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Hitachi ID Systems Blogs

Posts Tagged ‘Risk Management’

Does Information Security matter?

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Based on a recent article in the SC Magazine apparently it does matter to
the head of IT. Whether one is aware of the security posture within the
enterprise or not. As soon as the data security has been compromised and
the news is on the front page, someone in the IT department seems to
always get the axe.

But should the IT department be held responsible for overall
information security?  Business requires reliable information
security to ensure company information is well protected. Lack of will or
means to protect company information assets won’t make business partners
comfortable.  Information security cannot come from the IT department
alone. When was the last time an IT department asked for a new privileged
access management solution and had it denied by the business? This is a
common story from IT managers at conferences.

At a recent event, I was having dinner with a group of seasoned security
professionals. We started to talk about what does IT Security mean for an
organization. Some spoke of security management that focuses on things
like the number of vulnerabilities found and remediated.  Others spoke
about how they kept hitting a plateau in terms of the number of
workstations patched with the latest Antivirus. But those remediations and
vulnerabilities wouldn’t matter to a business person unless they mattered
to the bottom line. One thing we found in common, businesses still have a
tendency to signoff on acknowledged risk until they are required to be
accountable for the security issue.

It is like driving a school bus with no adequate maintenance and
insurance. A school bus full of children (e.g. customers/employees
unaware of risk) who were assured by the bus operator that they’ve
done everything possible to ensure the safety and security of riders.
Meanwhile, the operator is rewarded by operating several bus routes
until one day a bus crashed, and many innocent lives are taken. It’s
not the bus operator’s intention to create any harm. As long as one
can get away making money without incurring cost to beat out the
competition, there will always be someone who is willing to turn a blind

Information security is similar in many ways. If you don’t update your
information security, sooner or later there will be an intruder roaming
around the network. It would simply be a matter of
time until your business operation faces the truth that many customer
records have been stolen or the intrusion showed up on the news.

Businesses tend to ignore information security when it doesn’t appear
relevant to the core business process. But the reality of the
matter is, many of business critical process today run on information

- Sending email to confirm order with your customer

- Finding delivery route using online map and GPS

- Receiving payment through wire transfer

- Process payrolls to your workers

- Online payment for your vendors

- Social network marketing

- Process and resource planning

- Research for purchasing supplies

- Processing customer order from ePOS

- VOIP or PBX/IP Telephone system for making sales call

Most likely some of your business operation has dependencies on information
technology. How much would it cost your company if your business operation
is disrupted for hours, days, weeks? Does it cost your company money if
you cannot deliver products to your customers on time? How much would it
cost your company if you couldn’t file your tax return on time? What would
it mean if your business just lost most of its customer records because of
weak application security?

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?

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.

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