A friend of mine and I were working on a project recently to feed the results of a vulnerability assessment or discovery scans into a behavioral monitoring tool. He was working on a series of policies that would scan database tables for specific metadata signatures and content signatures that had a high probability of being personally identifiable information. The goal was to scan databases for content types, and send back a list of objects that looked important or had a high probability of being sensitive information.

I was working on a generalized policy format for the assessment. My goal was not only to include the text and report information on what the policy had found and possible remediation steps, but more importantly, a set of instructions that could be sent out as a result of the policy scan. Not for a workflow system, but rather instruction on how another security application should react if a policy scan found sensitive data.

As an example, let’s say we wrote a query to scan databases for social security numbers. If we ran the policy and found a 9 digit field, verifying the contents were all numbers, or an 11 character field with numbers and dashes, we would characterize that as a high probability that we had discovered a social security number. And when you have a few sizable SAP installations around, with some 40K tables, casual checking does not cut it. As I have found a tendency for QA people to push production data into test servers, this has been a handy tool for basic security and detection of rogue data and database installations.

The part I was working on was the reactive portion. Rather than just generating the report/trouble ticket for someone in IT or Security to review the database column to determine if it was in fact sensitive information, I would automatically instruct the DAM tools to instantiate a policy that records all activity against that column. Obviously issues about previously scanned and accepted tables, “white lists”, and such needed to be worked out. Still, the prototype was basically working, and I wanted to begin addressing a long-standing critisicm of DAM- that knowing what to monitor can take quite a bit of research and development, or a lot of money in professional services.

This is one of the reasons why I have a vision of ADMP being a top-down policy-driven aggregation of exsting security solutions. Where I am driving with this is that I should be able to manage a number of security applications through policies. Say I write a PCI-DSS policy regarding the security of credit card numbers. That generic policy would have specific components that are enforced at different locations within the organization. The policy could propagate a subset of instructions down to the assessment tool to check for the security settings around credit card information and access control settings. It could simultaneously seed the discovery application so that it is checking for credit card numbers in unregistered locations. It could simultaneously instruct DAM applications to automatically track the use of these database fields. I instruct the WAF to block anything that references triggering objects directly. And so on. The enforcement of the rules is performed by the application best suited for it, and at the location that is most suitable for responding.

I have hinted at this in the past, but never really discussed fully what I meant. The policy becomes the link. Use the business policy to wrap specific actions in a specific set of actionable rules for disparate applications. The policy represents the business driver, and it is mapped down to specific applications or components to enforce individual rules that constitute the policy. A simple policy management interface can now control and maintain corporate standards, and individual stakeholders can have a say in the implementation and realization of those policies “behind the scenes”, if you will. Add or subtract security widgets as you wish, and add a rule onto the policy to direct said widgets how to behave.

My examples are solely around the interaction between the assessment/discovery phase, and the database activity monitoring software. However, much more is possible if you link WAF, web app assessment, DLP, DAM, and other products into the fold. Clearly there are a lot of people thinking along these lines, if not exactly this scenario, and many are reaching to the database to help secure it. We are seeing SIM/SEM products do more with databases, albeit usually with logs. The database vendors are moving into the security space as well and are beginning to leverage content inspection and multi-application support. We are seeing the DLP vendors do more with databases, as evidenced by the recent Symantec press release, which I think is a very cool addition to their functionality. The DLP providers tend to be truly content aware. We are even seeing the UTM vendors reach for the database, but the jury is still out on how well this will be leveraged. I don’t think it is a stretch to say we will be seeing more and more of these services linked together. Who adopts a policy driven model will be interesting to see, but I have heard of a couple firms that approach the problem this way.

You can probably tell I like the policy angle as the glue for security applications. It does not require too much change to any given product. Mostly an API and some form of trust validation for the cooperating applications. I started to research the policy formats like OVAL, AVDL, and others to see if I could leverage them as a communication medium. There has been a lot of work done in this area by the assessment vendors, but while they were based on XML and probably inherently extensible, I did not see anything I was confident in, and was thinking I would have to define a different template to take advatage of this model.

Food for thought, anyway.