Visibility, Visibility, Visibility

CIO Magazine's Fifth Annual Global State of Information Security features an image of a happy, tie-wearing corporate security person laying bricks to make a wall, while a dark-clad intruder with a crow bar violates the laws of physics by lifting up another section of the wall like it was made of fabric. That's a very apt reference to Soccer Goal Security, and I plan to discuss security physics in a future post. Right now I'd like to feature a few choice excerpts from the story:

Awareness of the problematic nature of information security is approaching an all-time high. Out of every IT dollar spent, 15 cents goes to security. Security staff is being hired at an increasing rate. Surprisingly, however, enterprise security isn't improving...

Are you feeling the disquiet that comes from knowing there's no reason why your company can't be the next TJX? The angst of knowing that these modern plagues — these spam e-mails, these bots, these rootkits — will keep coming at you no matter how much time and money you spend trying to stop them? The chill that comes from knowing how much you don't know...

You're undergoing a shift from a somewhat blissful ignorance of the serious flaws in computer security to a largely depressing knowledge of them...

"That next level of maturity has not been reached," says Mark Lobel, a principal with PWC's advisory services. "We have the technology but still don't have our hands around what's important and what we should be monitoring and protecting.

Not everyone has shifted from "somewhat blissful ignorance" to "largely depressing knowledge" yet, but they'll get there eventually.

Five years ago, 36 percent of respondents to the "Global State of Information Security" survey reported that they had suffered zero security incidents. This year, that number was down to 22 percent.

Does this mean there are more incidents? We don't think so. We believe it simply means that more companies are aware of the incidents that they've always suffered but into which, until recently, they had no visibility. Those once inexplicable network outages are now known to be security incidents. Perhaps a spam outbreak wasn't considered a security incident before, but now that it can deliver malware, it is. Awareness is higher, and that's because companies have spent the past five years building an infrastructure that creates visibility into their security posture.

That's right -- visibility. I love it.

This year marks the first time "employees" beat out "hackers" as the most likely source of a security incident. Executives in the security field, with the most visibility into incidents, were even more likely to name employees as the source.

Have employees suddenly turned more malicious? Are inside jobs suddenly more fashionable and productive than they used to be? Probably not. Most security experts will tell you that the insider threat is relatively constant and is usually bigger than its victims suspect. None of us wants to think we've hired an untrustworthy person.

This spike in assigning the blame for breaches and attacks to employees is probably more like the dip in companies that report zero incidents — a reflection of awareness, of managers' ability to recognize what was always there but what they couldn't previously determine.

I'd agree with that. I would also blame misreporting surfing pr0n sites and the like as "security incidents." CIO continues:

But here's an odd paradox: Despite the massive buildup of people, process and technology during the past five years, and fewer people reporting zero incidents, 40 percent of respondents didn't know how many incidents they've suffered, up from 29 percent last year.

The rate of "Don't know" for the type of incident and the primary method used to attack also spiked.

It doesn't bode well that after years of buying and installing systems and processes to improve security, close to half of the respondents didn't have a clue as to what was going on in their own enterprises. But when close to a third of CSOs and CISOs, who presumably should have the most insight into security incidents, said they don't know how many incidents they've suffered or how these incidents occurred, that's even worse...

The truth is, systems, processes, tools, hardware and software, and even knowledge and understanding only get you so far. As [Ron] Woerner puts it, "When you gain visibility, you see that you can't see all the potential problems. You see that maybe you were spending money securing the wrong things. You see that a good employee with good intentions who wants to take work home can become a security incident when he loses his laptop or puts data on his home computer. There's so much out there, it's overwhelming."

Woerner and others believe that the security discipline has so far been skewed toward technology—firewalls, ID management, intrusion detection - instead of risk analysis and proactive intelligence gathering.

Check this out, too. Someone recognizes the nature of Attacker 3.0:

Furthermore, even a cursory look at security trends demonstrates that adversaries, be they disgruntled employees or hackers, have far more sophisticated tools than the ones that have been put in place to stop them. Antiforensics. Mass distribution of malware through compromised websites. Botnets. Keyloggers. Companies may have spent the past five years building up their security infrastructure, but so have the bad guys. Awareness includes a new level of understanding of how little you know about how the bad guys operate. As arms races go, the bad guys are way ahead.

So what can we do about this? Say it isn't so:

What can be done about all this? Be strategic. Security investment must shift from the technology-heavy, tactical operation it has been to date to an intelligence-centric, risk analysis and mitigation philosophy.

Information and security executives should, for example, be putting their dollars into industry information sharing. "Collaboration is key," says Woerner. They should invest in security research and technical staff that can capture and dissect malware, and they should troll the Internet underground for the latest trends and leads.
(emphasis added)

I would add that it's only appropriate to turn to advanced sources when you have the security basics in place. It's no use trying to learn how to defend against attacker 2.0 or 3.0 if you can't handle 1.0.

There's more to say about this survey, but I'll save the rest for a second post because the nature of it is so different from this one.


Anonymous said…
Lions and tigers and bears! Oh, my! Most organizations don't track any metrics (other than stuff they can use to try and downsize/eliminate jobs) related to security. When the do track information, it usually isn't very measurable anyway...they track poor metrics. They should try using Security Performance Manager from Clear Point Metrics; I know that GE uses it :-). If orgs. would actually track useful information, many of their 'woes' would disappear.

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