Spring Clean Your Security Systems: 6 Places to Start

The sun is shining and you have an extra kick in your step. Why not use that newfound energy to take care of those bothersome security tasks you've put off all winter?

Corey Nachreiner, Chief Security Officer, WatchGuard Technologies

May 2, 2018

5 Min Read

While most people traditionally spend the spring deep-scrubbing their bathrooms, cleaning out their garage, and dumping their hoarded detritus, the melodious chirps of colorful birds and a touch of vitamin D shining down on our pale faces are also good signals for security pros to update and renew their company's information security systems. Here are six places to start:

1. Problematic Patching
If I have to remind you to use spring cleaning for your normal patching, you're doing it wrong. Most infosec professionals already have a regular monthly patch cycle for normal desktops and servers, but every network has a few problematic servers or devices that do not get patched regularly. Perhaps these are one-off legacy servers running old operating systems for a custom application or a collection of set-and-forget Internet of Things (IoT) devices that aren't updated regularly.

Whatever they are, now is a time to take care of them. Check the firmware updates on all hardware devices and bring them up to date. If you have any embarrassingly old servers hanging around, take the time to consider a plan to remove them and replace the old custom apps on them. As always, vulnerability and patch management software make this job easier, but don't forget that these tools don't always know about your IoT devices.

2. Password Pruning
If you follow password best practices — long random passwords, with different passwords for each application or system — you probably don't have to change your passwords all that often. On the other hand, digital spring cleaning is still a good time to consider your passwords and those of other users at your company.

Most security pros probably already have a password manager because there is no other good way for a human to remember hundreds of long, complex passwords. If that's the case, good news! Changing your passwords is simple. Most of these managers have an automated feature that will automatically change all the passwords it can at once. If you still use a single password for all of your logins, or rotate between a few different ones, you should change them and consider setting up a new password manager. Now that you've cleaned up your act, consider spearheading an annual company-wide password update initiative or some form of regular password training at your organization each spring.

3. Pare Down Privileges
Network admins and IT workers should already have a formal system in place for adding accounts and privileges for new employees and, more importantly, a formal HR process for removing all those accounts when they leave. Nonetheless, spring cleaning is a great time to audit these accounts and remove any that are unnecessary.

For example, perhaps you set up a temporary account giving a consultant some privileged access but forgot to remove it. Perhaps an employee with job-related privileges on one set of systems moved to a new role and doesn't need those privileges any longer. These represent potential weak spots in your organization's security posture if left unaddressed. Whatever the case, use this time to examine your accounts and individual privileges to make sure you adhere to the principle of least privilege.

4. Dispensable Data
In the buzzword age of big data, businesses feel a need to gather and store every piece of data that could possibly be important, hoping that a data scientist might find a way to correlate it and extract value. But data can also be a liability, especially when it technically belongs to someone else.

Every security-conscious company should have gone through at least one data audit to identify the most important data they need to secure. Spring cleaning is a great opportunity to refresh that audit, with an eye focused on dumping any extraneous junk you don't really need and that could expose you to extra liability.

5. Awareness
When was your last phishing training? If it's been more than a year, that's too long. Maybe it's time for a refresher course focusing on the latest threat trends. While your employees know about phishing, do they know all the subtleties to modern spearphishing emails? Maybe they know file attachments are bad, but do they still trust Word documents too much? Spring is a perfect time for a quick corporate security awareness session.

6. Perished Policies
Many organizations treat firewalls, next-generation firewalls, and unified threat management (UTM) tools like set-and-forget devices. They establish enough policies to get their business working, and then they don't look at the systems again for months or years. This can cause problems because your network is more dynamic than you suspect and because the threat landscape constantly evolves. As attack methods change, you can and should tweak your security policies in new ways to increase protections.

Besides that, many administrators add temporary policies for legitimate reasons but then forget to remove them. For instance, a contractor needs to transfer files regularly with a remote cohort at his headquarters. To make things easy, IT spins up a temporary FTP server and punches a hole in their firewall to let the contractors reach it remotely. A month later, when the job is done, the administrator has forgotten about the FTP server and policy. Six months later, the forgotten server hasn't been patched and a hacker leverages a new exploit on it to gain remote access to the entire virtual infrastructure. Not good.

These human errors are why you should add policy purging to your digital spring cleaning task list. The good news is many firewalls and UTMs have features that will show you which policies you use the most and which have remained unused for weeks or months. These sorts of features can help you quickly eradicate any unnecessary gaps in your security.

In short, the sun's shining and giving you an extra spring in your step. Use that newfound energy to perform these six tasks, and any other small security chores you've put off for too long. By next winter, I'm certain you'll be happy you did!

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About the Author(s)

Corey Nachreiner

Chief Security Officer, WatchGuard Technologies

Corey Nachreiner is the chief security officer (CSO) of WatchGuard Technologies. Recognized as a thought leader in IT security, Nachreiner spearheads WatchGuard's technology and security vision and direction. He has operated at the frontline of cybersecurity for 25 years, evaluating and making accurate predictions about information security trends. As an authority on network security and an internationally quoted commentator, Nachreiner's expertise and ability to dissect complex security topics make him a sought-after speaker at forums such as Gartner, Infosec, and RSA. He is also a regular contributor to leading publications including CNET, Dark Reading, Forbes, Help Net Security, and more. Find him on www.secplicity.org.

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