J Wolfgang Goerlich's thoughts on Information Security
Small Business Security Advantages

By wolfgang. 28 October 2011 05:21

I have had some great conversations since Raf Los (@Wh1t3Rabbit) posted his podcast Monday. Much of the talk has been around some advantages that we do have.

Down the Rabbithole - Episode 4 - Effective Small Business Security

First, information security is a scaling problem.

I have a staffing rule of thumb. I have posted it before, but I’ll repeat it. Take the employees, networked devices, and IT support staff. Security is 1 FTE per 1K employees, 1 FTE per 5K devices, or 1 FTE per 20 IT employees. Most security folks that I have talked with fall within this range, whether they work with multi-nationals or mom-and-pop shops.

This applies to my case. I am dedicated 25% to security. I have 250 end users and around a thousand end-points, servers, switches, routers, and firewalls. Luckily we have more than 5 IT folks, but you get the idea.

The scopes of security challenges remain consistent regardless of the scale. But we on the small medium business side do have a few unique opportunities.

Information security pros at the SMB level have advantages.

Reach. There are fewer layers between us and executive management. The board level directives can flow right into our security planning. There are fewer layers between us and line employees. The security controls can flow right into their daily activities. Communications are simpler in smaller organizations.

Flexibility. If you are an army of one, not much time is needed for generalship. Reaction and response can be quicker. Process and procedure can be reduced, in favor of action and implementation. 

Cooperation. Baking security in means getting buy in from the IT operations team, the software development team, the IT engineering folks, the project managers, the business analysts, and IT management. With separate teams, this can mean significant work just to navigate the politics. More time can be spent on implementing and less on negotiating when all the folks are in one team. 

End-to-end. One dedicated InfoSec pro in a company with less than 5K devices can hold the entire network in his mind. Two dedicated FTEs and 10K devices, and you’ll end up naturally dividing the work between each other. Reach 100K devices secured by 20 InfoSec guys, and one person knowing every nut-and-bolt becomes impossible.

A small network can be a very secure network.

Security flaws come from the people creating the security controls in a vacuum with no relation to the organization’s mission. Security flaws come from people working on the front lines, with no ideas of the control environment. Flaws come from projects without security tasks, from systems that go-live without security review, and from bolted-on security features. Flaws and weaknesses crop up in the gaps of responsibility between teams, and between people.

A security pro in a small medium business is in a position to make a significant contribution to their organization.



Effective Small Business Security Podcast

By wolfgang. 25 October 2011 03:50

"Do you think a team of one person has already lost the battle? Straight out of the gate? Does he stand a chance? Does the individual even have a chance?" -- Michael Allen (@_Dark_Knight_)

Have we lost the battle? On the one hand, we say that it is not if a breach will occur, but when. On the other hand, we say that we are all one breach away from unemployment. What does this tell us about the InfoSec field?

We need a seat at the table.

Most of us got into security back when, if you knew how to set the pins on the modem and knew how to type up firewall rules in a text editor, our users thought we were rockstars. They depended upon us. And we, in turn, depended upon their dependence in order to keep things running securely.

That is no longer the case. People today are more tech savvy and more willing to Google it for themselves. A slew of new companies, with buzz words from cloud to IT consumerization, enable the users doing just that. People do not depend on us any more.

Perhaps we became too dependent on their dependence. We no longer get a seat at the table. We no longer have a free pass. We no longer get included in discussions on new technology. And then we become concerned about all the technology being deployed in our organizations without proper security review and controls.

We must earn a seat at the table.

The #SecBiz thread on Twitter represents a search for earning that seat. #SecBiz shifts our focus away from securing technology and towards securing businesses. Less modems and firewalls, more business initiatives and processes.

Raf Los (@Wh1t3Rabbit) has been on the vanguard of this change. From his blog, from his presentations at B-Sides Detroit and everywhere else, and from his podcast, Raf has been driving home the point. This week, Michael Allen and I were guests on his "Down the Rabbithole" podcast. The topic being information security in the SMB space. We had a fantastic conversation about what security means today.

Are you wondering how to get a seat at the table? Feeling like you have already lost the battle? Spend some time following the Wh1t3Rabbit.

Down the Rabbithole - Episode 4 - Effective Small Business Security



Remediating IT vulnerabilities

By wolfgang. 17 October 2011 10:20

You might say that InfoSec risk management is effectively asset management, threat management, and vulnerability management. What do we have? Who would want to attack it? And what attack vector would they use? The prioritization of fixing or mitigating the vulnerabilities is based on business impact. That is, a measure of how such an attack would affect an employee's productivity and an organization's mission. The following article gives a good overview of the vulnerability side of the process.

Remediating IT vulnerabilities: Quick hits for risk prioritization

Use multiple information sources. As J. Wolfgang Goerlich, network operations and security manager for a mid-sized money management firm told me, he looks for reports that provide "solid information regarding what the threats are and at what frequency they’re occurring."

To keep the fix process focused and effective, know your environment and business impact, create meaningful metrics that take into account public and private ratings, and stay on plan with preset time-to-fix periods.

This article is also on my Press Mentions page.


Risk Management

How advanced are advanced attacks?

By wolfgang. 14 October 2011 10:14

Let's put politics aside for the moment and focus in on why so many organization's label their attacks as being sophisticated. What makes an attack appear to be advanced and persistent?

It truly is all about appearances. We have years of data now from threat reports such as Microsoft's and Verizon's. The reports continue, year after year, to show the same basic truth. Most attacks were due to relatively simple things, like misconfigurations or missing patches. Most attacks are not discovered for weeks to months. When discovered, they are cleaned up in a relatively straightforward process. If that is the case, then why would an attack appear advanced?

It is the law of uphill analysis and downhill invention. Valentino Braitenberg coined the phrase in his book Vehicles. The law is one of the reasons an attacker has an asymmetrical advantage over a defender. Like going downhill versus going uphill, it is much easier to implement something in technology than it is to figure out what happened based on the result.

Things generally seem more complicated at first. Think of any recent troubleshooting incident. Pick a particularly stressful situation. Your team is calling you with updates. Your management is calling you for updates. Other business units are calling you to stress the importance of a quick resolution. Your management's management is calling you to check in. With all that distraction, you are trying to piece together what has happened.

Did it seem particularly challenging event? Did it seem almost insurmountable? And yet, I wager, the root cause was something simple. When all was said and done, when the fog cleared, when all the facts were at hand, the problems turned out to be sequence of simple events. Such problems usually are.

The law of uphill analysis and downhill invention is at work in security incidents. More so, too, because here the attacker is actively working to subvert your investigation. Sure, it was just a spearphishing email that planted a backdoor on the network. But at the time, to the people inside, all they knew was that the attacker was seemingly everywhere inside the perimeter at once. It takes quite a bit of time, training, and effort to work backwards.

What do I hear when someone says it was an advanced persistent threat? It was persistent because it took the organization a long time to detect the attack. It was advanced because it took the security team a lot of effort to figure out what the attacker did. The threat is in over exaggerating what it take to defend a network.



How sophisticated are sophisticated attacks?

By wolfgang. 13 October 2011 07:31

Whenever a breach occurs these days, the organization’s management is quick to call it a sophisticated attack. The media’s quick to jump on the Advanced Persistent Threat or APT bandwagon. Then, sooner or later, news leaks that the attack was actually something quite trivial pulled off by regular people.

Take the Comodo attack. The founder is on record as saying "This [attack] was extremely sophisticated and critically executed. It was a very well orchestrated, very clinical attack, and the attacker knew exactly what they needed to do and how fast they had to operate."

Moxie Marlinspike relayed at BlackHat and GrrCon what he learned about the attacker. Turns out the guy surfed into www.thoughtcrime.org and downloaded sslsnif after the breach. Where did the attacker come from? Hak5.

Moxie Marlinspike: "On the one hand, we have the CEO of Comodo. Very well orchestrated. Clinical. Maybe this video was really good. Maybe it turned them into clinical attackers. But, from what I see, on the one hand we have the CEO’s statements and on the other hand we have someone who is literally following video tutorials on the Internet."

Where is the disconnect? The cynical answer is that it is politically expedient to label attacks "sophisticated". Bonus points if you can link the attack to foreign nations. If the attack can be grouped under force majeure, well, who can defend against that? And who can blame the company for falling prey?

That's the cynical answer. Tomorrow, I will share a more pragmatic reason.

For now, I will give the last word to Jack Daniel. "Every breach is sophisticated, just like everyone is special."



I fight for the users

By wolfgang. 12 October 2011 07:31

There is no patch for stupidity. L-users. Pebcak: problem exists between chair and keyboard. ID10T error. We had everything secure, but then we had to let the users on. We have all heard the jokes.

The problem is that this mindset sets us up against the users.

Corporate security teams need less "I fight the users" and more "I fight for the users". Yes, I am quoting Tron. Here’s a clip with the iconic line:

Tron: Legacy clip on YouTube

Security teams protect the organization’s mission and profitability. That fundamentally means protecting a user’s productivity. Protecting IT systems is secondary. That is a bit of a mindset shift, I know, but bear with me.

What does it mean to fight for the users? It means viewing IT security breaches in the perspective of the impact to the business's mission. It means viewing IT security controls in the perspective of the impact on user’s productivity. Fighting for the users is central to business-centric risk management.


Risk Management | Security

Malware Removal Guide for Windows

By wolfgang. 10 October 2011 08:50

I was at a family event this past weekend. As so often happens at these events, the conversation goes something like:

Them: "Oh, you are in computer security? I got this virus. What should I do?"

Me: "Uhh … Well, that’s not really what I handle."

Malware infections in the corporate world are easy. First, we keep up on the patches. That prevents a lot of infections. Second, we have anti-virus software with updated signatures. This catches what gets thru. Finally, if computers do get infected, we have a silver bullet. A simple reimaging gets everything back in shape.

People at home are not so fortunate. Reimaging is not a fix for them because that often means losing valuable data and applications.

Until recently, my only advice was to reload. Then Brian @ Select Real Security put up an in-depth guide on removing malware. Now I have a better answer. “I got this virus. What should I do?” Check out this guide.

Malware Removal Guide for Windows

"This guide will help you clean your computer of malware. If you think your computer is infected with a virus or some other malicious software, you may want to use this guide. It contains instructions that, if done correctly and in order, will remove most malware infections on a Windows operating system. It highlights the tools and resources that are necessary to clean your system."


Security | Systems Engineering

Comments on Cloud computing disappoints early adopters

By wolfgang. 4 October 2011 12:01

Symantec surveyed several businesses to find out how they felt about cloud computing. The standard concerns about security were expressed. Still no concrete statistics on the difference between the threat exposure of in-house IT versus the threat exposure of public cloud IT. The concern about expertise surprises me, however, as managing a cloud environment is only slightly different than managing an enterprise data center. I have a hunch that it may be IT managers protecting their turf by claiming their guys don't have the expertise, but I may be off. So what's going cloud? Backups, security, and other non-business apps. No surprise there. Give it a few more years yet.

"While three out of four organizations have adopted or are currently adopting cloud services such as backup, storage and security, when it comes to the wholesale outsourcing of applications there is more talk than action, Symantec found. Concerns about security and a lack of expertise among IT staff are the main factors holding companies back, according to the survey of 5,300 organizations ..."

Cloud computing disappoints early adopters




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