Firestarter: A Is Not for Availability

It’s drilled into us as soon as we first cut our help-desk umbilical cords and don our information security diapers: C is for Confidentiality I is for Integrity A is for Availability We cite it like a tantric mantra. Include it in every presentation, as if anyone in the audience hasn’t heard it. Put it on security tests, when it’s the equivalent of awarding points for spell your name at the top. We even use it as the core of most of our risk management frameworks. Too bad it’s wrong. Think about this for a moment. If availability is as important as confidentiality or integrity, how is CIA even possibly internally consistent? Every time we ask for a password we reduce availability. Every time we put in a firewall, access control, encryption, or nearly anything else… we restrict availability. At least when we are talking about information security. When we talk about infrastructure security, I agree that availability is still very much in the mix. But then we aren’t really concerned with confidentiality, for example – although we might still include integrity. Keeping the bits flowing? That’s infrastructure rather than information security. (And yes, it’s still important). But I do think there is still a place for the “A”. I mean, who wants to ruin a perfectly good acronym? Especially one with a pathetically juvenile non-sexual double entendre. A doesn’t stand for Availability, it stands for Attribution. Logging, monitoring, auditing, and incident response? Knowing who did what and when? That’s all attribution. Who owns a piece of information? Who can modify and change it? All that relies on attribution. Pretty much all of identity management – every username, password, and token: attribution. Availability? When it comes to information, that’s really a usability issue… not security. If anything, more availability means less security. Changing A from Availability to Attribution solves that problem and makes security internally consistent. (This is a prelude to a series of deeper theoretical (nope, not pragmatic) posts based on my Quantum Datum work. Special thanks to the Securosis Contributors for helping me flesh it out – especially Gunnar). Share:

Read Post

Cash, Coke & Stuxnet: an Alternative Perspective

Now that the media has feasted on the Stuxnet carcass, it gives me a moment of pause. What of a different perspective? I know – madness, right? But seriously, we have seen the media in a lather over this story for some time now. Let’s be honest – to someone who has worked in the SCADA community, this really is nothing new. It’s just one incident that happened to come to light. An alternative angle to the story, which seems to have been shied away from, is under-financed but motivated agents. Technical ‘resources’ with too much free time and a wealth of knowledge. This is not a new idea – just look at the abundance of open source projects that rely heavily on this concept: smart people with free time on their hands. What happens when you combine a surfeit of technical competence with a criminal bent? This was well documented back in the 80’s, when a group of German hackers led by Karl Koch were arrested for selling source code they had purloined from US government and corporate computers to the KGB. In this case these hackers were receiving payments in the form of cocaine and cash. Nothing major, just enough to keep them happy (and awake during their coke-fueled coding sessions). At least that was the idea until they were caught and Karl met his untimely end in a German forest in 1989. The argument will invariably be: how could they have the knowledge required for some of these attacks? Ever worked for a power company? There are usually a good number of disgruntled workers and $1,000 US will go a long way in some countries. It was also not difficult to gain access to the documentation from most control system vendors until recently. To borrow from Rich Mogull: funding = resources – the biggest of which are time and knowledge. Looking back to my earlier statement, this is something that a lot of disaffected hackers in former eastern bloc countries have in droves. Throw in some cash and drugs and you could have a motivated crew. I don’t think this is the case, but you must admit it’s within the realm of possibility. After all, this is not without precedent. There’s a skeleton in a forest someplace to prove it. Share:

Read Post

Counterpoint: Availability Is Job #1

Rich makes the case that A Is Not for Availability in this week’s FireStarter. Basically his thinking is that the A in the CIA triad needs to be attribution, rather than availability. At least when thinking about security information (as opposed to infrastructure). Turns out that was a rather controversial position within the Securosis band. Yes, that’s right, we don’t always agree with each other. Some research firms gloss over these disagreements, forcing a measure of consensus, and then force every analyst to toe the line. Lord knows, you can never disagree in front of a client. Never. Well, Securosis is not your grandpappy’s research firm. Not only do we disagree with each other, but we call each other out, usually in a fairly public manner. Rich is not wrong that attribution is important – whether discussing information or infrastructure security. Knowing who is doing what is critical. We’ve done a ton of research about the importance of integrating identity information into your security program, and will continue. Especially now that Gunnar is around to teach us what we don’t know. But some of us are not ready to give up the ghost on availability. Not just yet, anyway. One of the core tenets of the Pragmatic CSO philosophy is a concept I called the Reasons to Secure. There are five, and #1 is Maintain Business System Availability. You see, if key business systems go down, you are out of business. Period. If it’s a security breach that took the systems down, you might as well dust off your resume – you’ll need it sooner rather than later. Again, I’m not going to dispute the importance of attribution, especially as data continues to spread to the four corners of the world and we continue to lose control of it. But not to the exclusion of availability as a core consideration for every decision we make. And I’m not alone in challenging this contention. James Arlen, one of our Canadian Wonder Twins, sent this succinct response to our internal mailing list this AM: As someone who is often found ranting that availability has to be the first member of the CIA triad instead of the last, I’m not sure that I can just walk away from it. I’m going to have to have some kind of support, perhaps a process to get from hugging availability to thinking about the problem more holistically. Is this ultimately about the maturation of the average CIO from superannuated VP of IT to a real information manager who is capable of paying attention to all the elements of attribution (as you so eloquently describe) and beginning the process of folding in the kind of information risk management that the CISOs have been carrying while the CIO plays with blinky lights? James makes an interesting point here, and it’s clearly something that is echoed in the P-CSO: the importance of thinking in business terms, which means it’s about ensuring everything is brought back to business impact. The concept of information risk management is still pretty nebulous, but ultimately any decision we make to restrict access or bolster defenses needs to be based on the economic impact on the business. So maybe the CIA acronym becomes CIA^2, so now you have availability and attribution as key aspects of security. But at least some of us believe you neglect availability at your peril. I’m pretty sure the CEO is a lot more interested in whether the systems that drive the business are running than who is doing what. At least at the highest level. Share:

Read Post

Totally Transparent Research is the embodiment of how we work at Securosis. It’s our core operating philosophy, our research policy, and a specific process. We initially developed it to help maintain objectivity while producing licensed research, but its benefits extend to all aspects of our business.

Going beyond Open Source Research, and a far cry from the traditional syndicated research model, we think it’s the best way to produce independent, objective, quality research.

Here’s how it works:

  • Content is developed ‘live’ on the blog. Primary research is generally released in pieces, as a series of posts, so we can digest and integrate feedback, making the end results much stronger than traditional “ivory tower” research.
  • Comments are enabled for posts. All comments are kept except for spam, personal insults of a clearly inflammatory nature, and completely off-topic content that distracts from the discussion. We welcome comments critical of the work, even if somewhat insulting to the authors. Really.
  • Anyone can comment, and no registration is required. Vendors or consultants with a relevant product or offering must properly identify themselves. While their comments won’t be deleted, the writer/moderator will “call out”, identify, and possibly ridicule vendors who fail to do so.
  • Vendors considering licensing the content are welcome to provide feedback, but it must be posted in the comments - just like everyone else. There is no back channel influence on the research findings or posts.
    Analysts must reply to comments and defend the research position, or agree to modify the content.
  • At the end of the post series, the analyst compiles the posts into a paper, presentation, or other delivery vehicle. Public comments/input factors into the research, where appropriate.
  • If the research is distributed as a paper, significant commenters/contributors are acknowledged in the opening of the report. If they did not post their real names, handles used for comments are listed. Commenters do not retain any rights to the report, but their contributions will be recognized.
  • All primary research will be released under a Creative Commons license. The current license is Non-Commercial, Attribution. The analyst, at their discretion, may add a Derivative Works or Share Alike condition.
  • Securosis primary research does not discuss specific vendors or specific products/offerings, unless used to provide context, contrast or to make a point (which is very very rare).
    Although quotes from published primary research (and published primary research only) may be used in press releases, said quotes may never mention a specific vendor, even if the vendor is mentioned in the source report. Securosis must approve any quote to appear in any vendor marketing collateral.
  • Final primary research will be posted on the blog with open comments.
  • Research will be updated periodically to reflect market realities, based on the discretion of the primary analyst. Updated research will be dated and given a version number.
    For research that cannot be developed using this model, such as complex principles or models that are unsuited for a series of blog posts, the content will be chunked up and posted at or before release of the paper to solicit public feedback, and provide an open venue for comments and criticisms.
  • In rare cases Securosis may write papers outside of the primary research agenda, but only if the end result can be non-biased and valuable to the user community to supplement industry-wide efforts or advances. A “Radically Transparent Research” process will be followed in developing these papers, where absolutely all materials are public at all stages of development, including communications (email, call notes).
    Only the free primary research released on our site can be licensed. We will not accept licensing fees on research we charge users to access.
  • All licensed research will be clearly labeled with the licensees. No licensed research will be released without indicating the sources of licensing fees. Again, there will be no back channel influence. We’re open and transparent about our revenue sources.

In essence, we develop all of our research out in the open, and not only seek public comments, but keep those comments indefinitely as a record of the research creation process. If you believe we are biased or not doing our homework, you can call us out on it and it will be there in the record. Our philosophy involves cracking open the research process, and using our readers to eliminate bias and enhance the quality of the work.

On the back end, here’s how we handle this approach with licensees:

  • Licensees may propose paper topics. The topic may be accepted if it is consistent with the Securosis research agenda and goals, but only if it can be covered without bias and will be valuable to the end user community.
  • Analysts produce research according to their own research agendas, and may offer licensing under the same objectivity requirements.
  • The potential licensee will be provided an outline of our research positions and the potential research product so they can determine if it is likely to meet their objectives.
  • Once the licensee agrees, development of the primary research content begins, following the Totally Transparent Research process as outlined above. At this point, there is no money exchanged.
  • Upon completion of the paper, the licensee will receive a release candidate to determine whether the final result still meets their needs.
  • If the content does not meet their needs, the licensee is not required to pay, and the research will be released without licensing or with alternate licensees.
  • Licensees may host and reuse the content for the length of the license (typically one year). This includes placing the content behind a registration process, posting on white paper networks, or translation into other languages. The research will always be hosted at Securosis for free without registration.

Here is the language we currently place in our research project agreements:

Content will be created independently of LICENSEE with no obligations for payment. Once content is complete, LICENSEE will have a 3 day review period to determine if the content meets corporate objectives. If the content is unsuitable, LICENSEE will not be obligated for any payment and Securosis is free to distribute the whitepaper without branding or with alternate licensees, and will not complete any associated webcasts for the declining LICENSEE. Content licensing, webcasts and payment are contingent on the content being acceptable to LICENSEE. This maintains objectivity while limiting the risk to LICENSEE. Securosis maintains all rights to the content and to include Securosis branding in addition to any licensee branding.

Even this process itself is open to criticism. If you have questions or comments, you can email us or comment on the blog.