Bad Policy vs. Bad Decisions and the Role of Individual Judgement

Pete Lindstrom just posted a missive in support of the TSA. Pete makes some good points about the limitations of policy- while you always need hard rules, you also always need exceptions and judgement. In the information security world, we talk about the difference between “policy decision points” and “policy enforcement points” to express the different functions. In most computing environments, the PDP and PEP start off combined in a small set of instances but then get separated as networks grow while some central authority still wants to coordinate security efforts. The good news for security folks is that systems allow us to have the best of both worlds. PDPs can (basically) handle as many conditionals as you want — systems will scale and always make the same decision based on the same set of assumptions. I guess what I am saying is ridiculing airline security without understanding the monumental challenges they have is getting old. They’re PEPs, for crying out loud. Sure, I hate it as much as everyone else when they take my toothpaste, but it is only toothpaste. Get over it. Pete identifies one of the most difficult problems in security of any type, from IT security, to physical security, to law enforcement. No blanket policy can effectively deal with every circumstance, yet exceptions are difficult to evaluate and can lead to failure. When I managed a physical security organization this challenged us daily. Our conclusion was to start with strict policies and supervision, but as employees gained experience give them more freedom for individual decision making. Supervisors played the role of mentors, helping decide who was ready for more freedom and who needed strict monitoring. In the end I had an incredible team (some who read this blog, feel free to comment) capable of handling very dynamic situations with minimal direct supervision. Cops, firefighters, paramedics, doctors, lawyers, electricians, and so on all work in pretty much the same way. It took me years to develop the judgement to make accurate, split-second decisions where there were policy gaps. Ask any of my physical security friends- early on I tended to fail in favor of always following policy. It created as many problems as it solved, requiring greater supervision. The world isn’t black and white, even when it is. How is this relevant to Pete’s points? Two ways. First, bad policy is bad policy. I don’t ridicule TSA employees, but it’s our job as security experts to identify policies that don’t improve security but increase costs. Pete doesn’t discuss the policy creation point, or the need for feedback from enforcement points to creation points to maintain effective policies. The second is that over-reliance on policy enforcement points results in security failures. Policies can’t account for all situations, can’t manage appropriate exceptions, and don’t adapt for new threats. My suggestions is the government develop more effective policies and stop treating airport security as a single enforcement point. I’ve written about it here and here. Create a hierarchy of TSA employees, beyond screeners, and embed security deeper into the aviation system in a less intrusive way. I applaud the employees who are willing to deal with all the a$$holes running through airports. Screening is hard, thankless labor. But we need to look a little higher, and thus improve security while decreasing inconvenience and reducing costs. Share:

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Maynor Pulled from ToorCon

Statement from SecureWorks: SecureWorks and Apple are working together in conjunction with the CERT Coordination Center on any reported security issues. We will not make any additional public statements regarding work underway until both companies agree, along with CERT/CC , that it is appropriate. I’ve been told Maynor is no longer speaking at ToorCon. I’m disappointed, but it’s obvious there’s now something going on with CERT. I stand by my statements that Maynor and Ellch are responsible security researchers that helped advance Mac security. At this point, I don’t have any other comments, this has dragged on far longer than it deserves. My Mac is more secure today thanks to Dave and John. That’s the most important result of this entire debacle. I expect we’ll all eventually learn more, but as of now this is officially buried. Update: Ou is still headed to ToorCon and has some other points. I really doubt there will be any legal action, everyone wants this dog dead, but it will be interesting to see what happens at ToorCon. Share:

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A Unique Problem with Password Aging

This is just too good. A friend who recently moved from the business side to the IT side just reported this. They work at a large hospital. A significant portion of the clinical staff never changed their default passwords, which just happened to be the same as their login. Convenient, eh? Nice to see HIPAA at work. But this is the best part. Someone in IT “made a configuration mistake” and everyone was forced to update their passwords. The help desk has been taking calls all week. Seems most of the users remember their new password, but still can’t get in. You ask why dear readers? Because they are now entering their new passwords as their user names, and their password. Yes, they all assumed that their user names and passwords are always the same, and changing one automatically changes the other. Huh. Think about that one for a minute. I suppose it makes sense in some kind of warped way. If it makes you feel better, this is in the surgical unit. Share:

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