Consensus Audit Guidelines Are Still Controls

Blog readers know that I think FISMA Is a Joke, FISMA Is a Jobs Program, and if you fought FISMA Dogfights you would always die in a burning pile of aerial debris.

Now we have the Consensus Audit Guidelines (CAG) published by SANS. You can ask two questions: 1) is this what we need? and 2) is it at least a step in the right direction?

Answering the first question is easy. You can look at the graphic I posted to see that CAG is largely another set of controls. In other words, this is more control-compliant "security," not field-assessed security. Wait, you might ask, doesn't the CAG say this?

What makes this document effective is that it reflects knowledge of actual attacks and defines controls that would have stopped those attacks from being successful. To construct the document, we have called upon the people who have first-hand knowledge about how the attacks are being carried out.

That excerpt means that CAG defines defensive activities that are believed to be effective by various security practitioners. I am not doubting that these practitioners are smart. I am not doubting their skills. What I am trying to say is that implementing the controls in CAG does not tell you the score of the game. CAG is all about inputs. After implementing CAG you still do not know any outputs. In other words, you apply controls (an "X"), but what is the outcome (the "Y"). The controls may or may not be wonderful, but if you are control-compliant you do not have the information produced by field-assessed security.

Does anyone real think we do not have controls already? The CAG itself shows how it maps against NIST SP 800-53 Rev 3 Controls. Five are shown below as an example.

For example, looking at CAG, how many of these strike you as something you didn't already know about?

Critical Controls Subject to Automated Measurement and Validation:

  1. Inventory of Authorized and Unauthorized Hardware.

  2. Inventory of Authorized and Unauthorized Software.

  3. Secure Configurations for Hardware and Software on Laptops, Workstations, and Servers.

  4. Secure Configurations of Network Devices Such as Firewalls and Routers.

  5. Boundary Defense

  6. Maintenance and Analysis of Complete Security Audit Logs

  7. Application Software Security

  8. Controlled Use of Administrative Privileges

  9. Controlled Access Based On Need to Know

  10. Continuous Vulnerability Testing and Remediation

  11. Dormant Account Monitoring and Control

  12. Anti-Malware Defenses

  13. Limitation and Control of Ports, Protocols and Services

  14. Wireless Device Control

  15. Data Leakage Protection

Additional Critical Controls (not directly supported by automated measurement and validation):

  1. Secure Network Engineering

  2. Red Team Exercises

  3. Incident Response Capability

  4. Data Recovery Capability

  5. Security Skills Assessment and Training to Fill Gaps

Don't get me wrong. If you are not implementing these controls already, you should do so. That will still not tell you the score of the game. If you want to see exactly what I proposed, I differentiated between control-compliance "security" and field-assessed security in my post Controls Are Not the Solution to Our Problem.

So, to answer my second question, CAG is a step in the right direction away from FISMA. It doesn't change the game, especially if you are already implementing NIST guidance.

Richard Bejtlich is teaching new classes in Europe in 2009. Register by 1 Mar for the best rates.


Anton Chuvakin said…
Also, CAG seems pretty "anti-risk", which might be a good thing (as few people understand their risk) or a bad thing (just do the CAG-> feel secure mentality)
Anton Chuvakin said…
BTW, see this on CAG also (re: inputs vs outputs)

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