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Perimeter

3/27/2009
03:15 PM
John H. Sawyer
John H. Sawyer
Commentary
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Protecting Against The Politics Of Layer 8

Discussions regarding security metrics appear nearly every other week on at least one of the mailing lists I follow. How do you measure your effectiveness as a security team, and what's the ROI of this security product? The list goes on. What I'd like to see is the number of breaches due to layer 8, specifically the political part of that "layer."

Discussions regarding security metrics appear nearly every other week on at least one of the mailing lists I follow. How do you measure your effectiveness as a security team, and what's the ROI of this security product? The list goes on. What I'd like to see is the number of breaches due to layer 8, specifically the political part of that "layer."I'm sure we'll all agree that many breaches are due to the "user" side of layer 8. Just look at the list published by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. So many of them are due to loss of laptops, backup tapes, and removable media, like thumb drives and CD-ROMs.

But where are the breaches that show political power as their cause?

If I've lost you, then let me step back. As IT security professionals, we understand the principle of least privilege (PoLP,) and the hows and whys IT resources need to be locked down. However, just because we know doesn't mean the rest of our organization inherently does. So it's our job to educate those around us, which, to be most effective, needs to be from the top down.

See where I'm going? Suppose we were a fly on the wall in many of these organizations, and we had the memory of an elephant. How many breaches do you think were caused because management didn't see the need for certain security precautions, high-level employees had greater access than they needed because they had the boss' ear, or some other similar situation?

As a security guy, I'm often seen as the bad one because it's my job to prevent a Web app from going online before it's tested, or to cut off network access to a machine that is infected. But this is what we infosec pros were hired to do...protect our employers' IT resources.

So what do we do when we're thwarted by management and company politics? Keep every e-mail, document, and conversation that shows your requests being denied, and store it in your C-Y-A folder for when a breach occurs. OK, OK. I'm just kidding, but it is an unhealthy approach I've seen on more than one occasion.

I think the real solution boils down to being an effective communicator and doing the best you can at communicating the issues. You need to make an effective case for what you're proposing, and keep it short. Provide numbers to back you up based on metrics from within your own organization and your company's peers. In the end, if a breach occurs, then they're going to come knocking on your door because it was your responsibility to prevent it. Keep that in mind the next time you make a pitch to management.

John H. Sawyer is a senior security engineer on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are his own and do not represent the views and opinions of the UF IT Security Team or the University of Florida. When John's not fighting flaming, malware-infested machines or performing autopsies on blitzed boxes, he can usually be found hanging with his family, bouncing a baby on one knee and balancing a laptop on the other. Special to Dark Reading.

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