation (Soft Cover)

Practical guide to implementation (Download)

PCI Compliance

Tags: business efficiency, business image, compensating controls, comprehensive, contractual agreement, gap analysis, isms, iso 27001, merchant card holder, mitigate, pan, pci compliance, pci dss, risk analysis, Risk Assessment, risk management process, tjx