Combatting Advanced Threats In 2013 Through Basics
Focus on fixing the problems of a past generation before focusing on the next
As most on the pointy end of investigating and cleaning up compromises have known for some time, despite all of the hype over next-generation this and big-data that, 2012 was another great year for cyberespionage and state-sponsored adversaries.
As with past years, many of the most egregious compromises in 2012 occurred in organizations with some of the biggest security budgets and the best toys, fresh off of the show floor of your favorite security product conference. It remains, as has always been the case, that money buys good security -- but that money has to be well-spent.
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It’s no secret that security has very much become a marketing term -- and that’s fine; we all have bills to pay. However, the increasing culture of silver-bullet solutions has seemingly distracted many a CISO from the fundamentals of running a secure enterprise, something that the pointy-hat brigade (amongst others) are lapping up. I’m talking about principles of least-privilege, asset management, service account management, shared accounts, network segmentation, basic logging functions, and OS hardening.
We continue to fall short on these fundamental principles, yet we would far rather spend our money on the latest, shiny “next-generation” security appliance than fixing them. If there is one think I would do in every IT-enabled corporation in 2013, it would be to take a long, hard look at fixing the problems associated with past generations of shoddy practices before worrying about defending our network against the next-generation-nuke-launching-state-sponsored-teleporting-sophisticated-web2.0-blah threat.
While there’s absolutely a time and a place for technology-based solutions, another increasing trend in 2012 seemed to be organizations' procurement of potentially useful technologies without correct forethought as to how they might be fully leveraged to best serve the unique needs of the enterprise. In many cases, technologies may as well be gathering dust in storage than the manner in which they are currently being used. In other cases, they really are gathering dust in their boxes due to insufficient resource to deploy them correctly.
The bottom line here is that while you may have just bought the best and most expensive product in a given solution space, in the present environment, your organization is unlikely to use it to the fullest extent of its capabilities. And so you may as well have purchased that half-as-expensive competitor's version and spent the remaining cash on hiring an FTE or two to ensure it’s being used correctly and to take care of the fact that you still use the same local admin password on everything and that anyone on your network can STILL RDP to your domain controllers, which you have no logs of.
As someone who lives largely in the offensive side of the industry (that is, if not breaking into clients' networks, its offending shoddy security product vendors), I can tell you that some of the most secure organizations my team and I frustratingly encounter are customers who don’t necessarily have the largest security budgets, but are smart with their available resources and focus on the basics first. This creates a good culture, not just in security teams (which may be small), but most importantly throughout IT departments, and has the added benefit of shedding new light on which technology-based solutions can actually help enhance their security postures and how they may be best integrated into the existing environment.
When having a dialogue on this with large organizations, you will often run into a question of scalability and cost based on environment size. While this argument may have held water in the past, it is now largely invalid due to the large amount of solutions in the (IT, not security) marketplace, which, while may not stop that highly sophisticated, nuke launching 0day-donning malware, will solve many of the fundamental issues that remained the real cause of many a red-faced corporation last year.
Tom Parker is CTO of FusionX LLC