New Security Mindset: Focus On The Interior

Chief privacy officer Jason Straight shares his insights on why organizations are struggling to stop the breach wave -- and manage the aftermath.

Jason Straight, senior vice president and chief privacy officer at UnitedLex

Hackers keep on hacking, breaches keep on happening. The cycle continues, as major corporations now routinely get successfully compromised. A key element of the equation now is properly and efficiently responding to an attack as well as managing its aftermath.

The same old security missteps--falling for phishing attacks, not locking down sensitive data internally, giving users too much access, for instance--keep recurring. That's because many organizations aren't putting their security energy in the right places, according to Jason Straight, senior vice president and chief privacy officer at UnitedLex, which provides outsourcing services and support for the legal industry. 

Legal typically isn't properly looped in, either. "As we see with any big breach, it may start out as an IT problem, but very quickly it becomes, in some cases, an existential business crisis. And in almost every case, there are serious legal issues that arise," he says.

An attorney, Straight runs the cyber-risk solutions practice for UnitedLex as well as its internal risk management operation. "We need to get lawyers more involved in cyber-risk," says Straight, who at next month's Interop conference in Las Vegas will give a presentation on insider threats as well as participate as a panelist debating the weakest links in security.

Straight spoke with Dark Reading this week about these hot-button issues. 

Dark Reading: Hack upon hack, breach after breach, we can't seem to stop the wave of attacks out there today. Yet the security industry is exploding with employment opportunities, products, and new startups. What gives?

Straight: [Organizations] are investing security resources in the wrong place. There's a fundamental discrepancy here in that attackers out there for financial gain get paid every time they are right, collecting credit card numbers, SSNs, or whatever [they steal]. They are literally getting paid every time they are right. They have incentive to get better at this.

On the defense side, there are only negative incentives. Whether you're a CISO or security consultant, no one comes by your office at the end of the day and says "Great work today--we didn't have any breaches." When something goes wrong, there's a line outside your door. There are mostly negative incentives. That's an imbalance I don't see going away [soon].

Dark Reading: What are organizations doing wrong in how they're focusing their energies in security?

Straight:  Misallocation of security resources: we continue to be more focused on perimeter protection than on internal controls and monitoring. It's clear that attackers are already inside or could be anytime they want and there's nothing you can do about it on the perimeter. We continue to dump money in there, which is exactly what the security industry wants you to do. There's a ton of money in selling all these tools.

The media is focused mostly on sexy, state-sponsored attacks. You would think external attacks cause all the damage. But study after study, two-thirds of attacks are mundane insider errors, lost equipment, technology failures, or lack of oversight over vendors. All of this is pushing people to continue to spend money in an area where it's not the best use [the perimeter]. I'm not saying forget the perimeter. It's got to be a balance, with a focus on the interior, too. DLP [data leakage prevention], for example, is still massively underutilized, and SIEM has a lot more room to grow.

The big reason people are not focused as much internally is that it's hard. It's easy to gain support to build the castle walls higher; everybody can get behind that.

When you say let's start restricting access internally to sensitive documents, [someone asks], "but wait, is that going to make it harder for me to do my job?" The answer is yes. You have to use two-factor authentication every time you log in from the outside, more complex passwords, more frequent password changes. Internal controls are inconvenient, so it requires a cultural change … It's hard to get support inside.

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Dark Reading: The insider threat or risk is huge, obviously. But there's so much debate over how to manage that. What's the best way for an organization to get a handle on this?

Straight: The human layer is definitely the most vulnerable, but I don't agree that it is an intractable problem. There are things you can do to turn this thing around, and if done right, you can transform what is your biggest vulnerability into one of the strongest parts of your security program. Human beings are the most sophisticated detection devices you've got.

You can have one of the greatest user training programs on the planet that's effective for six months, and then everyone forgets everything. It's not one and done. In terms of having a lasting impact, it's better to do in-person [training] and not just online. You need to get everyone in a room to interact and ask questions. Potentially the most important part of creating effective [security] awareness training is you must have 100% support and buy-in from corporate leadership, the CEO, general counsel, CFO, and other business leaders. It needs to be driven by executives.

Dark Reading: As an attorney and someone very close to trends in the legal world, how do you see legal's role evolving in security, especially when it comes to handling things in the aftermath of a data breach?

Straight: On the IR [incident response] side, there's a cottage industry that's grown up of a decent number of lawyers who've had trial by fire. They really know how to handle it, how to participate with regulators, and know what the media is asking. But there's still a lot of work to do.

Where we're still having trouble is taking lessons learned in IR and … taking what we've learned from lawyers and applying to broader information risk programs. Lawyers are rarely involved in doing risk assessment. [They] need to be at the table and should be part of the process where we understand what the risks are.

You need to make sure Legal has a formal and well-defined role in IR before there's an incident.

Ideally, you want to make two announcements when you have a breach. The first is, "we've had an incident and an investigation is underway." Keep it very simple. You cannot really start to characterize an incident until you have completed the investigation … and determined the scope of the breach. A lawyer will bring that perspective: "How sure are we?" If you say too much [publicly], it can and will be used against you. Lawyers have a critical role in not only [helping] manage the message, but in anticipating "if we're wrong, will it hurt" the company's reputation? There's a lot of emotion in a breach and people take it very personally. That's a dangerous situation, and a decision can be driven more by emotion than logic. That's where the lawyer comes in.

About the Author(s)

Kelly Jackson Higgins, Editor-in-Chief, Dark Reading

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Editor-in-Chief of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise Magazine, Virginia Business magazine, and other major media properties. Jackson Higgins was recently selected as one of the Top 10 Cybersecurity Journalists in the US, and named as one of Folio's 2019 Top Women in Media. She began her career as a sports writer in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and earned her BA at William & Mary. Follow her on Twitter @kjhiggins.

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