Sep 3, 2008

Is an incorrectly implemented security program better than a non-existent one ?

Think carefully before you answer that one. A large majority of you would be inclined to give a resounding 'yes' - but I really want you to think carefully on this one. Think long term. Think about implementation hurdles, think about project documentation.

The answer to this IMHO is a big "DEPENDS".

To explain:

Imagine you're working in a company that has no security controls in place - and is in desperate need of getting a security program impemented. They hire a new CISO to make sure their physical and logical controls are in place, network and applications are secured appropriately and their incident management and forensics capabilities are upto date. At this point the CISO clearly knows that he needs to create and implement a number of programs and hires a bunch of people to perform and manage a series of tasks. Till this point, things are going smoothly. Everyone understands the need, and is working towards meeting a common goal. The program is not in place yet, but people know and understand the urgency need to act immediately. The CISO's risk radar has a list of projects ranked by priority and everone begins to tackle them.

Now consider the scenario when certain security programs are not done right - say, a few of the high risk applications are not considered in the initial risk matrix or there are certain business units that have been granted an 'exception'to the process that is being put in place, with the most common excuses of:

1. This is a pilot
2. We will get to this in the next phase
3. The group has a number of high profile clients who don't want it implemented right now
4. <plug your own excuse here>

Well - initially, everyone is completely aware that they have more issues to remediate and and have honest intentions to fix that too, once the pilot and
PoC is well established and in place. But then things change. Leaders change. Managers change. People's roles change. What doesn't, is the documentation regarding the project. But documents usually tend to highlight what the project does, not what it doesn't do. Nobody seems to remember there are additional tasks that need to get completed. People take a quick look at documents detailing what was done in the program and begin to assume that it is well established, completely ignoring the fact that a very important Phase 2 still needs to be in place. A false sense of security is now well in place... and life goes on.

Till you get hacked.

..and then a forensics team attempts to determine the cause. A new CISO comes in, reviews the existing program, decides it is too complex and structureless and decides to do away with it entirely and create a new security program.. and the cycle continues.

The moral of the story: When you have no security program - be very careful while diligently working to get one in place

But when you have a partial one, be extremely careful and don't leave any loose ends while getting it completely and correctly put in place.

On a lighter note - here's an email I received from a school I was doing some courses from ..

Beautiful !! Here is your PIN (username). But we will not give you your password over email. I was sooo impressed when I got that! - Could it be that schools and universities are finally waking up and trying to understand security ? No more SSNs as IDs ? No more default 'password' passwords ? This was great. I followed the procedure outlined to receive a new password - it asked for my name, DOB and email.. and then .. I receive this:

For those who cannot see the image:

the email says:

blah blah blah blah blah blah..
your PIN:
your password: password1234

blah blah blah blah blah blah

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