In today's regulatory climate, companies can no longer depend on technology solutions alone – for example, SIEM -- to protect corporate data and customer privacy. Here's why.

Tony Porras, Cyber Security & Compliance Attorney

November 24, 2015

5 Min Read

To comply with major regulations from the FTC to SOX, we all know there is a requirement that you have “reasonable security.” But a lot of people look at that and ask, “What that does mean?”  For a long time in the eyes of the law, it has meant that you do what a reasonable person would do if he were in your shoes. While  every security professional you ask will have a different opinion as to what “reasonable” means, I think most competent security professionals will all agree in principle as to what has to be done. The challenge is that the approach to getting it done will vary.

One of the requirements that has been illustrated in case after case – including the FTC complaint against Wyndham – is that you must log access and events on your systems. After all, it is reasonable that you know what is happening or not happening in your own environment. Logging is not enough, though, because there is also a requirement (particularly in the aftermath of Wyndham) that the logs and events get analyzed in some manner, and this is where the security information and event management (SIEM) solution comes into play.

When clients come to me to help them with a compliance issue, I always tell them that it takes three things to solve the problem: technology, process, and people. Usually one of the three is a more prominent part of the solution, and with SIEM, most people believe it’s a technology issue. While I agree the technology is important, I believe the people are the most important part of the solution.

Every security expert has a flavor of technologies that they like and recommend, and there are some good ones (and then there are some terrible ones). However, the entry price for an SIEM is much more expensive than what most clients believe it’s going to be at the outset. Usually, most companies do not factor the total cost of ownership of a SIEM product, and as a result it becomes a tool that only gets partially implemented and never used. Typically that is because it has some data – but not all the data that is needed to work as designed.

My favorite client question is, “Can we exclude data to keep our licensing costs down?” to which I answer, “Yes, but then you don’t have a complete solution, which will eventually bring you back around to the question of whether this a reasonable implementation.”

You have to look at the solution holistically and not implement the SIEM solution with the architecture you have. Rather, consider this an opportunity to fix some of your infrastructure as you are doing the implementation and bring other areas up to best-practice standards. Good IT hygiene (which, by the way, is a fancy new phrase that means “get the basics right”) goes a long way for security. An important rule to keep in mind is to have distinct accounts for administrators that are used exclusively for administering, and then having user accounts the administrators can use to do everything else. Not only is this a good practice in general, but it will also simplify the data when you are implementing your SIEM.

At the end of the day, it’s the people on your team who will make or break your security solution. Usually, an SIEM is a complex solution that gets installed by the vendor of the product. And while they will do all sorts of cool things, they will leave at the end of the implementation and your people have to take the driver’s seat. If the vendor just delivered you a Ferrari and your people have only ridden bicycles before, you will have done it all for nothing.

I have seen companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an SIEM and have it installed perfectly, only then to assume the work is all done! I have to break it to them that implementation is only the beginning. You have to have your people use the solution as a tool, and not just let it sit there and expect it to do your job. In order for that to work, beyond general skills the people in your security department have to be curious and knowledgeable. It takes them being able to see a security event and say, “Hmm, that does not look right, let me look deeper.” They will also have to be a bit mischievous (thinking like a hacker, for example) and to have the courage to ask the what-if questions that will infuriate your IT team. Bottom line? That’s a lot of work, and it takes more than technical knowledge to do it successfully.

[For more on the impact of the FTC ruling, check out FTC v. Wyndham: ‘Naughty 9’ Security Fails to Avoid by Jason Straight, senior VP and chief privacy officer at UnitedLex.]

In today’s regulatory environment, it will take all of your security solutions working together – and a little bit of luck – to catch a sophisticated attacker. But we can hedge our bets by having savvy people in place to think bigger than the technologies and processes to reap the full benefit of a good SIEM solution. 

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The information contained in this article does not, and shall not be construed to, constitute legal advice and/or to create an attorney-client relationship.

About the Author(s)

Tony Porras

Cyber Security & Compliance Attorney

Tony is the owner of Porras Law, a legal practice focused exclusively on cybersecurity and data privacy and security. Tony spent more than 20 years as an IT/cybersecurity executive before entering the legal profession. As a result, he has the practical expertise in cyber and risk management support necessary for today's unique data protection environment. He blends his technology experience with his legal expertise and attorney-client privilege to consult with firms large and small in the areas of data protection and privacy.

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