Feb 16 2010

Security risk assessment process and countermeasures

Category: Security Risk AssessmentDISC @ 4:01 pm

The Security Risk Assessment Handbook: A Complete Guide for Performing Security Risk Assessments

The following are the common steps that should be taken to perform a security risk assessment. These are just basic common steps which should not be followed as is but modified based on organization assessment scope and business requirements.

• Identify the business needs of the assessment and align your requirements with business needs.
• Assess the existing security policies, standards, guidelines and procedures for adequacy and completeness.
• Review and analyze the existing assets threats and vulnerabilities
• Analyze the impacts and likelihood of threats and vulnerabilities on assets
• Assess physical controls to network and security infrastructure
• Assess the procedural configuration review of network and security infrastructure based on existing policies and procedures
• Review logical access and physical access and other authentication mechanism
• Review the level of security awareness based on current policies and procedures
• Review the security controls in service level agreement from vendors and contractors
• At the end of review develop a practical recommendations to address the identified gaps in security controls

To address the existing gaps in infrastructure we have to select the appropriate countermeasures to address the vulnerability or thwart a threat of attack. Four types of techniques are used by countermeasures:

Deterrent controls reduce the likelihood of an attack. Blocking phishing sites at ISP is an example of deterrent control
Preventive controls reduce exposure. Firewall is an example of preventive control
Corrective controls reduce the impact of successful attacks. Antivirus is an example of corrective control
Detective controls discover attacks and trigger preventive or corrective controls. IDSs and SIEM systems are example of detective control.

Tags: authentication, countermeasure, Firewall, phishing, Risk Assessment, security controls, Security policy, security review, Security Risk Assessment, security risk assessment process

Dec 10 2009

What is a risk assessment framework

Category: Information Security,Risk AssessmentDISC @ 5:46 pm

Computer security is an ongoing threat?!?
Image by Adam Melancon via Flickr

The Security Risk Assessment Handbook: A Complete Guide for Performing Security Risk Assessments

Definition – A risk assessment framework (RAF) is a strategy for prioritizing and sharing information about the security risks to an information technology (IT) infrastructure.

A good RAF organizes and presents information in a way that both technical and non-technical personnel can understand. It has three important components: a shared vocabulary, consistent assessment methods and a reporting system.

The common view an RAF provides helps an organization see which of its systems are at low risk for abuse or attack and which are at high risk. The data an RAF provides is useful for addressing potential threats pro-actively, planning budgets and creating a culture in which the value of data is understood and appreciated.

There are several risk assessment frameworks that are accepted as industry standards including:

Risk Management Guide for Information Technology Systems (NIST guide) from the National Institute of Standards.

Operationally Critical Threat, Asset, and Vulnerability Evaluation (OCTAVE) from the Computer Emergency Readiness Team.

Control Objectives for Information and related Technology (COBIT) from the Information Systems Audit and Control Association.

To create a risk management framework, an organization can use or modify the NIST guide, OCTAVE or COBIT or create a framework inhouse that fits the organization’s business requirements. However the framework is built, it should:

1. Inventory and categorize all IT assets.
Assets include hardware, software, data, processes and interfaces to external systems.

2. Identify threats.
Natural disasters or power outages should be considered in addition to threats such as malicious access to systems or malware attacks.

3. Identify corresponding vulnerabilities.
Data about vulnerabilities can be obtained from security testing and system scans. Anecdotal information about known software and/or vendor issues should also be considered.

4. Prioritize potential risks.
Prioritization has three sub-phases: evaluating existing security controls, determining the likelihood and impact of a breach based on those controls, and assigning risk levels.

5. Document risks and determine action.
This is an on-going process, with a pre-determined schedule for issuing reports. The report should document the risk level for all IT assests, define what level of risk an organization is willing to tolerate and accept and identify procedures at each risk level for implementing and maintaining security controls.

Tags: Business, COBIT, Computer security, Data, Fire and Security, Information Technology, iso 27001, iso 27002, National Institute of Standards and Technology, NIST, OCTAVE, Risk management, Security, security controls, Technology

Oct 08 2009

Security Controls and Principles

Category: Information SecurityDISC @ 3:08 pm


Principles of Information Security

For security controls to be effective apply the pillars of information security

–Principle of least privilege
–Separation of duties
–Economy of mechanism
–Complete mediation
–Open design

Least Privilege
• “Need to Know”
• Default deny – essentially , don’t permit any more to occur than is required to meet business or functional objectives
• Anything extra introduces risk

Separation of Duties
• The idea is that we don’t want to give any one individual so much power that they cloud take dangerous actions without any checks and balances in place.
• You trust them with their job responsibilities but they should be accountable for their actions which is only possible when you measure or monitor their performance.

Economy of Mechanism
• Complexity is an enemy of security, it’s much more difficult to create a simple mechanism and keep it that way.
• The more complexity added to a system, the more chance for error or flaw

Complete Mediation
• The control cannot be bypassed (organization firewall, by creating a backdoor)
• This principle says no unofficial backdoor (no disabling the anti-virus software)

Open Design
• The security of a system must not be based on the obscurity of the mechanism
• Proprietary software are not tested properly and sometime include an undisclosed back door (ballot counting software)


Tags: Complete mediation, Economy of mechanism, open design, Principle of least privilege, security controls, security principles, Separation of duties

Sep 21 2009

Due Diligence, and Security Assessments

Category: Information Security,Security Risk AssessmentDISC @ 9:21 pm

Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer
Image via Wikipedia

Fighting Computer Crime: A New Framework for Protecting Information

Risk assessment demands due diligence, which makes business sense and derives organization mission. Due care care is also about applying the specific control that counts. In information security, due diligence means a complete and comprehensive effort is made to avoid a security breach which could cause detrimental effects and identify various threats that may be exploited for a possible security breach.

Donn Parker defines due care as a “use of resonable safeguards based on the practices of similiar organizations”

Fred Cohen defines “due diligence is met by virtue of compliance review.”

Organizations must: (i) periodically assess the security controls in organizational information systems to determine if the controls are effective in their application; (ii) develop and implement plans of action designed to correct deficiencies and reduce or eliminate vulnerabilities in organizational information systems; (iii) authorize the operation of organizational information systems and any associated information system connections; and (iv) monitor information system security controls on an ongoing basis to ensure the continued effectiveness of the controls.
(FIPS 200, Section 3, Minimum Security Requirements)

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Tags: donn parker, due care, due diligence, Fred Cohen, security controls

Nov 04 2008

Open Network and Security

Category: Information Security,Open NetworkDISC @ 7:54 pm

Made and uploaded by John Manuel - JMK{{#if: |...

Open networks are heterogeneous environment where users like to use all the applications and systems at any given time. In a heterogeneous environment, each department run different hardware and software, but you can control the protocols which will work on this environment.

Universities are famous for open network. Most Universities network is comprised of a Bank (To give loan to students), a restaurant, and a bookstore which have credit card processing ability. Students, alumni, researchers, employee and staff need access to utilize resources. Now how would you control access if same person assume all the roles mentioned above. Universities are basically transient communities, where users come back and plug-in their new devices and expect an immediate access to all the resources. Where the reputation of openness is challenge at every step of the way, now the question is how can they maintain reputation and yet control the environment based on security policies.

Reasonable security can be accomplished by focusing on a process rather than adding yet another security control. The process is based on risk assessment program where you assess your critical assets based on threat and vulnerability pair and measure the likelihood and impact of a threat if a given vulnerability is exploited.

The process start with knowing your assets – Network registration will detect when you plug-in your new equipment. Before you get an access, it detects a hardware address and username. You can also control common misconfigurations and noncompliance issues with network registration process. Some vulnerability management systems discover assets and perform vulnerability and security configuration assessment to proactively identify and prioritize risks. New vulnerabilities are accessed from trusted site on a regular basis and when vulnerabilities are identified, the management system needs to have an ability to remediate to comply with the information security policy.

Most of the departments in an open network contains different systems and applications and basically have different security appetite. Distributed IT Governance can address this issue where you develop policies and procedures which fit their needs and hand it over to the department to comply.
Open network requires pretty much open borders, Instead of securing the network/system emphasis should be on data protection.


Recent news from AT&T to make its network open where customers can use any handset of their choice, perhaps a reaction to in response to recent moves from Verizon and Google to promote open network. Specifically Verizon announced that it would allow “any device” and “any application” to operate on its network. These open networks does provide flexibility for customers but at the same time burden lies on the shoulders of the corporations to provide right balance of security and privacy with availability of the network.

In an open network, reasonable security can be achieved by embracing ISO 27k standard and eventually acquiring ISO 27001 (ISMS) certification. Information Security Management System (ISMS) can be a great value added process to manage ongoing monitoring, maintaining and for process improvement of an open network. ISMS as a process in-place provides reasonable security safeguard to your information and certainly help to minimize the liability in the court of law.

End-to-End Network Security: Defense-in-Depth by Omar Santos

(Free Two-Day Shipping from Amazon Prime). Great books

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Tags: AT&T, Computers, Credit card, data protection, heterogeneous, impact, Information Security, Information Security Management System, isms, iso 27001, ISO 27k, ISO/IEC 27001, IT Governance, likelihood, Network registration, Omar Santos, Reasonable security, risk assessment program, security controls, threat, Universities network, Verizon, vulnerability, vulnerability management systems

Oct 29 2008

Laptop and traveling precautions

Category: Laptop SecurityDISC @ 12:58 am

Laptop security

Best practice emphasize the fact to backup the data if you can’t live without it, in the same way a traveler must avoid taking sensitive data on the road unless it’s absolutely necessary to do so. If you do plan to take sensitive data with you on the laptop, the necessary security controls must be implemented and go with the sensitive data. The data protection controls should be based on your information security policy data classification.

The laptop hardware itself is only worth few hundred dollars these days, but on the other hand it’s hard to put a price tag on the exposed data which may have a drastic impact on your organization, especially these days when most of the organizations are at the edge due to financial chaos.
Frequent travelers know it’s possible to lose a laptop or lose data because laptop may become inoperable due to hardware malfunction. Planning an important business trip should include encrypting sensitive data and backup on a remote website (Carbonite). So in case you lose your laptop or it’s is inoperable for some reason, you can remotely recover backed up files from site within reasonable time.


Here is how you can encrypt your data on Windows laptop with built-in utility EFS

1. Create a new folder, and name the folder Private.
2. Right click the new folder and choose properties
3. Click advanced button
4. Check encrypt contents to secure data box and then click OK, Apply and OK again.

You have created a secure area where you can put your sensitive documents. Any file or subfolder you add to this folder (Private) will be encrypted automatically. Basically any type of file except Windows system file will be encrypted in this folder. Now if the attacker steal your laptop and remove your hard drive and mount on a system where the attacker has administrative privileges, the attacker will not be able to access the contents of the folder Private. On the other hand 256-bit AES encryption key is stored in encrypted form as a file attribute called the data decryption field (DDF). The EFS private key, needed to decrypt the DDF and extract the file encryption key, is also stored in encrypted form in the registry. The master key, which is used to obtain the key needed to access the EFS private key, is encrypted by the systems key and also stored locally. So the attacker will be able to decrypt the EFS protected files if he can somehow get possession of the system key.

Luckily we do have a choice whether to store the system key locally on your laptop. If you click start, then Run and then launch syskey.exe utility, you can choose how and where the system key will be stored. The dialogue box will present three options.

1. Store the startup key locally
2. Store the startup key on the floppy disk
3. Generate the startup key from a password

With the two non default options, you will be requiring to either insert the floppy or enter the password whenever the laptop is BOOTED. The floppy option is highly inconvenient for laptop users but the password options seem sufficient to protect the laptop data. On the laptop which doesn’t have a floppy drive, don’t try to click the floppy option because when you boot next time the laptop will be looking for the system key on a floppy before booting.

Survey: CISOs worried about mobile data security

**The real Hustle – Laptop Theft Scam

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Tags: aes, Backup, Booting, carbonite, Cryptography, data classification, data ptotection, ddf, efs, encryption, exposed data, financial chaos, Hardware, Notebooks and Laptops, private key, Security, security controls, sensitive data, system key, threats, Windows

Oct 17 2008

SmartPhone and Security

Category: Information Security,Smart PhoneDISC @ 1:53 am

Mobile spyware is malicious software which is used to spy and control mobile devices (BlackBerry, PDAs, Windows Mobile and Cell Phones). Mobile spyware will not only intercept the message between two devices but also determine the location of the device. Basically, mobile spyware software is installed on a mobile device to spy on them.

Small businesses are usually not equipped to handle these threats. Just like laptops and desktops – mobile devices need security controls like antivirus, personal firewall, encryption and VPN to provide needed level of protection. Small businesses need to be aware of the security threats, like they might think that they are installing a game, which might very well be a key logger (logs your key strokes) or trojan software.


Hackers on the move, WSJ August 11, 2008 by Roger Cheng – where he writes about more companies are letting employees use their personal smart phone at work and the security experts warns about the present threats in the industry. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121803418845416977.html

Tips to safeguard your smartphone

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Tags: antivirus, encryption, hacker, intercept, key logger, malicious, mobile phone, mobile spyware, personal firewall, roger cheng, security controls, security expert, spy, threats, trojan, vpn, wsj