Data Security Lifecycle 2.0

We reference this content a lot, so I decided to compile it all into a single post. This is the original content, including internal links, and has not been re-edited. Introduction Four years ago I wrote the initial Data Security Lifecycle and a series of posts covering the constituent technologies. In 2009 I updated it to better fit cloud computing, and it was incorporated into the Cloud Security Alliance Guidance, but I have never been happy with that work. It was rushed and didn’t address cloud specifics nearly sufficiently. Adrian and I just spent a bunch of time updating the cycle and it is now a much better representation of the real world. Keep in mind that this is a high-level model to help guide your decisions, but we think this time around we were able to identify places where it can more specifically guide your data security endeavors. (As a side note, you might notice I use “data security” and “information-centric security” interchangeably. I think infocentric is more accurate, but data security is more recognized, so that’s what I tend to use.) If you are familiar with the previous model you will immediately notice that this one is much more complex. We hope it’s also much more useful. The old model really only listed controls for data in different phases of the lifecycle – and didn’t account for location, ownership, access methods, and other factors. This update should better reflect the more complex environments and use cases we tend to see these days. Due to its complexity, we need to break the new Lifecycle into a series of posts. In this first post we will revisit the basic lifecycle, and in the next post we will add locations and access. The lifecycle includes six phases from creation to destruction. Although we show it as a linear progression, once created, data can bounce between phases without restriction, and may not pass through all stages (for example, not all data is eventually destroyed). Create: This is probably better named Create/Update because it applies to creating or changing a data/content element, not just a document or database. Creation is the generation of new digital content, or the alteration/updating of existing content. Store: Storing is the act committing the digital data to some sort of storage repository, and typically occurs nearly simultaneously with creation. Use: Data is viewed, processed, or otherwise used in some sort of activity. Share: Data is exchanged between users, customers, and partners. Archive: Data leaves active use and enters long-term storage. Destroy: Data is permanently destroyed using physical or digital means (e.g., cryptoshredding). These high-level activities describe the major phases of a datum’s life, and in a future post we will cover security controls for each phase. But before we discuss controls we need to incorporate two additional aspects: locations and access devices. Locations and Access In our last post we reviewed the Data Security Lifecycle, but other than some minor wording changes (and a prettier graphic thanks to PowerPoint SmartArt) it was the same as our four-year-old original version. But as we mentioned, quite a bit has changed since then, exemplified by the emergence and adoption of cloud computing and increased mobility. Although the Lifecycle itself still applies to basic, traditional infrastructure, we will focus on these more complex use cases, which better reflect what most of you are dealing with on a day to day basis. Locations One gap in the original Lifecycle was that it failed to adequately address movement of data between repositories, environments, and organizations. A large amount of enterprise data now transitions between a variety of storage locations, applications, and operating environments. Even data created in a locked-down application may find itself backed up someplace else, replicated to alternative standby environments, or exported for processing by other applications. And all of this can happen at any phase of the Lifecycle. We can illustrate this by thinking of the Lifecycle not as a single, linear operation, but as a series of smaller lifecycles running in different operating environments. At nearly any phase data can move into, out of, and between these environments – the key for data security is identifying these movements and applying the right controls at the right security boundaries. As with cloud deployment models, these locations may be internal, external, public, private, hybrid, and so on. Some may be cloud providers, other traditional outsourcers, or perhaps multiple locations within a single data center. For data security, at this point there are four things to understand: Where are the potential locations for my data? What are the lifecycles and controls in each of those locations? Where in each lifecycle can data move between locations? How does data move between locations (via what channel)? Access Now that we know where our data lives and how it moves, we need to know who is accessing it and how. There are two factors here: Who accesses the data? How can they access it (device & channel)? Data today is accessed from all sorts of different devices. The days of employees only accessing data through restrictive applications on locked-down desktops are quickly coming to an end (with a few exceptions). These devices have different security characteristics and may use different applications, especially with applications we’ve moved to SaaS providers – who often build custom applications for mobile devices, which offer different functionality than PCs. Later in the model we will deal with who, but the diagram below shows how complex this can be – with a variety of data locations (and application environments), each with its own data lifecycle, all accessed by a variety of devices in different locations. Some data lives entirely within a single location, while other data moves in and out of various locations… and sometimes directly between external providers. This completes our “topographic map” of the Lifecycle. In our next post we will dig into mapping data flow and controls. In the next few posts we will finish covering background material, and

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Security Management 2.0: Vendor Evaluation—Culling the Short List

So far we have discussed a bit of how security management platforms have evolved, how your requirements have changed since you first deployed the platform, and how you need to evaluate your current platform (Part 1, Part 2) in light of both. Now it’s time to get into the meat of the decision process by defining your selection criteria for your Security Management 2.0 platform. Much of defining your evaluation criteria is wading objectively through vendor hyperbole. As technology markets mature (and SIEM is pretty mature), the capabilities of each offering tend to get pretty close. The messaging is very similar and it’s increasingly hard to differentiate one platform from another. Given your unhappiness with your current platform (or you wouldn’t be reading this, right?), it’s important to distill down what a platform does and what it doesn’t, as early in the process as you can. We will look at the vendor evaluation process in two phases. In this post, we’ll help you define a short list of potential replacements. Maybe you use a formal RFP/RFI to cull the 25 companies in the space to 3-5, maybe you don’t. You’ll see soon enough why you can’t run 10 vendors through even the first stage of this process. At the conclusion of the short list exercise, you’ll need to test one or two new platforms during a Proof of Concept, which we’ll detail in the next post. We don’t recommend you skip directly to the test, by the way. Each platform has strengths and weaknesses and just because a vendor happens to be in the right portion of a magical chart doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for you. Do your homework. All of it. Even if you don’t feel like it. Defining the Short List A few aspects of the selection criteria should be evaluated with a broader group of challengers. Think 3-5 at this point. You need to prioritize each of these areas based on your requirements. That’s why you spent so much time earlier defining and gaining consensus on what’s important for replacing your platform. Your main tool in this stage of the process is what we kindly call the dog and pony show. That’s when the vendor brings in their sales folks and sales engineers (SEs) to tell you how their product is awesome and will solve every problem you have. Of course, what they won’t be ready for (unless they read this post as well) is the ‘intensity’ of your KGB-style interrogation techniques. Basically, you know what’s important to you and you need confidence that any vendor passing through this gauntlet (and moving on to the PoC) will be able to meet your requirements. Let’s talk a bit about tactics to get the answers you need, based on the areas where your existing product is lacking (from the platform evaluation). You need to detailed answers during these meetings. This meeting is not a 30 slide PowerPoint and a generic demo. Make sure the challenger understands those expectations ahead of the meeting, so they have right folks in the room. If they bring the wrong people, cross them off the short list. It’s as simple as that – it’s not like you have a lot of time to waste, right? Security: We recommend you put together a scenario as a case study for each challenger. You want to understand how they’d detect an attack based on the information sources they gather and how they configure their rule sets and alerts. Make it detailed, but not totally ridiculous. So basically, dumb down your existing environment a bit and run them through an attack scenario you’ve seen recently. This will be a good exercise for seeing how the data they collect is used to solve a major security management platform major use case, detecting an emerging attack quickly. Have the SE walk you through setting up or customizing a rule. Use your own scenario to reduce the likelihood of the SE having a pre-built rule. You want to really understand how the rules work, because you will spend a lot of time configuring your rules. Compliance: Next, you need to understand what level of automation exists for compliance purposes. Ask the SE to show you the process of preparing for an audit. And no, showing you a list of 2,000 reports, most called PCI X.X is not sufficient. Ask them to produce samples for a handful of critical reports you rely upon to see how closely they hit the mark – you can see the difference between reports developed by an engineer and those created by an auditor. You need to understand where the data is coming from, and hopefully they will have a demo data set to show you a populated report. The last thing you want to learn is that their reports don’t pull from the right data sources two days before an audit. Integration: In this part of the discussion delve into how the product integrates with your existing IT stack. How does the platform pull data from your identity management system? CMDB? What about data collection? Are the connectors pre-built and maintained by the vendor? What about custom connectors? Is there a SDK available, or does it require a bunch of professional services? Forensics: Vendors throw around the term root cause analysis frequently, while rarely substantiating how their tool is used to work through an incident. Have the SE literally walk you through an investigation based on their sample data set. Yes, you’ll test this yourself later, but get a feel for what tools they have built in and how they can be used by the SE who should really know how to use the system. Scalability: If your biggest issue is a requirement for more power, then you’ll want to know (at a very granular level) how each challenger solves the problem. Dive into their data model and their deployment architectures, and have them tell stories about their biggest implementations. If scalability is a

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The New Path of Least Resistance

It’s hard to believe it has been 10 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US. I remember that day like it was yesterday. I actually flew into the Boston airport that morning. In hindsight, those attacks opened our eyes to a previously overlooked attack vector – using a passenger jet as a missile. The folks running national security for the US had all sorts of scenarios for how we could be attacked on our own soil, but I’m not sure that vector was on their lists. It seems we security folks have to start thinking in a similarly orthogonal pattern. Since we started hearing some details of the EMC/RSA breach, and of the attacks on the Comodo and DigiNotar CAs, it has become clear the attackers have been re-thinking their paths of least resistance. Let me back up a bit. Attackers will follow the path of least resistance to their intended target – they always have. Over the past few years, the path of least resistance has clearly involved exploiting both application and user weakness, rather than breaking technical security measures in network infrastructure. Why break down a door if the nincompoop on the other side will just let you in, and key Internet-facing apps don’t even have locks? That’s what we are seeing in practice. If an attacker is trying to breach a soft target, the user and application attack vectors remain the path of least resistance for the foreseeable future. The skills gap between the ends is pretty ugly, and not getting better. That’s why we spend so much time focusing on Reacting Faster and Better – it’s pretty much the only way to survive in an age of inevitable compromise. But what if the target is not soft? By that I mean a well-fortified environment, without the typical user and/or application holes we typically see exploited. A well-segmented and heavily-monitored infrastructure without the standard attack vectors. For example, one of the big defense contractors, who protect the national secrets of the defense/industrial base. Breaking down the doors here is very hard, and in many cases not worth the effort. So the attackers have identified a new low-resistance path – the security infrastructure protecting those hard targets. It was very clear with the RSA attack. That was all about gaining access to the token seeds and using them to compromise the real targets: US defense contractors. Even if RSA was as well-protected as a defense contractor, breaking into RSA once provided a leg up on all the defense contractors using RSA tokens. It’s not as clear with the Comodo or DigiNotar attacks. Those seem to be more politically motivated, but still represent an interesting redefinition of the man in the middle attack: compromising the certificate trust chain that identifies legitimate websites. So what? What impact does this have on day to day operations? Frankly, not much – so many of us are so far behind on basic attempts to block and tackle on the stuff we already know about. But for those hard targets out there, it’s time to expand your threat models to look at the technology that enforces your security controls. I remember attending a Black Hat session a few years back by Tom Ptacek of Matasano, where he discussed his research into compromising pretty well known IT management technology. That’s the kind of analysis we need looking forward. Push vendors to provide information about how they attack their own products and what they find. But don’t expect much. Vendors do not, as a rule, proactively try to poke holes in their own stuff. And if they do, they don’t would admit weakness by admitting it. So be prepared to do (and fund) much of this work yourself. But that’s beside the point. It’s time to start thinking that the new path of least resistance may be your security technology. It’s a challenge to the folks that build security products, as well as to those of you who protect hard targets. Who will rise to this challenge? Photo credit: “Path of Least Resistance” originally uploaded by Billtacular Share:

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