Risk Assessment is a threat to vendors

I took a couple hours out from work today to pop over to Infosec 2008 in Airport CIty.

I don’t normally go to these events unless I’m invited to speak – but it is a good networking opportunity and chance to reconnect with old friends and colleagues.

Whenever I go somewhere – I’m always looking at things with a security perspective – open doors, windows – things that could be easily lifted. Who might be a threat.

Walking the exhibit hall, I realized that Risk Assessment is a threat to security product vendors.

Not every security countermeasure is effective or even relevant for your company. This is definitely a threat to a vendor salesperson who must make quota.

If you do a risk assessment with Practical Threat Analysis (shameless plug for PTA – download here you systematically collect assets, threats, vulnerabilities …and THEN produce a cost-effective risk mitigation plan. Your vendor wants to sell you a $100,000 database firewall, but it may turn out that your top vulnerability is from 10 Field service engineers with company source code on their notebook computers. You can mitigate the risk of a stolen notebook by installing a simple security countermeasure – Free open-source disk encryption software for Windows Vista/XP, Mac OS X, and Linux.

Vendors often attempt to mitigate the risk assessment threat by using compliance as a universal countermeasure.

This is can approach absurd levels as we shall see in the following example.

NetClarity (which is a NAC appliance) claims that it provides “IT Compliance Automation” and that it “Generates regulatory compliance gap analysis and differential compliance reports” and “self-assessment, auditing and policy builder tools for Visa/Mastercard PCI, GLBA (sic), HIPAA, CFR21-FDA-11,SOX-404, EO13231 government and international (ISO270001/17799) compliance.”

A network access control appliance is hardly an appropriate tool for compliance gap analysis but asserting that a NAC appliance or Web application firewall automates SOX 404 compliance is absurd.

Sarbanes-Oxley Section 404, requires management and the external auditor to report on the adequacy of the company’s internal control over financial reporting. This means that a company has to audit, document and test important financial reporting manual and automated controls. I remember the CEO of a client a few years ago insisting that he would not accept any financial reports from his accounting department unless they were automatic output from the General Ledger system – he would not accept Excel spreadsheets from his controller, since he knew that the data could be massaged and fudged. If there was a bug in the GL or missing / incorrect postings he wanted to fix the problem not cut and paste it.

Appropriate, timely and accurate financial reporting has absolutely nothing to do with network access control.


But the best part is the piece on the NetClarity Web site that claims that their product will help “Deter auditors from finding and writing up IT Security flaws on your network”.

And I suppose this really proves my point best of all.

Security vendors like NetClarity do not have economic incentive in reducing data leakge and mitigating risk since that would reduce their product.

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