Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


10:30 AM
Connect Directly
E-Mail vvv

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?

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!

Related Content:

Corey Nachreiner regularly contributes to security publications and speaks internationally at leading industry trade shows like RSA. He has written thousands of security alerts and educational articles and is the primary contributor to the WatchGuard Security Center blog, ... View Full Bio
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Oldest First  |  Newest First  |  Threaded View
User Rank: Author
6/13/2018 | 6:00:24 PM
Good read with some important tips to follow. 
Stop Defending Everything
Kevin Kurzawa, Senior Information Security Auditor,  2/12/2020
Small Business Security: 5 Tips on How and Where to Start
Mike Puglia, Chief Strategy Officer at Kaseya,  2/13/2020
5 Common Errors That Allow Attackers to Go Undetected
Matt Middleton-Leal, General Manager and Chief Security Strategist, Netwrix,  2/12/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
6 Emerging Cyber Threats That Enterprises Face in 2020
This Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at six emerging cyber threats that enterprises could face in 2020. Download your copy today!
Flash Poll
How Enterprises Are Developing and Maintaining Secure Applications
How Enterprises Are Developing and Maintaining Secure Applications
The concept of application security is well known, but application security testing and remediation processes remain unbalanced. Most organizations are confident in their approach to AppSec, although others seem to have no approach at all. Read this report to find out more.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-19
PyYAML 5.1 through 5.1.2 has insufficient restrictions on the load and load_all functions because of a class deserialization issue, e.g., Popen is a class in the subprocess module. NOTE: this issue exists because of an incomplete fix for CVE-2017-18342.
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-19
In ruamel.yaml through 0.16.7, the load method allows remote code execution if the application calls this method with an untrusted argument. In other words, this issue affects developers who are unaware of the need to use methods such as safe_load in these use cases.
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-19
A vulnerability in the Cisco ASA that could allow a remote attacker to successfully authenticate using the Cisco AnyConnect VPN client if the Secondary Authentication type is LDAP and the password is left blank, providing the primary credentials are correct. The vulnerabilities is due to improper in...
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-19
A vulnerability in Cisco Unified Communications Manager could allow an unauthenticated, remote attacker to conduct a cross-site scripting (XSS) attack on the affected software. The vulnerabilities is due to improper input validation of certain parameters passed to the affected software. An attacker ...
PUBLISHED: 2020-02-19
An issue was discovered in OpenStack Nova before 18.2.4, 19.x before 19.1.0, and 20.x before 20.1.0. It can leak consoleauth tokens into log files. An attacker with read access to the service's logs may obtain tokens used for console access. All Nova setups using novncproxy are affected. This is rel...