Tag Archives: Internal security

Information Security Best Practices

What is more important – patient safety or hospital IT?

What is more important – patient safety or the health of the enterprise hospital Windows network?  What is more important – writing secure code or installing an anti-virus?

A threat analysis was performed on a medical device used in intensive care units.  The threat analysis used the PTA (Practical threat analysis) methodology.

Our analysis considered threats to three assets: medical device availability, the hospital enterprise network and patient confidentiality/HIPAA compliance. Following the threat analysis, a prioritized plan of security countermeasures was built and implemented including the issue of propagation of viruses and malware into the hospital network (See Section III below).

Installing anti-virus software on a medical device is less effective than implementing other security countermeasures that mitigate more severe threats – ePHI leakage, software defects and USB access.

A novel benefit of our approach is derived by providing the analytical results as a standard threat model database, which can be used by medical device vendors and customers to model changes in risk profile as technology and operating environment evolve. The threat modelling software can be downloaded here.

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Five things a healthcare CIO can do to improve security

A metaphor I like to use with clients compares security vulnerabilities with seismic fault lines. As long as the earth doesn’t move – you’re safe, but once things start moving sideways – you can drop into a big hole. Most security vulnerabilities reside in the cracks of systems and organizational integration and during an M&A, those cracks fault lines can turn your local security potholes into the Grand Canyon.

Here are 5 practical things I would recommend to any healthcare organization CIO:

1. Do not rely on fixed controls

Any information security professional will tell you that security countermeasures are comprised of people, processes and technology.  The only problem is that good security depends on stable people, processes and technology. A stable organization undergoing rapid and violent change is an oxymoron.  Visualize your company has ISO 27001 certification but the stock drops by 90% because of an options back-dating scandal at the top, the company fires 900 employees and all of a sudden, the fixed controls are not as effective as you thought they were.  Think about the Maginot Line in WWII.

2. Use common sense when it comes to people

People countermeasures should be a mix of common-sense, background checks (at a depth proportional to job exposure to sensitive assets), and deterrence.  Andy Grove once said

“Despite modern management theory regarding openness – a little fear in the workplace is not a bad thing”.

When a lot of employees are RIF‘d – there is a lot of anger and people who don’t identify with their employer; the security awareness training vaporizes and fear and revenge take over. Some of the security people will be the first to go, replaced by contractors who may not care one way or the other or worse – be tempted by opportunities offered by the chaos. In  a large complex healthcare organization, large scale security awareness training is probably a hopeless waste of resources considering the increasing number of options that people have (Facebook, smartphones..) to do stuff that causes damage to the business.Security awareness will lose every time it comes up against an iPad or Facebook.

Why is  common sense a good alternative to awareness training?

Common sense  is easy to understand and enforce if you keep it down to 4 or 5 rules:  maintain strong passwords, don’t visit porn sites, don’t blog about the business, don’t insert a disk on key from anyone and maintain your notebook computer like you guard your cash.

3. Spend some money on securing your software applications instead of on security theater

It’s a given that business processes need to be implemented in a way that ensures confidentiality, integrity and availability of customer data.  A simplistic example is a process that allows a customer service representative to  read off a full credit card number to a customer. That’s a vulnerability that can be exploited by an attacker.  But – that’s a trivial example – while you’re busy managing processes and using security theater code words – the attackers are attacking your software and stealing your data.

4. Question your defenses 

Technology countermeasures are not a panacea – and periodically you have to step back and take a look at your security portfolio both from a cost and effectiveness perspective.  You probably reply on a defense in depth strategy but end up with multiple, sometimes competing and often ineffective tools at different layers – workstation, servers and network perimeter.

Although defense-depth is a sound strategy – here are some of the fault lines that may develop over time:

  • One – most defense in depth  information security is focussed on external threats while in an  organization undergoing rapid change – the problem is internal vulnerabilities.
  • Second – defense-in-depth means increased complexity which can result in more bugs, more configuration faults and … less security instead of more security.
  • Three – when the security and executive staff is cut, security monitoring and surveillance is suffers – since there are less (or no) eyeballs to look at the logs and security incident monitoring systems. With less eyeballs looking at events – you may have a data breach and only know about it 3 months later – are you still sure defense in depth was protecting you?

5. Invest in smart people instead  (instead of investing in business alignment)

Business alignment is one of those soft skill activities that keep people in meetings instead of mitigating healthcare  vulnerabilities – which requires hard professional skills and high levels of professional security competence. It’s a fact of life that problem solvers hate meetings and rightly so – you should invest in smart people and go light on the business alignment since it will never stop the next data breach of your patients’ data.

Claudiu Popa, president and chief security officer of data security vendor Informatica Corp. told  Robert Westervelt in an interview  on searchsecurity.com that:

…once an organization reaches the right level of maturity, security measures will not only save time and money, but also contribute to improved credibility and efficiency.

This is nonsense – security is a cost  and it rarely contributes to efficiency of a business (unless the business can leverage information security as part of it’s marketing messages) and as  for an organization firing 30% of it’s workforce over night – words like maturity, credibility and efficiency go out the door with the employees.

At that point –  highly competent and experienced security professionals who are thinking clearly and calmly are your best security countermeasure.

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The top 2 responses to data security threats

How does your company mitigate the risk of data security threats?

Is your company management adopting a policy of “It’s other peoples money”?

In a recent thread on LinkedIn – Jody Keyser shared some quotes from David Vose’s book on risk, reliability and computerized risk modeling:  Risk Analysis a quantitative guide.

The responses to correctly identified and evaluated risks are many but generally fall into one of the following categories:

– Cancel Project
– Eliminate ( do it another way)
– Transfer (insure back to back contract)
– Share (with partner or contractor )
– Reduce (take a less risky approach)
– Add a contingency (increase budget, deadline etc.,to allow for possibility of risk)
– Collect more data to better understand risk
– Do nothing (cost is just too dang high)
– Increase ( maybe the plan is too cautious )

In my experience – when it comes to data security, data loss prevention, DLP projects – the top 2 responses to data security threats are “accept the risk” followed by “cancel the project” in a close second place.

The other alternatives are almost all non-starters. The question is – why?

Eliminating risk by changing the business process is often not an option or too much trouble for employees. For example – consider the process of transferring documents to external contractors – even though it’s trivial to encrypt documents inside a Zip file and share the password – most companies don’t make it part of their security procedure and those that do require encryption of documents sent to external business partners, don’t deploy DLP monitoring to ensure compliance with the encryption policy.

There are multiple reasons for data security risk being accepted by business managers.  Most are related to cost, complexity, changing business requirements and a tacit disbelief in effectiveness of technology in preventing data theft and fraud.

The reasons for accepting data security risk are related to  the difference between being secure and feeling secure.  Since most companies don’t monitor data flows, they don’t know how many sensitive digital assets are being leaked to the competition – ergo they don’t have the empirical data to analyze their data security threats and measure data security risks in terms of dollar threat to the business.  This would lead to enable a business to deploy data security countermeasures and be secure at an acceptable cost. It would also enable them to measure the cost effectiveness of their data security technology and challenge their innate beliefs and skepticism.

However – the company management already feel secure because they have delegated that part of  the business to the information security folks and reading the papers tells them that customers (not the business management) pay the cost of a data security breach.

As a kid growing up in South Jersey – when there was the occasional report of an urban boondoggle or million dollar NASA toilets – my Dad (who worked for RCA on defense projects and knew about these things) would always use the expression – “Other peoples money” or if it was closer to home – “Pa’s rich and Ma don’t care”…which is really close to home this year for Americans as President Obama takes the US to an unprecedented $1.35 trillion budget deficit in  2010.

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Cultural factors in DLP

What is interesting and generally overlooked – is the cultural differences between the US and the rest of the world.  The Europeans prefer a more nuanced approach stressing discipline and procedures,The Americans are compliance driven and IT top heavy, I imagine if you look at DLP sales – 98% are in the US, being (right or wrong) compliance driven.

Last September, Forrester did a seminar in Amsterdam on data security – only 10% of the CTOs/CIOs that attended the meeting had plans to implement DLP in 2010.

The Europeans have a point – but, policies and procedures are only as good as the monitoring and enforcement behind them. This is where DLP comes into play- collecting data in several realms – data channels, content and organizational anomalies (downloads, uploads etc…).

In addition – there is a strong and well-known link between the social health of employees in an organization and the company’s economic/business health.  In a successful business unit – people are happy, and happy people contribute to the success of the business.   Unhappy people don’t identify, have problems contributing and leave or cross the line to malicious behavior.

For my money (and this is my experience in a dozen DLP deployments in EMEA) – the key value add of DLP technology is not the prevention part but the monitoring part and it’s role in a feedback / educational loop with the organization.

If you only do one thing this year – you should start measuring data security events and using those measurements to improve your policies, procedures and systems – and user education.

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Dissonance is bad for business

In music, dissonance is  sound quality which seems “unstable”, and has an aural “need” to “resolve” to a “stable” consonance.

Leading up to the Al Quaeda attack on the US in 9/11, the FBI investigated, the CIA analyzed but no one bothered to discuss the impact of Saudis learning to fly but not land airplanes.

Dissonance in organizations is often resolved  by building separate silos of roles and responsibilities.

However, it is impossible to take wise decisions on risk management in the business when the risk intelligence is in separate silos.

Resolving dissonance in your business is key to getting actionable intelligence in order to reduce risk and improve compliance Why should I care? After all – for this we have security, risk and compliance specialists.


According to the Verizon Business Report, 285 million records were breached in 2008;  32% of the cases implicated business partners.

Information assurance of third parties that have access to your business assets is crucial for contract due diligence, complying with best practices, internal and external audit and regulation.

Due diligence of third parties that work with your business requires actionable intelligence.

Remember Madoff?

Actionable risk and compliance intelligence requires breaking down silos and recycling commonalities instead of fragmenting activities and duplicating resources.

Learn how to make that happen at our next  online workshop on security management coming this Thursday October 29, 2009,
10:00 Eastern 14:00 GMT, 16:00  in Israel and Central Europe 17:00 MT.

Go green by recycling policies and controls.

Don’t make any of the 10 data security mistakes

Register today for this free online workshop.

Through specific Business Threat Modeling(TM) tactical methods we teach you how to quantify threats, valuate your risk and choose the most cost-effective security technologies to protect your data. Data security is a war – when the attackers win, you lose.  We will help you win more.

We help protect customer data and intellectual property from fraud and breaches of confidentiality.  We’re always looking for interesting projects – call or text me at  +972 54 447 1114 at  any time.

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Trusted insider threats, fact and fiction

mindless IT research

Richard Stiennon is a well known and respected IT analyst – he has a blog called IT Harvest.

A recent post had to do with Trusted insider threats.Despite the length of the article, I believe that the article has a number of fundamental flaws:

  • Overestimating  the value of identity and access management in mitigating trusted insider threats
  • Lacking  empirical data to support the claim that “the insider threat actually outweighs the threats from cyber criminals, hackers and the malware”
  • Missing a basic management issue of accountability

The role of identity and access management in preventing trusted insider security violations

Stiennon writes that IAM (Identity and access management) “is the single most valuable defense you have against the insider threat.”. I beg to disagree – and I will attempt to explain by using the model of a crime.

Like any other crime, in order to steal or disclose assets, a person needs a combination of means, opportunity, and intent

IAM provides the means for the trusted insider. Companies issue users legitimate user accounts with the rights to access certain data, applications, databases and file services. Insiders have knowledge of how the system works, the business processes, the company culture and how people interact. They know who manages the rights management systems and who grants systems permissions. With the right knowledge and social connections, means can be obtained even if they were not originally granted by design in the IAM system.

A trusted insider is an employee who is motivated by self-interest, influenced by personal preferences, social context, corporate culture and her aversion to risk taking compared with the premium gained by stealing data.   There is little in the traditional access control model to mitigate any of these threats once access has been granted.

In 100 percent of the cases we investigated in our data security practice – the client’s permissions systems were working properly, the trusted insiders involved all had been granted appropriate rights, they did not perform any elevation of privilege exploits – they took data that they had appropriate access to. Directors of new product development, system managers, sales managers – each and every one that took and/or abused data did so with appropriate permissions.

Lacking empirical data

“While often overlooked, the insider threat actually outweighs the threats from cyber criminals, hackers and the random malware that most organizations concentrate on”

Stiennon doesn’t bring any evidence for this populistic statement. As a research analyst, I would expect some independent numbers behind the statement. Au contraire Richard – according to our data security practice of over 5 years in Europe and the Middle East (and according to the Verizon Business report, the past 2 years),  insider events are a rare, high-impact event that are a complex interplay of agents ( criminals, competitors, business partners) and vulnerabilities (human and application software).

Missing a basic management issue of accountability
Stiennon talks about HR and IT. The truth is that there is a fundamental management disconnect between HR and IT (HR hires but has no accountability when an employee is involved in a security breach and gets fired) IT has some of the data and almost never shares it with HR. I suggest higher levels of HR accountability and involvement in data security together with their audit, IT and information security management colleagues.

I wrote about the great IT-management divide last year in my post on the 7th anniversary of the Al Queda attack on the US

Missing a basic management issue related to trusted insiders
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Who is the key person in your security organization

In the late 80’s I was a hyperactive programmer at a small VAX/VMS software house.

We were group of 5 programmers – we had some nice accounts – like Intel, and National Semiconductor, Hadassah Hospital and Amdocs, but I always felt intimidated by the big IT integrators. One day – my DEC account manager told me that we should hold our heads high – he figured that our largest competitor didn’t have more than 1 or 2 experts at our level.

Are data security specialists like programmers – where the rock stars have 3 orders of magnitude better productivity than the average guy or gal?

And should we try to have one of these folks on the staff and make sure they are happy?

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USDA bans non IE browsers

The new Israeli administration has invited Microsoft to head a government IT steering comittee – the item caused a bit of a ruckus in the Israeli Open Source community a few months ago – although I personally feel that as the world’s largest software vendor – they have a lot to contribute.

Now I think we have reached a new level of Microsoft sycophancy with the Obama administration implementing a Bush decision to standardize IT but in a way that makes practically no sense at all – let’s ban all non IE browsers.  It’s really scary to what lengths the Obama administration will go undo Bush policy.

In keeping with the requirements of the Federal Desktop Core Configuration, all third-party browsers will be removed from customer workstations beginning Tuesday, Aug.18. Internet Explorer is the standard browser and will be maintained. Netscape, Google Chrome and Firefox will be removed.”

It does make sense to standardize on a browser – but why standardize on the most vulnerable browser and operating system?  Why not standardize on Ubuntu and FF 3 on the desktop or standardize on diskless workstations with Citrix or TightVNC?

The full item is here – USDA unit bans browsers other than Internet Explorer

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Data security – is psychology more important than technology?

We had a discussion with a prospect for a DLP (data loss prevention) system) that started with discussing the pros and cons of various DLP solutions (Verdasys, Mcafee DLP, Websense, Fidelis Security) and finished with a drill-down into how they can build a business case to acquire and implement data security technology. After a very interesting session – the CIO asked me – “So why did you start with technology? we should have started with the business case?”  I replied – “Got your attention, didn’t I!”

Talking with clients we stress threat modeling and analysis and doing quantitative risk analysis but I believe that psychology may be more important than the technology. This is for several reasons:

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Reporting to a management board that doesn’t want to listen

Like the warnings on cigarette packets – whistle blowing may be hazardous to your health.

HBOS chief risk officer Paul Moore blew the whistle on the bank’s risk exposure and lost his job. Last week, the UK Treasury Select committee heard allegations from  Moore ( who was sacked by Sir James Crosby in 2005) – that senior executives ignored repeated warnings about excessive risk-taking.

Following the political firestorm – Sir James Crosby has left his position as deputy chairman of the UK Financial Services Authority. Crosby was a close adviser to prime minister Gordon Brown, and former HBOS CEO – leading HBOS during a period of high-rolling profits.

Are there sins of hubris at your company – let me know!

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