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Archive for February, 2012

Risk within Identity Infrastructure

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

I’ve often heard vendors and analysts address the risk of an identity management project, but there seems to be a lack of discussion about the risk within the identity management infrastructure. Identity management has an increasingly important role within IT infrastructure. If we perform a risk assessment on your existing identity management infrastructure, what would be the areas of vulnerabilities?

I’ve listed some characteristics of identity infrastructure that could help identify risk:

* Integrated with many aspects of business process from request, registration, transfer, suspension, access, termination, and compliance assurance. What is the impact of business operation if the infrastructure you rely on for many aspects of business process should fail? What if your system should fail and no one can request new access or remove terminated employee?

*  Contained sensitive personal information or keys to unlock privileged access to sensitive data systems. How is the information being kept confidential and accessed only by the authorized personnel? What if you found your name on a report of a list of people to be terminated in a week?  How are the administrative account and password to sensitive data systems being kept confidential? What is the impact if the identity infrastructure can be leveraged to gain privileged access or disclose sensitive records?

* Developed many lines of custom code with no one left to manage once the original implementation project has completed. What is the contingency plan to improve the sustainability of your identity infrastructure?

* Depend heavily on AD. The challenge with such a model is enabling users accessing externally hosted applications. The model doesn’t work well because one would have to expose some part of AD.

Does your identity infrastructure today expose you to unnecessary risks? And are you aware of the adequate countermeasures?

Strong authentication adoptions

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

http://www.eweek.com/c/a/Security/Turning-Mobile-Devices-Into-University-Dorm-Keys-653583/

Interesting article about student using their personal mobile device to replace traditional keys for physical access. As the article points out…

“The line between corporate-owned and personal devices is blurring, according to a recent survey by Information Systems Audit and Control Association. Two-thirds of employees between the ages of 18 and 34 in the survey said they use a personal device that they also use for work, ISACA found”

The world is quickly gravitating toward consumerization of IT. The traditional IT desktop provisioning process is quickly been replaced by “How do we enable employee access on their smart device?” and “How do we authenticate user on their smart device?”.

The finding does raise an interesting question, “What if the student lost their device?”. Or what if the student dropped their phone? What is the alternate method to regain access. Last thing anyone wants is to have a student to stay outside the dorm in a -30 degree Celsius temperature because he/she forgot the phone at the library.

For many, the term “Password Management” implies password issuance, reset, and synchronization. However, the term “Password Management” is an over simplification for credential life cycle management. And in this case, how do you recover your dorm access   at 12:30am in the morning with -30degree Celsius temperature.

The problem is not new, but seemed to have been overlooked by many. The solution is often fall back to the most accessible mean of communication (although the student may decide to throw a rock at his roommate’s window to have him/her open the door).

Most likely, what many people usually end up doing is calling someone for help. In this case, that someone you’re calling could be a computer that recognizes your voice signature on the other side of the phone to provide you with an access code for the next 30 minute.  And by the caller id or GPS coordinates, the system recognize the proximity location of the caller is located as a second form of authentication. The system could also lookup the student residency database to make sure the student actually staying at that particular dorm. Perhaps the system could also notify the Resident Assistant of the student floor to let the person assist the stranded student.

How would you design your strong authentication solution today?

Uncovering the truth about risk

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Recently I’ve been thinking about methods of identifying business risk. Why? Mainly it was a recent discussion I had about visibility been the reason for Identity and Access Governance.  The visibility we are talking about is the identification of risk. A problem facing organizations today is the difficulty to visualizing the risk we are facing. So in order to uncover the truth, I embark on a process of finding a more effective risk identification method.

Circling back to access governance and risk management, what would be a good approach to risk management. Perhaps taking the best practices from people (e.g. DoD) who might have a good understanding about risk management methodology (e.g. like identify, assess, plan, detect, and respond). The question is, what are we still missing in existing approach to risk identification. Many well publicized data security incidents occurred after regulations surrounding privacy and financial control had been put in place (e.g. Enron, TJX, Sony, Braclay, etc). By now shouldn’t we have already learned our lesson?

What are the challenges of risk management? How do we identify risk today? What is the missing approach that we seem to be failing at repetitively?

To answer that, I will use my personal experience as a reference. A while ago, I took few years to understand the business of manufacturing. Manufacturing business depends very much on the continuous operation while managing various physical limitations of critical resources. Critical resources like contract, time, space, machine, operator, material, skill, temperature, cash flow, etc. The lack of any one of critical resources can mean disruptions to normal business operations which ultimately shows up on the balance sheet.

It was critical for the manager to ensure timely acquisition of critical resources and minimize disruption during operating hours. Once it was understood that the business value was created based on continuous operation, then any disruptions to the business operation had significant impacts to the organization’s ability to create value. So based on what I’ve learned:

a. Find out what information/resource/operation is critical to business value

b. Determine the significance when the critical information/resource/operation was disrupted, deteriorated, destroyed, damaged, delayed, or disclosed.

c. Determine the impact based on recovery cost, mitigation cost, overhead cost, opportunity cost, and time to resume operation.

d. Minimize the impact by reduce cost of recovery, likelihood of impact, significance of impact, and time to resume operation.

Now we have some concept of what we trying to find, how do we identify access risk within organization. To find a criminal sometime you have to think like a criminal. Assuming the information is hidden, how would one approach the challenge with locating a hidden object. So instead of finding ways to uncover the truth through a series of data aggregation, correlation, and definition, let’s figure out how the truth can be hidden in the first place. What are the best ways to hide something and how would you do it without anyone knows about it?

1. Disguise : like a chameleon it is best to disguise oneself as part of the surrounding.

2. Disconnect : to uncover the truth one has to go through a process of establishing evidence, and what if part of the evidence trail is missing?

3. Distract : When you have a sea of evidence, how do you go about finding the truth hidden within layers of data.

4. Denial : the worst enemy of truth is denial. Believe in something is impossible can hinder acceptance of the truth.

5. Distort : When the information you looked for has been obfuscated.

These 5D’s can be considered as evidence of absence. The mere fact when something should be there but is not observable can be defined as evidence of risk.  The reason why I’ve approach the access risk problem this way is to provide an alternate approach to risk identification. Employees need information to do their work. Lack of access does equate to incapacity to perform their work. The action of providing necessary information to any employee would be an accepted operational risk. If all authorized access is an acceptable risk, then are we claiming that there is no risk remaining? Based on the past incidents, malicious acts are not part of what people do on a daily basis within the confines of what they are allowed to do.

Most of the approach we see today about risk identification seemed to be stating the fact that a room has four walls but not by determine the abnormality inferred by the absence of furniture in an empty room. The abundant and absence of behavior can both be construed as anomaly or unexpected behaviors.

If the approach still seemed puzzling, perhaps the following examples would help illustrate the point

1. The procurement manager suppose to find a set of vendors to negotiate for optimal price and quality. But when a procurement bid comes along, all we have is few vendors on the list with price way off from the best market price. So the lack of competitive bid failed to provide the company with optimal procurement value.

2. A trader on wall street who has a margin limit at 3million dollars. The managing director, who needed to keep an eye on the margin requirement of each trader, ignores the warning message when a trader’s position went over the limit of 3million dollars. The lack of director’s response to warning signals ultimately created a significant risk for the financial organization.

In summary, I would point out that instead of looking at security access control as a point in the process, perhaps try to look at it as a process. Instead of saying, user has been provisioned access permission with certain entitlement. Verify the user access, and make sure the access control has not been compromised. Furthermore, how about the presence of awareness, and timely response. To ensure adequate risk management framework, be certain that all parts of the risk management process is at work.

Culture vs Governance

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

“It takes a village to secure a village” means security is  expected behavior of any good corporate citizen. On the security side, we often hear strategy, solution, governance, planning, and controls. But what seemed to miss in the whole picture is how to influence security behavior in the organization. If security has not been taken seriously, does the corporate policy really matters all that much to  an employee?

Recently, in another security conference, the same message about influencing cultural change been the primary objective of any CISO was re-iterated. So is there a gap between existing employee behavior vs expected secured corporate culture? Lets see if we can point out some difference between governance and culture today.

Governance : Employee should not disclose sensitive data information outside of the corporate network.

Culture : The only way I can handle my work load is if I bring my work home on my own personal device.

Governance : Employee should follow the information security guideline.

Culture : Security guideline can be re-evaluated when it comes to doctors and board room executives.

I once asked a very senior CISO, “what is information security governance?”. In his own words, “…governance is a framework that define plan and strategy to achieve balanced information security objectives.” However, with so many conflicts between security guidance vs organizational culture, what is the right governance  for a business?

Then this article (http://www.tlnt.com/2012/01/16/4-reasons-why-culture-is-more-important-thank-strategy/) pops into my browser. The key points are…

1. Culture is more important than strategy
2. Companies who align culture and strategy are more successful
3. Encouraging individual, cultural attributes are the keys
4. Maintaining a successful culture takes careful attention and hard work

Between what we have to do (compliance) and what we tend to behave (culture), the article left me with two questions :
a. How do we make corporate culture an integral part of security governance?
b. How will security helps transform business to be more successful?

There  is no definitive answer from me at the moment, though I do welcome any comment from anyone who read my blog.