Perimeter
1/30/2013
02:28 PM
Wendy Nather
Wendy Nather
Commentary
Connect Directly
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Going Green With Your Ones And Zeros

For better security, use less data

I know what you’re thinking. "This is the same person who wrote 'Log All The Things,' right?" And of course everyone wants to do so because of Big Data. But there’s another angle to logging and monitoring, along with the rest of your enterprise data, and that’s what I’m calling the "principle of least use."

Your confidential data is radioactive. It contaminates any container it touches, whether it’s a file, database, or server. You can’t always keep track of it; you don’t necessarily know for sure where it flows, who’s accessing it, or what it’s used for. And regular data can become radioactive if it comes in contact with the confidential stuff. So to keep the contagion from spreading -- the liability plague, so to speak -- you’re better off keeping that confidential data in as few places and states as possible.

Your legal department will tell you that the less data you keep, the less is discoverable in a lawsuit. The less you store, the less can be deemed responsive to a public information act request. This is why some government agencies can have very short email retention policies, for example. And most of you already know that the fewer places you keep credit-card data, the fewer systems are in scope for PCI compliance. Overall, the less you have, the less you need to protect.

But it’s not just about storage or transmission; it’s about use. For the sake of privacy, applications should not collect or process any personally identifying information that they don’t have to. Sometimes architects want to add all sorts of things to the data model because "you never know if you might need it later." Or they’re going to import data that’s being used for a different purpose, and it’s too much trouble to reformat or strip out the parts they don’t need. That’s how you end up with Big Data, or perhaps Data Bloat (which is unintentional Big Data).

So security architects should be thinking not just about how to implement the principles of least privilege and separation of duties; they should also be thinking about overuse of data, and about cleaning up data after its use (or, at the very least, sanitizing it). Especially when it comes to data about people -- if you don’t need to know or discover something about an individual, then don’t. And don’t leave data laying around for someone to recombine later into radioactive material.

Where does this leave logs, you ask? Yes, the whole point of keeping logs is to have a history of what happened, be able to diagnose things after the fact, and so on. Compliance may require you to keep certain logs for certain periods of time. There’s not much you can do about any of that. But you can look at any other logging that’s going on -- particularly application logging, which might be writing all sorts of confidential information to make troubleshooting easier (including passwords!). Don’t send the logs all over the place; don’t share them where you don’t have to. Everything in a log should have a good reason for being there, and anything that uses the log data should be doing it for known purposes.

In other words, treat your log data as the valuable resource that it is, and make conservation part of your policies. Keep radioactive logs separate from nonradioactive ones. Know what liabilities you’re keeping along with your event data. Use only what you need. I’m not calling for a ban on plastic, but think green, sustainable syslog. And thank you for not littering.

Wendy Nather is Research Director of the Enterprise Security Practice at the independent analyst firm 451 Research. You can find her on Twitter as @451wendy.

Wendy Nather is Research Director of the Enterprise Security Practice at independent analyst firm 451 Research. With over 30 years of IT experience, she has worked both in financial services and in the public sector, both in the US and in Europe. Wendy's coverage areas ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon
Current Issue
Dark Reading Must Reads - September 25, 2014
Dark Reading's new Must Reads is a compendium of our best recent coverage of identity and access management. Learn about access control in the age of HTML5, how to improve authentication, why Active Directory is dead, and more.
Flash Poll
Title Partner’s Role in Perimeter Security
Title Partner’s Role in Perimeter Security
Considering how prevalent third-party attacks are, we need to ask hard questions about how partners and suppliers are safeguarding systems and data.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2012-5485
Published: 2014-09-30
registerConfiglet.py in Plone before 4.2.3 and 4.3 before beta 1 allows remote attackers to execute Python code via unspecified vectors, related to the admin interface.

CVE-2012-5486
Published: 2014-09-30
ZPublisher.HTTPRequest._scrubHeader in Zope 2 before 2.13.19, as used in Plone before 4.3 beta 1, allows remote attackers to inject arbitrary HTTP headers via a linefeed (LF) character.

CVE-2012-5487
Published: 2014-09-30
The sandbox whitelisting function (allowmodule.py) in Plone before 4.2.3 and 4.3 before beta 1 allows remote authenticated users with certain privileges to bypass the Python sandbox restriction and execute arbitrary Python code via vectors related to importing.

CVE-2012-5488
Published: 2014-09-30
python_scripts.py in Plone before 4.2.3 and 4.3 before beta 1 allows remote attackers to execute Python code via a crafted URL, related to createObject.

CVE-2012-5489
Published: 2014-09-30
The App.Undo.UndoSupport.get_request_var_or_attr function in Zope before 2.12.21 and 3.13.x before 2.13.11, as used in Plone before 4.2.3 and 4.3 before beta 1, allows remote authenticated users to gain access to restricted attributes via unspecified vectors.

Best of the Web
Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
In our next Dark Reading Radio broadcast, we’ll take a close look at some of the latest research and practices in application security.