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Friday, February 13, 2009

The Business Justification for Data Security: Additional Positive Benefits

By Adrian Lane

So far in this series we have discussed how to assess both the value of the information your company uses, and some potential losses should your data be stolen. The bad news is that security spending only mitigates some portion of the threats, but cannot eliminate them. While we would like our solutions to eradicate threats, it’s usually more complicated than that. Fortunately there is some good news, that being security spending commonly addresses other areas of need and has additional tangible benefits that should be factored into the overall evaluation. For example, the collection, analysis, and reporting capabilities built into most data security products – when used with a business processing perspective – supplement existing applications and systems in management, audit and analysis. Security investment can also be readily be leveraged to reduce compliance costs, improve systems management, efficiently analyze workflows, and gain a better understanding of how data is used and where it is located. In this post, we want make short mention of some of the positive & tangible aspects of security spending that you should consider. We will put this into the toolkit at the end of the series, but for now, we want to discuss cost savings and other benefits.

Reduced compliance/audit costs

Regulatory initiatives require that certain processes be monitored for policy conformance, as well as subsequent verification to ensure those policies and controls align appropriately with compliance guidelines. As most security products examine business processes for suspected misuse or security violations, there is considerable overlap with compliance controls. Certain provisions in the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA), Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX), and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) either call for security, process controls, or transactional auditing. While data security tools and products focus on security and appropriate use of information, policies can be structured to address compliance as well.

Let’s look at a couple ways security technologies assist with compliance:

  • Access controls assist with separation of duties between operational, administrative, and auditing roles.
  • Email security products provide with pretexting protection as required by GLBA.
  • Activity Monitoring solutions perform transactional analysis, and with additional polices can provide process controls for end-of-period-adjustments (SOX) as well as address ‘safeguard’ requirements in GLBA.
  • Security platforms separate the roles of data collection, data analysis, and policy enforcement, and can direct alerts to appropriate audiences outside security.
  • Collection of audit logs, combined with automated filtering and encryption, address common data retention obligations.
  • DLP, DRM, and encryption products assist in compliance with HIPAA and appropriate use of student records (FERPA).
  • Filtering, analysis, and reporting help reduce audit costs by providing auditors with necessary information to quickly verify the efficacy and integrity of controls; gathering this information is typically an expensive portion of an audit.
  • Auditing technologies provide a view into transactional activity, and establish the efficacy and appropriateness of controls.

Reduced TCO

Data security products collect information and events that have relevance beyond security. By design they provide a generic tool for the collection, analysis, and reporting of events that serve regulatory, industry, and business processing controls; automating much of the analysis and integrating with other knowledge management and response systems. As a result they can enhance existing IT systems in addition to their primary security functions. The total cost of ownership is reduced for both security and general IT systems, as the two reinforce each other – possibly without requiring additional staff. Let’s examine a few cases:

  • Automating inspection of systems and controls on financial data reduces manual inspection by Internal Audit staff.
  • Systems Management benefits from automating tedious inspection of information services, verifying that services are configured according to best practices; this can reduce breaches and system downtime, and ease the maintenance burden.
  • Security controls can ensure business processes are followed and detect failure of operations, generating alerts in existing trouble ticketing systems.

Risk reduction

Your evaluation process focuses on determining if you can justify spending some amount of money on a certain product or to address a specific threat. That laser focus is great, but data security is an enterprise issue, so don’t lose sight of the big picture. Data security products overlap with general risk reduction, similar to the way these products reduce TCO and augment other compliance efforts. When compiling your list of tradeoffs, consider other areas of risk & reward as well.

  • Assessment and penetration technologies discover vulnerabilities and reduce exposure; keeping data and applications safe helps protect networks and hosts.
  • IT systems interconnect and share data. Stopping threats in one area of business processing can improve reliability and security in connected areas.
  • Discovery helps analysts process and understand risk exposure by providing locating data, and recording how it is used throughout the enterprise, and ensuring compliance with usage policies.

Also keep in mind that we are providing a model to help you justify security expenditures, but that does not mean our goal is to promote security spending. Our approach is pragmatic, and if you can achieve the same result without additional security products to support your applications, we are all for that. In much the same way that security can reduce TCO, some products and platforms have security built in, thus avoiding the need for additional security expenditures. We recognize that data security choices typically are the last to be made, after deployment of the applications for business processing, and after infrastructure choices to support the business applications. But if your lucky enough to have built in tools, use them.

–Adrian Lane

Adrian Appears on the Network Security Podcast

By Rich

Pepper the Wonder Cat

I can’t believe I forgot to post this, but Martin was off in Chicago for work this week and Adrian joined me as guest host for the Network Security Podcast. We recorded live at my house, so the audio may sound a little different. If you listen really carefully, you can hear an appearance by Pepper the Wonder Cat, our Chief of Everything Officer here at Securosis.

The complete episode is here: Network Security Podcast, Episode 137, February 10, 2009 Time: 32:50

Show Notes:


Los Alamos Missing Computers

By Adrian Lane

Yahoo! News is reporting that the Los Alamos nuclear weapons research facility reportedly is missing some 69 computers according to a watchdog group who released an internal memo. Either they have really bad inventory controls, or they have a kleptomaniac running around the lab. Even for a mid-sized organization, this is a lot, especially given the nature of their business. Granted the senior manager says this does not mean there was a breach of classified information, and I guess I should give him the benefit of the doubt, but I have never worked at a company where sensitive information did not flow like water around the organization regardless of policy. The requirement may be to keep classified information off unclassified systems, but unless those systems are audited, how would you know? How could you verify if they are missing.

We talk a lot about endpoint security and and the need to protect laptops, but really, if you work for an organization that deals with incredibly sensitive information (you know, like nuclear secrets) you need to encrypt all of the media regardless of the media being mobile or not. There are dozens of vendors that offer software encryption and most of the disk manufacturers are coming out with encrypted drives. And you are probably aware if you read this blog that we are proponents of DLP in certain cases; this type of policy enforcement for the movement of classified information would be a good example. You would think organizations such as this would be ahead of the curve in this area, but apparently not.

–Adrian Lane

Thursday, February 12, 2009

An Analyst Conundrum

By Rich

Since we’ve jumped on the Totally Transparent Research bandwagon, sometimes we want to write about how we do things over here, and what leads us to make the recommendations we do. Feel free to ignore the rest of this post if you don’t want to hear about the inner turmoil behind our research…

One of the problems we often face as analysts is that we find ourselves having to tell people to spend money (and not on us, which for the record, we’re totally cool with). Plenty of my industry friends pick on me for frequently telling people to buy new stuff, including stuff that’s sometimes considered of dubious value. Believe me, we’re not always happy heading down that particular toll road. Not only have Adrian and I worked the streets ourselves, collectively holding titles ranging from lowly PC tech and network admin to CIO, CTO, and VP of Engineering, but as a small business we maintain all our own infrastructure and don’t have any corporate overlords to pick up the tab.

Besides that, you wouldn’t believe how incredibly cheap the two of us are. (Unless it involves a new toy.)

I’ve been facing this conundrum for my entire career as an analyst. Telling someone to buy something is often the easy answer, but not always the best answer. Plenty of clients have been annoyed over the years by my occasional propensity to vicariously spend their money.

On the other hand, it isn’t like all our IT is free, and there really are times you need to pull out the checkbook. And even when free software or services are an option, they might end up costing you more in the long run, and a commercial solution may come with the lowest total cost of ownership.

We figure one of the most important parts of our job is helping you figure out where your biggest bang for the buck is, but we don’t take dispensing this kind of recommendation lightly. We typically try to hammer at the problem from all angles and test our conclusions with some friends still in the trenches. And keep in mind that no blanket recommendation is best for everyone and all situations- we have to write for the mean, not the deviation.

But in some areas, especially web application security, we don’t just find ourselves recommending a tool- we find ourselves recommending a bunch of tools, none of which are cheap. In our Building a Web Application Security series we’ve really been struggling to find the right balance and build a reasonable set of recommendations. Adrian sent me this email as we were working on the last part:

I finished what I wanted to write for part 8. I was going to finish it last night but I was very uncomfortable with the recommendations, and having trouble justifying one strategy over another. After a few more hours of research today, I have satisfied my questions and am happy with the conclusions. I feel that I can really answer potential questions of why we recommend this strategy opposed to some other course of action. I have filled out the strategy and recommendations for the three use cases as best I can.

Yes, we ended up having to recommend a series of investments, but before doing that we tried to make damn sure we could justify those recommendations. Don’t forget, they are written for a wide audience and your circumstances are likely different. You can always call us on any bullshit, or better yet, drop us a line to either correct us, or ask us for advice more fitting to your particular situation (don’t worry, we don’t charge for quick advice – yet).


Recent Data Breaches- How To Limit Malicious Outbound Connections

By Rich

Word is slowly coming through industry channels that the attackers in the Heartland breach exfiltrated sniffed data via an outbound network connection. While not surprising, I did hear that the connection wasn’t encrypted- the bad guys sent the data out in cleartext (I’ll leave it to the person who passed this on to identify themselves if they want). Rumor from 2 independent sources is the bad guys are an organized group out of St. Petersburg (yes, Russia, as cliche as that is).

This is similar to a whole host of breaches- including (probably) TJX. While I’m not so naive as to think you can stop all malicious outbound connections, I do think there’s a lot we can do to make life harder on the bad guys. Endless Hole, Alaskan Glacier

First, you need to lock down your outbound connections using a combination of current and next-generation firewalls. You should isolate out your transaction network to enforce tighter controls on it than on the rest of your business network. Traditional firewalls can lock down most outbound port/protocols, but struggle with nested/stealth channels or all the stuff shoveled over port 80. Next-gen firewalls and web gateways (I hate the name, but don’t have a better one) like Palo Alto Networks or Mi5 Networks can help. Regular web gateways (Websense and McAfee/Secure Computing) are also good, but vary more on their outbound control capabilities and tend to be more focused on malware prevention (not counting their DLP products, which we’ll talk about in a second).

The web gateway and next gen firewalls will focus on your overall network, while you can lock of the transaction side with tighter traditional firewall rules and segmenting that thing off.

Next, use DLP to sniff for outbound cardholder data. The bad guys don’t seem to be encrypting, and DLP will alert on that in a heartbeat (and maybe block it, depending on the channel). You’ll want to proxy with your web gateway to sniff SSL (and only some web gateways can do this) and set the DLP to alert on unauthorized encryption usage. That might be a real pain in the ass, if you have a lot of unmanaged encryption outside of SSL. Also, to do the outbound SSL proxy you need to roll out a gateway certificate to all your endpoints and suppress browser alerts via group policies.

I also recommend DLP content discovery to reduce where you have unencrypted stored data (yes, you do have it, even if you think you don’t).

As you’ve probably figured out by now, if you are starting from scratch some of this will be very difficult to implement on an existing network, especially one that hasn’t been managed tightly. Thus I suggest you focus on any of your processing/transaction paths and start walling those off first. In the long run, that will reduce both your risks and your compliance and audit costs.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Business Justification for Data Security: Understanding Potential Loss

By Adrian Lane

Rich posted the full research paper last week, but as not everyone wants to read the full 30 pages, we decided to continue posting excepts here. We still encourage comments as this will be a living document for us, and we will expand in the future. Here is Part Four:

Understanding Potential Losses

Earlier we deliberately decoupled potential losses from risk impact, even though loss is clearly the result of a risk incident. Since this is a business justification model rather than a risk management model, it allows us to account for major types of potential loss that are the result of multiple types of risk and simplifies our overall analysis. We will highlight the major loss categories associated with data security and, as with our risk estimates, break them out into quantitative and qualitative categories. These loss categories can be directly correlated back to risk estimates, and it may make sense to walk through that exercise at times, but as we complete our business justification you’ll see why it isn’t normally necessary.

If data is stolen in a security breach, will it cost you a million dollars? A single dollar? Will you even notice? Under “Data Loss Models”, we introduced a method for estimating values of the data your company possess to underscore what is at stake. Now we will provide a technique for estimating costs to the business in the event of a loss. We look at some types of loss and their impacts. Some of these have hard costs that can be estimated with a reasonable degree of accuracy. Others are more nebulous, so assigning monetary values doesn’t make sense. But don’t forget that although we may not be able to fully quantify such losses, we cannot afford to ignore them them, because unquantifiable costs can be just as damaging.

Quantified vs. Qualified Losses

As we discussed with noisy threats, it is much easier to justify security spending based on quantifiable threats with a clear impact on productivity and efficiency. With data security, quantification is often the rare exception, and real losses typically combine quantified and qualified elements. For example, a data breach at your company may not be evident until long after the fact. You don’t lose access to the data, and you might not suffer direct losses. But if the incident becomes public, you could then face regulatory and notification costs. Stolen customer lists and pricing sheets, stolen financial plans, and stolen source code can all reduce competitive advantage and impact sales — or not, depending on who stole what. Data stolen from your company may be used to commit fraud, but the fraud itself might be committed elsewhere. Customer information used in identity theft causes your customers major hassles, and if they discover your firm was the source of the information, you may face fines and legal battles over liability. As these can account for a majority of total costs, despite the difficulty in obtaining an estimate of the impact, we must still account for the potential loss to justify spending to prevent or reduce it.

We offer two approaches to combining quantified and qualified potential losses. In the first, you walk through each potential loss category and either assign an estimated monetary value, or rate it on our 1-5 scale. This method is faster, but doesn’t help correlate the potential loss with your tolerance. In the second method, you create a chart like the one below, where all potential losses are rated on a 1-5 scale, with either value ranges (for quantitative loss) in the cells, or qualitative statements describing the level of loss. This method takes longer, since you need to identify five measurement points for each loss category, but allows you to more easily compare potential losses against your tolerance, and identify security investments to bring the potential losses (or their likelihood) down to an acceptable level.

Loss =






Notification costs (total, not per record)






Reputation Damage

No negative publicity

Single negative press mention, local/online only

Ongoing negative press <2 weeks, local/online only, Single major outlet mention.

Ongoing sustained negative press >2 weeks, including multiple major outlets. Measurable drop in customer activity.

Sustained negative press in major outlets or on a national scale. Material drop in customer activity.

Potential Loss Categories

Here are our recommended assessment categories for potential loss, categorized by quantifiable vs. only qualifiable:

Quantifiable potential data security losses:

  • Notification Costs: CA 1386 and associated state mandates to inform customers in the event of a data breach. Notification costs can be estimated in advance, and include contact with customers, as well as any credit monitoring services to identify fraudulent events. The cost is roughly linear with the total number of records compromised.
  • Compliance Costs: Most companies are subject to federal regulations or industry codes they must adhere to. Loss of data and data integrity issues are generally violations. HIPAA, GLBA, SOX, and others include data verification requirements and fines for failure to comply.
  • Investigation & Remediation Costs: An investigation into how the data was compromised, and the associated costs to remediate the relevant security weaknesses, have a measurable cost to the organization.
  • Contracts/SLAs: Service level agreements about quality or timeliness of services are common, as are confidentiality agreements. Businesses that provide data services rely upon the completeness, accuracy, and availability of data; falling short in any one area may violate SLAs and/or subject the company to fines or loss of revenues.
  • Credit: Loss of data and compromise of IT systems are both viewed as indications of investment risk by the financial community. The resulting impact on interest rates and availability of funds may affect profitability.
  • Future Business & Accreditation: Data loss, compliance failures, or compliance penalties may impair ability to bid on contracts or even participate in certain ventures due to loss of accreditation. This can be a permanent or temporary loss, but the effects are tangible. Note that future business is also a qualitative loss — here we refer to definitive measurements, such as exclusions from business markets, as opposed to potential losses due to customer loyalty/concern.
  • Continuity of Business: Denial of Service impairs customer service and interferes with business. These are often measurable for transaction-based businesses.

Qualifiable Potential Data Security Losses

  • Reputation Damage: The reputation of a company affects its value in a number of ways. New customers often seek out firms they know and trust. Investors are likely to buy stock from companies which are trustworthy and operate effectively. Risks to reputation affect both, but it’s generally impossible to attribute an impact to a single event because other events, non-risk factors, and general market forces all feed into customer behavior.
  • Customer Loyalty: How the data loss is perceived by customers has an effect on customer and brand loyalty. If the loss of the data is viewed as preventable, and the inconvenience or financial cost to customers is high, some customers will stop doing business with the company.
  • Loss of Sales: Your customer contact information and pricing sheets in the hands of your competitor provide ample data for targeted sales campaigns. Any successes come at your expense.
  • Competitive Advantage: R&D expenditure to create a new and competitive product can be devalued if that research, source code, process, or ingredient list is stolen; but since you aren’t blocked from still bringing the product to market, the lost benefit is not fully quantifiable.
  • Future Business: You cannot accurately predict lost future business, unless you restrict it to market/ecosystem/contract exclusion as mentioned above. We’ve seen single breach disclosures put a company out of business, while other companies see sales growth despite major public breaches.

Exponential loss growth

While a single incident might result in minimal losses, a string of ongoing incidents is likely to exponentially increase losses- especially in qualitative areas such as reputation damage and lost future business. Despite what most of the surveys claim, there is very little evidence of correlation between single data breaches and lost business, or even stock price. For example, TJX suffered one of the largest data breaches in history, but sales increased steadily through the incident. It’s clear customers either didn’t pay attention, or felt that the security controls implemented after the incident made TJX safer to shop. But if TJX suffered an ongoing string of data breaches over a period of months, at some point there would be material loss of business.

When providing a business justification for security spending, you do not need to account for every single aspect of loss. Nor do you need to even show that the majority of data value is at risk. Instead, you need to understand and be able to show that valuable data is at risk, and examine the potential benefits of security and the reduction of loss in relation to cost of the investment. Simple monetary damages may be small, but the potential for loss can still considerable. If it can be shown that mitigating the risk vector associated with data theft also accomplishes operational goals, the argument is even stronger. If the investment also accounts for compliance controls, or makes a business process more efficient, the effort may pay for itself.

–Adrian Lane

Do You Use DLP? We Should Talk

By Rich

As an analyst, I’ve been covering DLP since before there was anything called DLP. I like to joke that I’ve talked with more people that have evaluated and deployed DLP than anyone else on the face of the planet. Yes, it’s exactly as exciting as it sounds.

But all those references were fairly self-selected. They’ve either been Gartner clients, or our current enterprise clients, that were/are typically looking for help in product selection or dealing with some sort of problem. Many of the rest are vendor-supplied references. This combination skews the conversations towards people picking products, people with problems, or those a vendor think will make them look good.

I’m currently working on an article for Information Security magazine on “Real-World DLP”, and I’m hunting for some new references to expand that field a bit. If you are using DLP, successfully or not, and are willing to talk confidentially, please drop me a line. I’m looking for real-world stories, good and bad. If you are willing to go on the record, we’re also looking for good quote sources. The focus of the article is more on implementation than selection, and will be vendor-neutral.

To be honest, one reason I’m putting this out in the open is to see if my normal reference channels are skewed. It’s time to see how our current positions and assumptions play out on the mean streets of reality.

Of course I’ll be totally pissed if I’ve been wrong this entire time and have to retract everything I’ve ever written on DLP.

**Update - Oh yeah, my email address is rmogull, that is with two ‘L’s, at securosis dot com. Please let me know.


Saturday, February 07, 2009

Friday Summary: February 6, 2009

By Adrian Lane

Here it is Friday again, and it feels like just a few minutes ago that I was writing the last Friday summary. This week has been incredibly busy for both of us. Rich has been out for the count most of this week with a stomach virus and wandering his own house like a deranged zombie. This was not really a hack, they were just warning Rich’s neighborhood. As the county cordoned off his house with yellow tape and flagged him as a temporary bio-hazard, I thought it best to forgo this week’s face to face Friday staff meeting, and get back on track with our blogging. Between the business justification white paper that we launched this week, and being on the road for client meetings, we’re way behind. A few items of interest …

I appears that data security is really starting to enter the consciousness of the common consumer. Or at least it is being marketed to them. There were even more advertisements in the San Jose airport this week than ever: The ever-present McAfee & Cisco ads were joined by Symantec and Compuware. The supermarket has Identity Theft protection pamphlets from not one but two vendors. The cherry on top of this security sundae was the picture of John Walsh in the in-flight magazine, hawking “CA Internet Security Suite Plus 2009”. I was shocked. Not because CA has a consumer security product; or because they are being marketed along with Harry Potter commemorative wands, holiday meat platters and low quality electronics. No, it was John Walsh’s smiling face that surprised me. Because John Walsh “Trusts CA Security Products to keep your family safe”. WTF? Part of me is highly offended. The other part of me thinks this is absolutely brilliant marketing. We have moved way beyond a features and technology discussion, and into JV-celebrities telling us what security products we should buy. If it were only that easy.

Myopia Alert: I am sure there are others in the security community who have gone off on this rant as well, but as I did not find a reference anywhere else, I thought this topic was worth posting. A word of caution for you PR types out there who are raising customer and brand awareness through security webinars and online security fora: you might want to have some empathy for your audience. If your event requires a form to be filled out, you are going to lose a big chunk of your audience because people who care about security care about their privacy as well. The audience member will bail, or your outbound call center will be dialing 50 guys named Jack Mayhoff. Further, if that entry form requires JavaScript and a half dozen cookies, you are going to lose a bigger percentage of your audience because JavaScript is a feature and a security threat rolled into one. Finally, if the third-party vendor you use to host the event does not support Firefox or Safari, you will lose the majority of your audience. I am not trying to be negative, but want to point out that while Firefox, Safari and Opera may only constitute 25% of the browser market, they are used by 90% of the people who care about security.

Final item I wanted to talk about: Our resident wordsmith and all around good guy Chris Pepper forwarded Rich and me a Slashdot link about how free Monty Python material on YouTube has caused their DVD sales to skyrocket. Both Rich and I have raised similar points here in the past, and we even referred to this phenomena in the Business Justification for Security Spending paper about why it can be hard to understand damages. While organizations like the RIAA feel this is counter-intuitive, it makes perfect sense to me and anyone else who has ever tried guerilla marketing, or seen the effects of viral marketing. Does anyone know if the free South Park episodes did the same for South Park DVD sales? I would be interested. Oh, and Chris also forwarded Le Wrath di Kahn, which was both seriously funny and really works as opera (the art form- I didn’t test in the browser).

On to the week in review:

Webcasts, Podcasts, Outside Writing, and Conferences:

  • Rich did a webcast with Roxana Bradescu of Oracle on Information Security for Database Professionals. Here is the sign-up link, and I will post a replay link later when I get one from Oracle.

Favorite Securosis Posts:

  • Rich: Launch of the Business Justification for Security Spending white paper. Whew!
  • Adrian: The Business Justification for Data Security post on Risk Estimation. I knew this was going to cause some of the risk guys to go apoplectic, but we were not building a full-blown risk management model, and frankly, risk calculations made every model so complex no one could use it as a tool.

Favorite Outside Posts:

Top News and Posts:

Blog Comment of the Week:

From Chris Hayes on the Risk Estimation for Business Justification for Data Security post:

Up to this point in the series, this “business justification” security investment model appears to be nothing more then a glorified cost benefit analysis wrapped up in risk/business terminology with a little bit of controls analysis thrown in.

I hope that the remaining posts will include something along the lines of “business justification” in the context of business goal alignment, risk tolerances levels of decision makers and differentiating between vulnerability, risk, threat event frequency, and loss event frequency- terms of which your model dances around.

I look forward to reading the remaining posts before passing final judgment. In the mean time, I would encourage readers to take a look at the FAIR methodology as well as look at the Open Group’s recently published “Risk Taxonomy” technical standard.

As opposed to what? Lots to consider on this topic.

It’s a really nice day here in Phoenix, so it is time to go outside and enjoy some sun.

–Adrian Lane

Database Security for DBAs

By Rich

I think I’ve discovered the perfect weight loss technique- a stomach virus. In 48 hours I managed to lose 2 lbs, which isn’t too shabby. Of course I’m already at something like 10% body fat, so I’m not sure how needed the loss was, but I figure if I just write a book about this and hock it in some informercial I can probably retire. My wife, who suffered through 3 months of so-called “morning” sickness, wasn’t all that sympathetic for some strange reason.

On that note, it’s time to shift gears and talk about database security. Or, to be more accurate, talk about talking about database security.

Tomorrow (Thursday Feb 5th) I will be giving a webcast on Database Security for Database Professionals. This is the companion piece to the webinar I recently presented on Database Security for Security Professionals. This time I flip the presentation around and focus on what the DBA needs to know, presenting from their point of view.

It’s sponsored by Oracle, presented by NetworkWorld, and you can sign up here.

I’ll be posting the slides after the webinar, but not for a couple of months as we reorganize the site a bit to better handle static content. Feel free to email me if you want a PDF copy.


Friday, February 06, 2009

The Business Justification for Data Security- Version 1.0

By Rich

We’ve been teasing you with previews, but rather than handing out more bits and pieces, we are excited to release the complete version of the Business Justification for Data Security.

This is version 1.0 of the report, and we expect it to continue to evolve as we get more public feedback. Based on some of that initial feedback, we’d like to emphasize something before you dig in. Keep in mind that this is a business justification tool, designed to help you align potential data security investments with business needs, and to document the justification to make a case with those holding the purse strings. It’s not meant to be a complete risk assessment model, although it does share many traits with risk management tools.

We’ve also designed this to be both pragmatic and flexible- you shouldn’t need to spend months with consultants to build your business justification. For some projects, you might complete it in an hour. For others, maybe a few days or weeks as you wrangle business unit heads together to force them to help value different types of information.

For those of you that don’t want to read a 38 page paper we’re going to continue to post the guts of the model as blog posts, and we also plan on blogging additional content, such as more examples and use cases.

We’d like to especially thank our exclusive sponsor, McAfee, who also set up a landing page here with some of their own additional whitepapers and content. As usual, we developed the content completely independently, and it’s only thanks to our sponsors that we can release it for free (and still feed our families). This paper is also released in cooperation with the SANS Institute, will be available in the SANS Reading Room, and we will be delivering a SANS webcast on the topic on March 17th.

This was one of our toughest projects, and we’re excited to finally get it out there. Please post your feedback in the comments, and we will be crediting reviewers that advance the model when we release the next version.

And once again, thanks to McAfee, SANS, and (as usual) Chris Pepper, our fearless editor.


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Business Justification for Data Security: Risk Estimation

By Adrian Lane

This is the third part of our Business Justification for Data Security series (Part 1, Part 2), and if you have been following the series this far, you know that Rich and I have complained about how difficult this paper was to write. Our biggest problem was fitting risk into the model. In fact we experimented and ultimately rejected a couple models because the reduction of risk vs. any given security investment was non-linear. And there were many threats and many different responses, few of which were quantifiable, making the whole effort ‘guestimate’ soup. In the end , risk became our ‘witching rod’; a guide as to how we balance value vs loss, but just one of the tools we use to examine investment decisions.

Measuring and understanding the risks to information

If data security were a profit center, we could shift our business justification discussion from the value of information right into assessing its potential for profit. But since that isn”t the case, we are forced to examine potential reductions in value as a guide to whether action is warranted. The approach we need to take is to understand the risks that directly threaten the value of data and the security safeguards that counter those risks.

There’s no question our data is at risk; from malicious attackers and nefarious insiders to random accidents and user errors, we read about breaches and loss nearly every day. But while we have an intuitive sense that data security is a major issue, we have trouble getting a handle on the real risks to data in a quantitative sense. The number of possible threats and ways to steal information is staggering, but when it comes to quantifying risks, we lack much of the information needed for an accurate understanding of how these risks impact us.

Combining quantitative and qualitative risk estimates

We”ll take a different approach to looking at risk; we will focus on quantifying the things that we can, qualifying the things we can”t, and combining them in a consistent framework. While we can measure some risks, such as the odds of losing a laptop, it’s nearly impossible to measure other risks, such as a database breach via a web application due to a new vulnerability. If we limit ourselves only to what we can precisely measure, we won”t be able to account for many real risks to our information. Inclusion of quantitative assessments, since they are a powerful tool to understand risk and influence decisions, help validate the overall model.

For our business justification model, we deliberately simplify the risk assessment process to give us just what we need to understand need for data security investments. We start by listing out the pertinent risk categories, then the likelihood or annual rate of occurrence for each risk, followed by severity ratings broken out for confidentiality, integrity, and availability. For risk events we can predict with reasonable accuracy, such as lost laptops with sensitive information, we can use numbers. In the example below, we know the A

ualized Rate of Occurrence (ARO), so we plug with value in. For less predictable risks, we just rate them from “low” to “high”. We then mark off our currently estimated (or measured) levels in each category. For qualitative measure, we will use a 1-5 scale to , but this is arbitrary, and you should use whatever scale that provides you with a level of granularity that assists understanding.

Risk Estimation: Credit Card Data (Sample):


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Lost Laptop






Database Breach (Ext)






This is the simplified risk scorecard for the business justification model. The totals aren”t meant to compare one risk category to another, but to derive estimated totals we will use in our business justification to show potential reductions from the evaluated investment. While different organizations face different risk categories, we”ve included the most common data security risks here, and in Section 6 we show how it integrates into the overall model.

Common data security risks

The following is an outline of the major categories for information loss. Any time you read about a data breach, one or more of these events occurred. This list isn”t intended to comprehensive, rather provide a good overview of common data security risk categories to give you a jump start on implementing the model. Rather than discuss each and every threat vector, we will present logical groups to illustrate that the risks and potential solutions tend to be very similar within each specific category. The following are the principal categories to consider:

Lost Media

This category describes data at rest, residing on some form of media, that has been lost or stolen. Media includes disk drives, tape, USB/memory sticks, laptops, and other devices. This category encompasses the majority of cases of data loss. Typical security measures for this class includes media encryption, media “sanitizing”, and in some cases endpoint Data Loss Prevention technology.

  • Lost disks/backup tape
  • Lost/stolen laptop.
  • Information leaked through decommissioned servers/drives
  • Lost memory stick/flash drive
  • Stolen servers/workstations

Inadvertent Disclosure

This category includes data being accidentally exposed in some way that leads to unwanted disclosure. Examples include email to unwanted recipients, posting confidential data to web sites, unsecured Internet transmissions, lack of access controls, and the like. Safeguards include email & web security platforms, DLP and access controls systems. Each is effective, but only against certain threat types. Process and workflow controls are also needed to help catch human error.

  • Data accidentally leaked through email (Sniffed, wrong address, un-purged document metadata)
  • Data leaked by inadvertent exposure (Posted to the web, open file shares, unprotected FTP, or otherwise placed in an insecure location)
  • Data leaked by unsecured connection
  • Data leaked through file sharing File sharing programs are used to move large files efficiently (and possibly illegally).

External Attack/Breach

This category describes instances of data theft where company systems and applications are compromised by a malicious attacker, affecting confidentiality and integrity. Typical attacks include compromised accounts/passwords, SQL Injection, buffer overflow, web site attacks, trojans, viruses, network “sniffers” and others. Successful compromise often results in installation of additional malicious code. While not the most frequent, this category includes the most damaging data breaches and is most likely to be result in fraud. Any security precautions may assist in detection; but assessment, penetration testing, data encryption, and application security are common preventative controls; with application & database monitoring, WAF, and flow based detection popular as detective controls.

  • Data theft through compromised account (weak passwords)
  • Database breach (Databases are extraordinarily complex applications. The term “database breach” applies to many different types of attacks on a database server)
  • Web application reach (logic flaw, exploit)
  • Database breach by insider (employee, partner, contractor)
  • Breach via compromised endpoint

Remember that is evaluation is risk based; we”ll cover potential loss measurements in the next section. While this might seem counterintuitive, this method allows us to account for security controls that reduce potential losses from multiple risk categories and reduce complexity. Remember – we are focusing on business justification, not a comprehensive risk management system. We wanted to couple quantifiable and qualitative elements; otherwise every justification project would become a 2-year risk assessment.

–Adrian Lane

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Friday Summary - Jan 30, 2009

By Adrian Lane

A couple of people forwarded me this interview, and if you have not read it, it is really worth your time. It’s an amazing interview with Matt Knox, a developer with Direct Revenue who authored adware during his employ with them. For me this is important as it highlights stuff I figured was going on but really could not prove. It also exposes much of the thought process behind the developers at Micosoft, and it completely altered my behavior for ’sanitizing’ my PC’s. For me, this all started a few years ago (2005?) when my Windows laptop was infected with this stuff. I discovered something was going on because there was ongoing activity in the background when the machine was idle and started to affect machine responsiveness.

The mysterious performance degradation was difficult to find as I could not locate a specific application responsible, and the process monitors provided with Windows are wholly inadequate. I found that there were processes running in the background unassociated with any application, and unassociated with Windows. I did find files that were associated with these processes, and it was clear they did not belong on the machine. When I went to delete them, they popped up again within minutes- with new names! I was able to find multiple registry entries, and the behavior suggested that multiple pieces of code monitored each other for health and availability, and fixed each other if one was deleted. Even if I booted in safe mode I had no confidence that I could completely remove this … whatever it was … from the machine. At that point in time I knew I needed to start over.

How this type of software could have gotten into the registry and installed itself in such a manner was perplexing to me. Being a former OS developer, I started digging, and that’s when I got mad. Mr. Knox uses the word ‘promiscuous’ to describe the OS calls, and that was exactly what it was. There were API calls to do pretty much anything you wanted to do, all without so much as a question being asked of the user or of the installing party. You get a clear picture of the mentality of the developers who wrote the IE and Windows OS code back then- there were all sorts of nifty ways to ‘do stuff’, for anyone who wanted to, and not a shred of a hint of security. All of these ‘features’ were for someone else’s benefit! They could use my resources at will- as if they had the keys to my house, and when I left, they were throwing a giant party at my expense. What really fried me was that, while I could see these processes and registry entries, none of the anti-virus or anti-malware tools would detect them. So if I wanted to secure my machine, it was up to me to do it.

So I said this changed my behavior. Here’s how:

  • Formatted the disk and reinstalled the OS
  • Switched to Firefox full time. A few months later I discovered Flashblock and NoScript.
  • I stopped paying for desktop anti-virus and used free stuff or nothing at all. It didn’t work for the desktop, and email AV addressed my real concern.
  • I found a process monitor that gave me detailed information on what was running and what resources were being used.
  • I cateloged every process on the Windows machine, and kept a file that described each process’ function so I could cross-check and remove stuff that was not supposed to be there.
  • I began manually starting everything (non-core) through the services panel if I needed it. Not only did this help me detect stuff that should not be running, it reduced risks associated with poorly secured applications that leave services sitting wide open on a port.
  • Uninstalled WebEx, RealPlayer, and several other suspects after using.
  • I kept all of my original software nearby and planned to re-install, from CD or DVD, fresh every year. Until I got VMware.
  • I used a virtual partition for risky browsing whenever possible.

I now use a Mac, and run my old licensed copies of Windows in Parallels. Surprised?

Here is the week’s security summary:

Webcasts, Podcasts, Outside Writing, and Conferences:

Favorite Securosis Posts:

Favorite Outside Posts:



Top News and Posts:

Blog Comment of the Week:

Good comment from Jack Pepper on “PCI isn’t meant to protect cardholder …” post:

“Why is this surprising? the PCI standard was developed by the card industry to be a “bare minimum” standard for card processing. If anyone in the biz thinks PCI is more that “the bare minimum standard for card processing”, they are mistaken. I tell people that PCI compliance is like a high school diploma: if you don’t have one, people suspect you’re an idiot. If you do have one, no one is impressed.”

Dead on target. Until next week…

–Adrian Lane

Friday, January 30, 2009

Policies and Security Products

By Adrian Lane

Where do the policies in your security product come from? With the myriad of tools and security products on the market, where do the pre-built policies come from? I am not speaking of AV in this post- rather looking at IDS, VA, DAM, DLP, WAF, pen testing, SIEM, and many others that use a set of policies to address security and compliance problems. The question is who decides what is appropriate? On every sales engagement, customer and analyst meeting I have ever participated in for security products, this was a question.

This post is intended more for IT professional who are considering security products, so I am gearing for that audience. When drafting the web application security program series last month, a key topic that kept coming up over and over again from security practitioners was: “How can you recommend XYZ security solution when you know that the customer is going to have to invest a lot for the product, but also a significant amount in developing their own policy set?” This is both an accurate observation and the right question to be asking. While we stand by our recommendations for reasons stated in the original series, it would be a disservice to our IT readers if we did not discuss this in greater detail. The answer is an important consideration for anyone selecting a security tool or suite.

When I used to develop database security products, policy development was one of the tougher issues for us to address on the vendor side. Once aware of a threat, on average it took 2.5 ‘man-days’ to develop a policy with a test case and complete remediation information [prior to QA]. This becomes expensive when you have hundreds of policies being developed for different problem sets. It was a common competitive topic to discuss policy coverage and how policies were generated, and a basic function of the product, so most every vendor will invest heavily in this area. More, most vendors market their security ‘research teams’ that find exploits, develop test code, and provide remediation steps. This domain expertise is one of the areas where vendors provide value in the products that they deliver, but when it comes down to it, vendor insight is fraction of the overall source of information. With monitoring and auditing, policy development was even harder: The business use cases were more diverse and the threats not completely understood. Sure we could return the ubiquitous who-what-when-where-to-from kind of stuff, but how did that translate to business need?

If you are evaluating products or interested in augmenting your policy set, where do you start? With vulnerability research, there are several resources that I like to use:

Vendor best practices - Almost every platform vendor, from Apache to SAP, offer security best practices documents. These guidelines on how to configure and operate their product form the basis for many programs. These cover operational issues that reduce risk, discuss common exploits, and reference specific security patches. These documents are updated during each major release cycle, so make sure you periodically review for new additions, or how they recommend new features be configured and deployed. What’s more, while the vendor may not be forthcoming with exploit details, they are the best source of information for remediation and patch data.

CERT/Mitre - Both have fairly comprehensive lists of vulnerabilities to specific products. Both provide a neutral description of what the threat is. Neither had great detailed information of the actual exploit, not will they have complete remediation information. It is up to the development team to figure out the details.

Customer feedback/peer review - If you are a vendor of security products, customer have applied the policies and know what works for them. They may have modified the code that you use to remediate a situation, and that may be a better solution than what your team implemented, and/or it may be too specific to their environment for use in a generalized product. If you are running your own IT department, what have your peers done? Next time you are at a conference or user group, ask. Regardless, vendors learn from other customers what works for them to address issues, and you can too.

3rd party relationships (consultants, academia, auditors) - When it comes to development of policies related to GLBA or SOX, which are outside the expertise of most security vendors, it’s particularly valuable to leverage third party consultative relations to augment policies with their deep understanding of how best to approach the problem. In the past I have used relationships with major consulting firms to help analyze the policies and reports we provided. This was helpful, as they really did tell us when some of our policies were flat out bull$(#!, what would work, and how things could work better. If you have these relationships already in place, carve out a few hours so they can help review and analyze policies.

Research & Experience - Most companies have dedicated research teams, and this is something you should look for. They do this every day and they get really good at it. If your vendor has a recognized expert in the field on staff, that’s great too. That person may be quite helpful to the overall research and discovery process of threats and problems with the platforms and products you are protecting. The reality is that they are more likely on the road speaking to customers, press and analysts rather than really doing the research. It is good that your vendor has a dedicated team, but their experience is just one part of the big picture.

User groups - With many of the platforms, especially Oracle, I learned a lot from regional DBAs who supported databases within specific companies or specific verticals. In many cases they did not have or use a third party product, rather they had a bunch of scripts that they had built up over many years, modified, and shared with others. They shared tips on not only what they were required to do, but how they implemented them. This typically included the trial-and-error discussion of how a certain script or policy was evolved over time to meet timeliness or completeness of information requirements from other team members. Use these groups and attend regional meetings to get a better idea of how peers solve problems. Amazing wealth of knowledge, freely shared.

General frameworks - To meet compliance efforts, frameworks commonly provide checklists for compliance and security. The bad news is that the lists are generic, but the good news is they provides a good start for understanding what you need to consider, and help prepare for pre-vendor engagements and POCs.

Compliance - Polices are typically created to manage compliance with existing policies or regulations. Compliance requirements allow some latitude for how you interpret how a PCI or FISMA applies to your organization. What works, how it is implemented, what the auditors find suitable, and what is easy for them to use all play a part in the push & pull of policy development, and one of the primary reasons to consider this effort as added expense to deploying third party products.

I want to stress that you should use this as a guide to review the methods that product vendors use to develop their policies, but my intention is to make sure you clearly understand that you will need to develop your own as well. In the case of web application security, it’s you application, and it will be tough to avoid. This post may help you dig through vendor sales and marketing literature to determine what can really help to you and what is “pure puffery”, but ultimately you need to consider the costs of developing your own policies for the products you choose. Why? You can almost never find off-the-shelf polices that meet all of your needs. Security or compliance may not be part of your core business, and you may not be a domain expert in all facets of security, but for certain key areas I recommend that you invest in supplementing the off-the-shelf policies included with your security tools. Policies are best if they are yours, grounded in your experience, and tuned to your organizational needs. They provide historical memory, and form a knowledge repository for other company members to learn from. Policies can guide management efforts, assurance efforts, and compliance efforts. Yes, this is work, and potentially a lot of work paid in increments over time. If you do not develop your own policies, and this type of effort is not considered within your core business, then you are reliant on third parties (service providers or product vendors) for the production of your policies.

Hopefully you will find this helpful.

–Adrian Lane

Submit A Top Ten Web Hacking Technique

By Rich

Last week Jeremiah Grossman asked if I’d be willing to be a judge to help select the Top Ten Web Hacking Techniques for 2008. Along with Chris Hoff (not sure who that is), H D Moore, and Jeff Forristal.

Willing? Heck, I’m totally, humbly, honored.

This year’s winner will receive a free pass to Black Hat 2009, which isn’t to shabby.

We are up to nearly 70 submissions, so keep ‘em coming.


Heartland Payment Systems Attempts To Hide Largest Data Breach In History Behind Inauguration

By Rich

Brian Krebs of the Washington Post dropped me a line this morning on a new article he posted. Heartland Payment Systems, a credit card processor, announced today, January 20th, that up to 100 Million credit cards may have been disclosed in what is likely the largest data breach in history. From Brian’s article:

Baldwin said 40 percent of transactions the company processes are from small to mid-sized restaurants across the country. He declined to name any well-known establishments or retail clients that may have been affected by the breach. Heartland called U.S. Secret Service and hired two breach forensics teams to investigate. But Baldwin said it wasn’t until last week that investigators uncovered the source of the breach: A piece of malicious software planted on the company’s payment processing network that recorded payment card data as it was being sent for processing to Heartland by thousands of the company’s retail clients.

“The transactional data crossing our platform, in terms of magnitude… is about 100 million transactions a month,” Baldwin said. “At this point, though, we don’t know the magnitude of what was grabbed.”

I want you to roll that number around on your tongue a little bit. 100 Million transactions per month. I suppose I’d try to hide behind one of the most historic events in the last 50 years if I were in their shoes.

“Due to legal reviews, discussions with some of the players involved, we couldn’t get it together and signed off on until today,” Baldwin said. “We considered holding back another day, but felt in the interests of transparency we wanted to get this information out to cardholders as soon as possible, recognizing of course that this is not an ideal day from the perspective of visibility.”

In a short IM conversation Brian mentioned he called the Secret Service today for a comment, and was informed they were a little busy.

We’ll talk more once we know more details, but this is becoming a more common vector for attack, and by our estimates is the most common vector of massive breaches. TJX, Hannaford, and Cardsystems, three of the largest previous breaches, all involved installing malicious software on internal networks to sniff cardholder data and export it.

This was also another case that was discovered by initially detecting fraud in the system that was traced back to the origin, rather than through their own internal security controls.