30.04.2013 by Martin Kuppinger
On Thursday, I was moderating a panel discussion at infosecurity Europe (InfoSec), the leading UK security fair, which hosts a program of keynotes and panel discussions. My panel was titled “Smarter security spending: Optimising spend without exposing the business”. Panelists were Dragan Pendić, Chief Security Architect, Global Information Management and Security, at Diageo; Michelle Tolmay, Security Officer, ASOS; Cal Judge, Information Security Head, Oxfam; and Graham McKay, CISO, DC Thomson.
We had a very interesting, well-attended session with some interesting questions during the Q+A following the panel discussion. Key take-aways for smarter security spending we came upon during the discussion were
- Common Language
- Big Picture
Getting the users on board was one of the most important themes of the discussion. Without increasing involvement and understanding of people for Information Security, it is hard to get the buy-in and support you need, from both management and the end users. This is an important element within what KuppingerCole calls Information Stewardship.
Involvement of people is tightly related to the need of a common language – talking in business terms instead of tech talk. Information Security is about the I in IT, not primarily the T – business is interested in protecting information, not technology. The latter is just a means to protect information.
For that common language, the concept of “risk” is of central importance. Business thinks in risks. Managers are used to basing their decisions on risk. Mitigating and taking risks is part of their daily job. Risks also help in moving IT from the role of the notorious naysayer to the business enabler. If business requests a service, instead of pointing at all the technical challenges and no-gos, it is better to show some options, their benefits, their cost, and the associated risks. That enables the business to make informed decisions.
Risk, on the other hand, is the foundation for smart spending when investing in Information Technology – the T in IT. Understanding the risk mitigation impact of such technology and the benefit for the business helps in making better decisions. It helps in moving from point solutions and decisions made in “panic mode” after an incident towards structured, well-thought-out decisions based on the best risk/reward ratio (RRR). This always includes understanding the big picture – how do new solutions fit into the bigger picture? Smart spending requires a smart balance between defining and understanding the big, strategic picture and tactical steps towards this that provide the best RRR.
To learn more about that, join us at EIC 2013 – the European Identity and Cloud Conference, Munich, May 14th-17th. Starting with my opening keynote, the topics discussed in that Infosec panel will play an important role throughout the entire conference.
18.07.2012 by Martin Kuppinger
If you’ve ever struggled with finding the argument for an investment in information security, here it is: According to a survey recently published by Symantec, 40% of the worth of organizations is derived from the information they own. The link goes to a German site and the extract of that survey specific to Germany but the report is in English. The global version can be found here. There are other interesting numbers: 57% of the German respondents expect a loss of customers and 48% brand damage in case of a leak of information (and breach notification). The global numbers aren’t that different. On a global basis, information is estimated to be 49% of the organizations total value, while 49% expect loss of customers and 47% brand damage in a data leak event.
These are numbers that help to argue better with business managers. They also prove what we’ve been observing over the past few years: Information Security is a hot topic again. Business cares about information security (and notably not about “technology security” – it’s about the I in IT, not the T). And thus, business needs information security. One of the reasons is simply that some years ago when sensitive or valuable data leaked this was only mentioned on page 7 or so of a computer magazine. Nowadays you might make it to the opening headline of the daily news on TV, or the business newspapers (Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, etc.).
Numbers like the ones from the Symantec report help in showing the value of Information Security investments, by first showing that it is about information security and then showing the potential impact of leaks and breaches to the business. The numbers also clearly indicate that this “IT risk” of leaking information is about business risks: Operational risks, reputational risks, and even strategic risks, if you lose too many customers or damage the brand too much – or if you’re competitor gains access to your most valuable intellectual properties.
There is a good reason that information security is one of the two key drivers for what we at KuppingerCole have worked out as the KuppingerCole IT paradigm, our approach on structuring IT to deal with the fundamental changes like Cloud Computing, Social Computing, and Mobile Computing and to deliver what business really wants:
- Business wants the (IT) services they really need when they need them – and they want to order business services, not technology services for which they then wait endlessly for IT to deliver
- Business wants their information secured appropriately – this is where information security comes into play and, over the past few years, became a real concern of business managers
There is a comprehensive report on this KuppingerCole IT paradigm available with some additional KuppingerCole Scenario reports like “The Future of IT Organizations” diving deeper into the details.
30.11.2011 by Martin Kuppinger
Recently, Chris DiBona published a comment (or blog or whatever it is) at Google+ bashing at a lot of companies and people in the industry. He starts with “people claiming that open source is inherently insecure and that android is festooned with viruses because of that and because we do not exert apple like controls over the app market.” Further down he claims that no major cell phone has a virus problem like Windows or Mac machines. There are some other harsh statements in the article, especially about vendors in the security space being charlatans and scammers.
Not surprising that there has been a flood of press releases and other types of responses by vendors of anti-virus, anti-malware, and other types of security tools.
If you look at the facts, then from my opinion some things are evident:
- Every type of software is potentially insecure – that includes closed source and open source
- There are better and worse approaches to deal with security flaws – and that doesn’t relate to software being open source or not
- There is malware attacking Android devices and the number of known issues is growing
- There are different approaches to marketplaces like the ones for Android and iOS – however even open marketplaces could use independent test and certification approaches increasing security
- Yes, vendors are trying to earn money with security solutions for mobile devices and there is marketing in
However, the essential point is: There are security risks and instead of bashing on others the goal should be to mitigate risks. That needs to be done before the security issues become too big. Saying that “If you read a report from a vendor that trys to sell you something based on protecting android, rim or ios from viruses they are also likely as not to be scammers and charlatans.”, to quote again Chris DiBona, is absolutely misleading. The problem might not be as big as some marketeers try to tell today – but there is an malware problem and there is a need to deal with it. Not saying that anti-malware on mobile devices is the best choice to solve the problem… And yes, Chris DiBona isn’t correct in saying that these usually aren’t viruses but other types of malware. That’s splitting hairs! So, instead of playing down things, it’s about understanding current and upcoming risks, security needs, and then acting on that – regardless of providing open source or closed source.
I personally believe that its worse to play down security issues than trying to identify and address the issues. And if someone uses the wrong term (like “virus” for something that isn’t a virus), OK – that happens and virus is sort of a term used commonly wrong. But it doesn’t change the fundamental facts: There are security risks for mobile devices. Thus users have to react. Oh, and by the way: I thought we ended these religious “open source or not” discussions at least five or ten years ago. There is no value in these discussions. There is only value in providing better software.
And when talking about Android, looking at the way it uses information I just can state that it is not the best example for “fair information practice” (carefully spoken). Information security is not only about malware and the likes, it is about the way systems deal with information overall. With respect to the way Android deals with GPS locations, SSIDs of available WLANs, and other information, just have a look here (to give you just one example, there is more to be found at YouTube). So again, Google: Do your homework first before you start bashing at others.
16.11.2011 by Martin Kuppinger
Cloud Computing is just another delivery model for IT services. However, due to the specifics of cloud services like multi-tenancy and many others, requirements sometimes are even higher than for on-premise services. One of these requirements in well-architected IT environments and for well-architected applications is the ability to externalize security. That includes relying on external directories for administering and authenticating users, e.g. on Identity Providers. It might include the capability of “cloud provisioning”, e.g. receiving changes of users – even while I clearly favor federation as loosely coupled approach over provisioning. It should include the support for external logs, event monitoring, and so on – unfortunately that appears to be a topic where noone is really working on.
And it should include the capability of managing authorizations in cloud services based on centrally (on-premise or using a cloud service – but centrally and not per cloud service!) managed policies. There is limited value in federating users and than doing all the administration work per cloud service using the cloud service’s proprietary management GUIs or APIs. However, authorization is where the problem really starts.
There is a standard for distributed, dynamic authorization management out there: XACML, the eXtensible Access Control Markup Language. It allows to describe the rules. It allows to work with different repositories for identity information (PIPs, Policy Information Points) and other information required for authorizations, it provides interfaces to custom and standard applications, and so on. However, I haven’t seen XACML in the cloud until now. Unfortunately, I also haven’t seen any real alternative to XACML.
Some might claim that SAML might do that job. There is the SAML Authorization Decision Query as part of the SAML 2.0 standard. But that leads pretty quickly to SAML/XACML interoperability and things like the SAML 2.0 profile of XACML. In fact, if it is about having a consistent set of policies expressed in a common standard, XACML is what we need. We need to define and manage these policies consistently per organization, not per service. Services should request authorization decisions – at least in an ideal world. However, when looking at the cloud, there comes another aspect into play: Performance. Performance is a general issue when externalizing authorization decisions. For cloud services which have to ask many different authorization “engines”, it is an even bigger issue. And there is the issue of latency, which is a factor in cloud environments due to the geographical distances you might find there.
Thus, while XACML is fine for defining policies, the interesting question is: Should cloud services ask external authorization engines per authorization decision? Or is it the better way to update the relevant XACML policies at the cloud service and do authorization decisions there? However, then we will still need a way for efficiently accessing the PIPs for other attributes required to perform the authorization decision.
I don’t have the full answer. However I’m convinced that XACML is a key element for authorization in the cloud, given that it is the standard for externalizing authorization decisions. But it might need some enhancements to optimally work for cloud security as well. It definitely will need improved security architectures for cloud services themselves to externalize authorization decisions and to rely on centrally managed policies. And it definitely needs some thinking about the overall security architecture for cloud services. So I’m looking forward to comments on this post – maybe I’ve missed something and everything is there; maybe this initiates some enhancements to standards. I don’t know but I’m really curious.
21.07.2011 by Martin Kuppinger
Data Sprawl appears to me to be one of the biggest challenges in information security. And, by the way, Data Sprawl is not an issue that is specific to Cloud Computing. It is a problem organizations are facing day by day.
What happens when data is extracted from a SAP system? One example: a CSV (flat) file is created with some data from the HR system. This file is delivered to another system, in best case using some secure file transfer. But what happens then? That other systems processes the file in some way or another. It might export some or all of the data, which then ends up in yet another system. And so on…
The point is: Once data leaves a system, data is out of control.
The problem is that this might happen not only with one CSV file but with 100′s of them. And dozens of systems exporting and importing that data. Governance is difficult to implement. You can define a process for allowing exports. You might defined even rules for the use of exported data. You might review the exports regularly – are they still needed? However, reviewing what happens with the data at the target systems (are the rules enforced?) is pretty complex. But there is, up to now, no technical solution to solve that problem.
Things become even worse with Data Warehouse and Business Analytics. Data frequently ends up in large data stores and is analyzed. That means that data is combined, sometimes exported again, and so on. How do you keep control? Implementing Access and Data Governance for Business Analytics systems is a big challenge, and auditors frequently identify severe risks in that area – which is no surprise at all.
Another scenario is PII in the Internet. If we give some PII to some provider for some reason, how could we ensure that he doesn’t give that PII away? No way, I’d say. We might use special eMail addresses or faked information to track back some abuse of PII, but that’s not really a solution.
So what to do? Short term, it is about implementing processes which at least try to minimize Data Sprawl and the associated risk, like mentioned above. These processes and policies are far from perfect. That helps internally, but not for PII.
We might use (very) long-term technical solutions like homomorphic encryption and other technologies which are developed around the “minimal disclosure” approaches to address some of the issues. We then might use an approach like Information Rights Management which works not no a document basis but on an attribute basis. But most of these things will help us sometimes in the future, if ever.
But what about defining a policy standard which is sticky to the data? A standard which describes how data could be used? If systems support this standard, they could enforce it. That would be about having such a standard and allowing exports at least of sensitive data only to systems which support the standard and enforce the policies. If data is split up, the policy has to be sticky to all parts (as long as it applies to all parts). If data is combined, policies have to be combined – the intersection of the policies applies then.
Such an approach has limitations, because it will first of all need some people to define the standard. And, like with all standards, it is about the critical mass. On the other hand: Virtually every organization has the problem of Data Sprawl and lacks a valid answer to the questions which are asked in the context of Data and Access Governance. Thus, there is a real need for such a standard. From my perspective, the large vendors in the markets of Business Applications (e.g. ERP, CRM, and related systems), of Business Analytics, and of all the ETL and EAI applications are the ones who should work on such a standard, because they are the ones who have to support it in their systems. And they should start quickly, because their customers are increasingly under pressure from the auditors.
06.06.2011 by Martin Kuppinger
BYOD: Again one of these acronyms. It stands for “Bring Your Own Device”. You’d also say that it stands for IT departments accepting that they’ve lost against their users. They have lost the discussion about which devices shall be allowed in corporate environments. When I travel by train, I observe an impressive number of different devices being used. There are Windows notebooks, netbooks, iPads, iBooks, other types of “pads”, smartphones,…
For a long time corporate IT departments have tried to limit the number of devices to a small list, thus being able to manage and secure them. However, the reality especially in the world of mobile devices proves that most IT departments have failed. For sure many have restricted the access to corporate eMail to Blackberry devices. But many haven’t managed to achieve that target. And the popularity of Apple devices increases the heterogenity of devices being used by employees.
It increasingly looks like the solution only can be acceptance. Accept, that users want to use different types of devices. Accept that the innovation especially around smartphones and pads is far quicker than corporate IT departments can adopt their management tools.
At first glance that sounds like a nightmare for corporate IT departments. How to manage these devices? How to secure the devices? However, it is not about managing or securing the devices. That would be “technology security”. It is about managing and securing information, e.g. “information security”. It’s about the I in IT, not the T. Thus, we have to look at when to allow access to which information using which tool.
To do this, a simple matrix might be the starting point. The first column contains the classes of devices – notably not every single device. The first row contains the applications and information being used. In the cells you can define the requirements, based on the risk score of both the devices and the information. In some cases you might allow access based on secure browser connections, in others you might require to use virtual desktop connections. In others you might end up with having to build a specialized app. However, if banks are able to secure online banking on smartphones, why shouldn’t you be able to secure your corporate information on these devices?
You might argue that building apps or deploying desktop virtualization is quite expensive. However, trying to manage all these different devices or trying to restrict the devices allowed is expensive as well – and much more likely to fail. I don’t say that it is easy to protect your corporate information in a heterogeneous environment, supporting BYOD. But it is much more likely to be feasible than to manage and secure any single device – given the increasing number of these devices, the speed of innovation, and the simple fact that corporations don’t own all these devices.
Thus it is about preparing for BYOD by providing a set of secure paths to access corporate information and to protect that information – and by understanding how to protect which information where. When you start with BYOD, do it risk-based.
04.05.2011 by Martin Kuppinger
The data theft at Sony has been in the headlines for some days now. What makes me most wonder is that – from what I’ve read and heard first – even the passwords were stored unencrypted. However, Sony claims to have used a hash to protect these passwords. It looks like Sony also has stored the credit card numbers plus the associated security codes (which are, by the way, one of the most ridiculous approaches to enhance security) together and, no surprise, unencrypted. But if Sony has used hash values: Why did everyone assume that these passwords become common knowledge (at least for the hackers and their “customers”)?
But let’s start with passwords: Even while it is still done frequently, it is anything but good practice to store passwords unencrypted. You not even need to store them encrypted. Just store a hash, apply the same mathematical algorithm to passwords entered and compare the hashes. Even while some of the algorithms in that area aren’t “bullet-proof” that is far better than storing millions of passwords unencrypted. Storing passwords unencrypted is such a fundamental error that you just can call that grossly negligent. That is not a simple fault but ignorance against fundamental security requirements – even more, when that information is associated with credit card information and other types of highly sensitive data like bank accounts. If Sony has stored hash values that would be good practice, depending a little on the algorithm used. That reduces the risk for the Sony customers even while there is still some risk of having the hash values being stolen. Passwords might be derived from these for example based on brute-force attacks.
Let’s look at the next point. Sony has become, from what we know, a victim of an external attack. Accessing large numbers of data most likely involves a SQL injection attack. Interestingly, the Sony Playstation website has been hit by such an attack before, some three years ago. Given that something happened before raises the question why Sony didn’t protect information better. Haven’t they heard about database security tools and especially database firewalls? That’s exactly the type of technology which helps you protecting data like (if you have them) hashed or unprotected passwords or credit card data. We recently had several webinars on database security and database governance, the last one yesterday about database firewalls specifically. All the recordings are available.
Overall it looks like this hasn’t been the most sophisticated hack ever. It looks like no internals were involved (which would lead to the topic of PxM, e.g. protection against privileged access/users). It looks like Sony just has ignored not even best or good practices, but in many areas even average practices in security.
The bad thing about this is, that Sony isn’t alone out there when it comes to ignoring good/best practices in security. The most common reason is that they just don’t think about security – either because it is too complex or because of the price to pay for security. Hopefully, the Sony case alerts some of the others to review their security and to improve it. However, there is a saying in German that hope dies at last. And I feel that this is more about hoping than about really expecting web sites to become more secure by design.
By the way: European Identity Conference, to be held next week in Munich, is about information security, IAM, GRC, and database security. A good place to learn more and to meet the analysts of KuppingerCole to discuss Information Security issues in person.
06.04.2011 by Martin Kuppinger
Today I stumbled about an interesting survey. The core result: More than three-quarters of financial institutions learn of fraud incidents when notified by their own customers. The quote I like most is: “In other words, despite the availability today of world-class fraud detection technology, despite broad awareness of the current fraud threats and incidents – nothing spreads faster than word of a breach”. Fascinating, isn’t it!? However, it is really somewhat irritating.
There is some reason for financial institutions not to invest as much as they could and should in security. Security comes at a cost and financial institutions still balance these costs against the fraud-related losses. I doubt that this equation really works out as expected, but I had this discussion more than once – frequently with CIOs and CISOs which don’t have the budgets they’d like to have around security.
However, taking some risk is a valid approach. Given that there never ever will be the perfect security, a 100% security, everyone has to balance the cost of security and the (potential) cost of incidents happening. That’s the same approach everyone uses in daily life when deciding about insurances. The fundamental problem in that area is that risks tend to be rated too low whilst costs are seen much more realistic. That’s especially true when it comes to severe issues which might affect the net cash inflow, because that heavily affects the business. However, such risks are frequently ignored or missed when looking at IT security in financial institutions, leading to an underestimated risk and thus a lack of willingness to invest in security.
Another problem is the frequent lack of a holistic security strategy. Attacks at the operating system layer are still possible even when security at the application layer is good – and so on… Investing in point solutions might give the feeling of security, but it seldomly leads to real security.
However, all this doesn’t explain why financial institutions not even are aware of incidents in some many situations. Even when someone takes a risk, he should have controls in place which provide the fraud information. Not doing this is just inacceptable because it moves the things from risk to uncertainty – and thus is against the governance requirements the management has to fulfill. Not knowing about fraud is a clear indicator for an insufficient risk management, because risks are just ignored.
From my perspective, financial institutions have to act in that area by looking at all risks and by acting appropriate – by at least knowing, but better mitigating these risks.
EIC 2011 will have several sessions around security for financial institutions and there will be a lot of experts from the finance industry attending – thus it’s a perfect place to meet with peers and to discuss.
23.03.2011 by Martin Kuppinger
I’ve blogged last week about the RSA SecurID case. In the meantime there were several other posts and advices on that and I’d like to put together some thoughts from my side about that, looking at what customers should do now.
What should existing customers do short-term?
In most cases, RSA SecurID will be a standard mechanism for strong authentication which can’t be replaced immediately. If customers don’t use a solution for versatile authentication they usually aren’t able to opt for another (stronger) authentication mechanisms on the fly. Not using RSA SecurID however will make things even worse, because that would mean to step back to one factor with one or two means for authentication. Thus it is about staying with RSA SecurID and deciding about which additional actions to take – “compensatory controls”, e.g. increased auditing, additional fraud detection technologies, and so on.
Customers who have a versatile authentication approach in place might evaluate whether they can replace RSA SecurID with another factor – which then would be, for time and logistics reasons, an approach not depending on hardware. However doing that will be somewhat complex (helpdesk calls, technical aspects,…). Thus customers should first check whether the increased risk of using RSA SecurID is acceptable or not. Instead of replacing the option of adding another factor/means for interactions and transactions with high risk appears to be most appropriate. Besides this, the actions mentioned abovr in auditing have to be implemented.
What should existing customers do mid-term?
Replacing a technology like RSA SecurID is quite expensive. Given that RSA will harden its own systems and seeds can be changed over time, the threat will decrease. However, as mentioned in my last post, RSA SecurID never will be the same again. The mid-term answer, from my perspective, is versatility. Having more options for quickly changing to other and additional factors and means for authentication is the most promising approach. Thus, RSA SecurID is just one of multiple approaches.
For high risk environments, biometrics might come into play again (if not used yet). In addition there are some approaches of two-factor authentication which don’t rely on seeds and secrete algorithms. However they aren’t necessarily absolutely secure (if anything could be absolutely secure), thus customers should carefully evaluate whether other approaches provide real advantages above the established RSA SecurID approach. The same level of mistrust should be used for all types of authentication.
What should potential buyers do?
It is about re-evaluating the strategy for authentication. Versatility is key – and the strategies need to be re-thought if they are not focused on a versatile approach allowing different types of authentication mechanisms to be used and exchanged flexibly. Regarding RSA SecurID, the risk has to be rated again and decisions about whether the approach is sufficient for the interactions and transactions which have to protected have to be reviewed. From my perspective it is not that much about not using RSA SecurID (depending on what RSA does to increase security again, for sure – but I assume they will do a lot) but to carefully analyze the level of protection provided and weigh this against the risks of authentication fraud for what has to be protected. When deciding to use RSA SecurID appropriate controls have to be implemented – but that is true for any other authentication mechanism as well.
By the way: Regardless of the RSA SecurID approach, any authentication strategy which doesn’t focus on versatility, risk-based authentication/authorization and context-based authentícation/authorization should be re-thought.
Some general thoughts:
RSA has had a very strong image for their RSA SecurID approach – and it worked for many years. However there are two fundamental issues:
- Centralized seeds
- Confidential algorithm
Both are risks of that mechanism. Thus security is obviously limited. Regardless of which approach you use, thinking about the potential weaknesses (social phishing; central stores which might become target of attackers;…) is important. Unfortunately, security comes at a price, because there aren’t simple, cheap, easy-to-use approaches without logistics cost and other shortcomings which provide perfect security.
Again, like mentioned in my last post, we will discuss things like versatile authentication and the RSA SecurID incident at the EIC 2011. You shouldn’t miss that event.
03.02.2011 by Martin Kuppinger
Recently another analyst company had a presentation titled “The future of Information Security is context- and identity-aware”. Yes – but not that new. I remember that we had the context-based approaches as a key trend at our second European Identity Conference, back in 2008 (thus the upcoming EIC 2011 is IMHO the best place to learn about the new trends and the best practices for today around IAM, Cloud Security, GRC, and related topics).
I personally think that there are some important aspects to consider when looking at the overall topic of Information Security:
- First of all: It is about the I in IT, not the T. It is Information Security, not Technology Security. That is information-centric.
- You need to have the organizational structure, the processes, the policies in place before you look at technology.
- You need standards around information security for your entire application environment to reduce the grass root seecurity approaches and islands.
- Context is an important thing. Context defines criteria to understand the risk of interactions and transactions.
- Given that, it is mainly about risk. Context helps you in better dealing with risks, but the core thing is risk.
- Regarding identity-aware I’m a little reluctant. That is correct in the sense that there is little value in just looking at information or systems but not the identity. Look at DLP: Not allowing to transfer information is wrong – it is about allowing only the right people to transfer the right information. In that sense, identity-aware is important. Have a look here (not that new…) where I have put DLP into context. But you should be careful – it is not necessarily about a 1:1 mapping person:identity. There are situations (think about identity federation) where it might be a role, a group of people.
- Versatility is as well important – the flexibility to authenticate people in a flexible way, which is a prerequisite to support all types of potential users, internal as external.
Information security is a key topic for every organization (and not only the IT department). Following the principles above should help you to better understand the value of technical approaches. Technology which doesn’t support the principles and is not “backed” by the organizational structure, processes, and so on will only have limited value to achieve your targets around information security.