Enterprise IT Watch Blog

September 15, 2010  6:35 AM

It’s 10 PM. Where’s your network administrator?

Kevin Beaver Kevin Beaver Profile: Kevin Beaver

Microsoft’s sixth law of Immutable Laws of Security states that “a computer is only as secure as the administrator is trustworthy.” How does your administrator rank on the trust scale? Working with systems/network administrators in my security assessments – and having been one in the past – their level of access is typically unlimited. And no one seems to be watching.

I’m not saying you should micromanage your IT folks; that’ll only run them off. But don’t let your guard down either. There have been some highly-publicized cases of admins doing misdeeds or simply being sloppy with security when they shouldn’t have been. This is probably something you’re not ready to take on.

If you’re a business manager or internal auditor, never lose sight of the fact that the master key to everything electronic is in your administrator’s hands.  It seems obvious, but it’s something many take for granted, trusting that all’s well in IT-land just because the administrator says everything’s okay. That’s not always the case.

For further reading, I delve into this topic further in the following piece I wrote for SearchWinIT.com:

Are your IT administrators trustworthy?

Kevin Beaver is an independent information security consultant, expert witness, author, and professional speaker with Atlanta-based Principle Logic, LLC and a contributor to the IT Watch Blog. You can reach Kevin through his website at www.principlelogic.com and follow him on Twitter at @kevinbeaver.

September 15, 2010  6:10 AM

The Case for SaaS: The Questions You Need to Ask

Melanie Yarbrough Profile: MelanieYarbrough

Updated 9/20/2010 at 4:48 PM ET with additional link.

First things first: What is Software-as-a-Service? From SearchCloudComputing.com:

Software as a Service (SaaS) is a software distribution model in which applications are hosted by a vendor or service provider and made available to customers over a network, typically the Internet.

Before you SaaS, Ask

SaaS is being hailed as a “savior” by some, but the perfect solution for a company that looks a lot like yours may be what sets your own operations and budgets back. Be sure to ask the right questions before deployment:

  • Should your company rely on software built and utilized by hundreds of other companies?
  • What are the possible repercussions of less specificity?
  • What are the possible repercussions of the buy-over-build mentality?
  • Is this functionality separate from other processes?
  • Are you currently investing in unnecessary customizations? In other words, will outsourcing to SaaS simplify operations in a beneficial way?
  • Can you afford to not own this functionality? Would downtime cause a disruption in business operations?
  • Is there a service-level agreement in place to protect your company from downtime?
  • Have you compared total cost of ownership (not just up-front licensing, but ongoing costs such as support and operations staff, hardware, etc.) to SaaS costs?

Benefits of SaaS (or why CIOs are foaming at the mouth)

We’re all familiar with solutions that look great on paper, but once they’ve been adopted past the point of turning back, they turn on us. Below are some of the reasons CIOs and other execs see SaaS as an answer from the heavens:

  • Faster implementation
  • Faster access to current technologies
  • Fewer bugs due to less complexity and fewer chances at errors
  • Lower cost for enterprise
  • Reduced start-up costs; can get off the ground faster and cheaper
  • Since vendors have less support spend, they can pass on savings to customer
  • Less time spent managing compatibility and upgrades
  • It’s the answer to across-the-board simple processes that allow time and money to go toward the more necessary and complex processes

Protect Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

With the good always comes some bad, so be sure to know the ways you can protect yourself when entering this growing market.

  • Service-level agreement
  • Stringent security policies
  • Rights to the software and data should the SaaS vendor go out of business
  • Request permission to audit vendors’ controls

Money isn’t the only concern; often smaller companies with fewer resources outsource the risk in addition to the cost of keeping developers in-house. Look at the situation from the angle of worst-case scenario as well; would you be able to afford repair and recovery should something go wrong? If not, it may be worth outsourcing that responsibility to a third-party vendor.

For more information on the ins-and-outs and latest news on SaaS, check out SearchCIO’s Enterprise SaaS news section.

September 14, 2010  6:58 AM

4 things you can do right now to find out if your business is at risk

Kevin Beaver Kevin Beaver Profile: Kevin Beaver

A lot of executives and business owners – especially in smaller organizations – haven’t a clue about where things stand with information security and compliance. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have the fiduciary responsibility to do so. Well, here are four things that can be done right now, over the next week or two, to find out where your business stands and what needs to be done to fill in the gaps:

1. Take inventory of sensitive information. Find out what sensitive electronic information your business processes and/or stores and where it’s located on the network. Sensitive information such as SSNs, health records, credit card numbers, employee records, and intellectual property is likely scattered about on servers, workstations, laptops, smartphones, and external storage devices in Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, emails, database files, log files, zip files, and backups. It’s everywhere and it’s usually unprotected from malicious intent.

2. Assess the risks. Find out how this sensitive information is at risk. Look at all external entry points such as Web applications, network connections, wireless networks, and mobile devices as well as internal entry points such as unprotected server shares, weak Windows/database/application passwords, missing patches that can be exploited (very easily) to allow a malicious insider to gain full access to a “protected system.” Don’t forget about physical entry points including server rooms and unmanned reception areas that have unfettered network connections (such as VoIP phones). Using the right tools and a malicious mindset, you’ll be amazed at what’s putting your business at risk right now. Outsource this expertise if you have to. Network admins and developers – as smart as they are – often cannot see the forest through the trees. There’s also the conflict of interest factor.

3. Draft and finalize a policy on paper. Find out what documentation you have – or don’t have – that outlines what’s expected of your users and what steps will be taken when a breach or disaster occurs. This is one of the biggest areas of security that’s overlooked and taken for granted the most.

4. Consult laws and regulations. Find out which state, federal, and even international privacy and security laws and regulations govern your business; outsource this as well, if needed. By all means don’t rely on your legal counsel if he/she has limited experience in this area.

    Best of luck.

    Kevin Beaver is an independent information security consultant, expert witness, author, and professional speaker with Atlanta-based Principle Logic, LLC and a contributor to the IT Watch Blog. You can reach Kevin through his website at www.principlelogic.com and follow him on Twitter at @kevinbeaver.

    September 14, 2010  6:09 AM

    The Security Soapbox: Our 10 Favorite Information Security Blogs

    Melanie Yarbrough Profile: MelanieYarbrough

    To keep from falling asleep on the job (figuratively and literally), keep your mind sharp with the musings, analysis and tips from these information security pros:

    1. …And you will know me by the trail of bits: Dino Dai Zovi has 9+ years of information security experience under his belt. He is a regular at conferences, speaking on what he knows best: “red teaming, penetration testing and software security assessments.” His claim to fame? Dino discovered and wrote the exploit that won him the first PWN2OWN contest at CanSecWest in 2007; not to mention being named one of eWeek’s 15 Most Influential People in Security.

    2. Application Security: Perspective from the field: Michael Coates, leader of web security at Mozilla, blogs here about all things security, from application security, security codes, and penetration assessment. I especially enjoyed this piece about a flaw he found in Black Hat’s video stream a few months ago: The Irony – Black Hat Video Stream Hack.

    3. /dev/random: Written by a security consultant in Belgium, this blog provides general information and theory on IT security down to minute instructions for integrating blacklisting in your own DNS server.

    4. Tao Security: Richard Bejtlich, Director of Incident Response at General Electric, blogs about “digital security and the practices of network security monitoring, incident response, and forensics.” He also reviews products and provides insight into daily industry and popular tech news.

    5. Infamous Agenda: Matthew Hackling (great name for a security guy, right?) runs a security consultancy and writes about information security management, with “a keen interest in infrastructure and web application security.” He’s funny and informative, an essential mix when writing about IT. Check out this useful checklist for avoiding shelfware – ISMS implementation tips. [More great security blogs after the jump.] Continued »

    September 13, 2010  12:29 PM

    Email insecurity: How a GMail trick could trash your server

    Melanie Yarbrough Profile: MelanieYarbrough

    It seems innocent enough, forwarding your work email to your Gmail (hotmail, yahoo, etc.). Your work email will be more accessible: on the train, at home, on the go. You pat yourself on the back for working harder than anyone else in the office. They really ought to give you a raise.

    The flipside of that, of course, are the risks of forwarding potentially sensitive corporate materials to a third party email host, where your company and IT security department has no means of protecting it. We recently had an IT Knowledge Exchange member ask about the ways to forward work email to Gmail, and the response we received from the community had one underlying theme: BE CAREFUL. So what, exactly, could go wrong?

    David Vasta, one of our member bloggers, brings to light the possible legal repercussions.

    You want to be very careful you are now sending company mail that belongs to your company from your company owned and operated email to an external source. In most states it is considered Corporate Theft and it’s a felony.

    For more of David’s thoughts on the subject, check out what he wrote for his blog: Question of the Day – Forwarding Emails.

    Sc00ter63 gave brief instructions on how to go about forwarding emails, but informed our user that his company has the option disabled “because of the security issues that can arise with forwarding company email to a personal/civilian account.”

    CallMeRich brings up an often-overlooked but important concern: Bringing down your company’s mail servers. It could happen with the slightest oversights, such as setting up your email to forward to Gmail, setting up a Gmail “out-of-office” auto-response that gets sent to your work email, which gets automatically forwarded back to Gmail and so on until, within minutes, your Gmail account is full and your corporate mailbox grows terabytes in size. This could in turn take down or seriously hinder your mail servers. Rich further warns that he’s seen this “simple gotcha” happen and it can be devastating.

    What sorts of email security blunders have you run into or been careful to avoid?

    Melanie Yarbrough is the assistant community editor at ITKnowledgeExchange.com. Follow her onTwitter or send her an email at Melanie@ITKnowledgeExchange.com.

    September 13, 2010  6:50 AM

    What’s your strategy? (The answer is not “compliance.”)

    Kevin Beaver Kevin Beaver Profile: Kevin Beaver

    Compliance has become a threat to business, or at least that’s how I see it. It’s complex, it’s overlapping, it creates a false sense of security and it’s downright expensive – especially when it’s not done correctly. Compliance is one of those things that you can hardly do business with and certainly can’t do business without.

    But compliance still exists and it cannot be ignored.

    The major problem with compliance is that so many people view it as a substitute for reasonable information security and proper risk management. I was just looking at the Chronology of Data Breaches and shaking my head. Over 510 million compromised records and counting. Many of the breaches on this list are unbelievable and likely inexcusable. Sadly, I’m sure somewhere along the way someone – an auditor or manager – deemed these computers/networks/operations “compliant” with whatever regulation.

    Just what is it going to take to keep our personal information personal? Not to mention “confidential” and “internal use only” business information confidential and internal use only.

    The key is to never ever rely on compliance alone like I wrote about in this CSO Magazine piece. It’s just too risky. It may please some auditors or regulators in the short term, but it’s not a sustainable strategy. Period.

    Kevin Beaver is an independent information security consultant, expert witness, author, and professional speaker with Atlanta-based Principle Logic, LLC and a contributor to the IT Watch Blog. You can reach Kevin through his website at www.principlelogic.com and follow him on Twitter at @kevinbeaver.

    September 10, 2010  9:34 AM

    The He-Said, She-Said of Information Security: Some quotes for Friday morning

    Kevin Beaver Kevin Beaver Profile: Kevin Beaver

    I find it amazing how some of the great quotes about life and business from both the past and present directly apply to information security and risk management today. Here are a few that really stand out to me:

    “Learn to see in another’s calamity the ills that you should avoid.” -Thomas Jefferson

    “There’s nothing stronger when you’re trying to get something done than common sense.” -Ned Jarrett

    “If you believe everything you read, perhaps it’s better not to read.” -Japanese proverb

    “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” -Edmund Burke

    “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” -Bill Cosby

    “The important thing is to not stop questioning.” -Albert Einstein

    …and my favorite quote of all time:

    “Use wisely your power of choice.” -Og Mandino

    Think about these quotes and the real messages they convey. If you apply just one of them to your everyday decisions related to information security you can make grand improvements in your environment.

    Kevin Beaver is an independent information security consultant, expert witness, author, and professional speaker with Atlanta-based Principle Logic, LLC and a contributor to the IT Watch Blog. You can reach Kevin through his website at www.principlelogic.com and follow him on Twitter at @kevinbeaver.

    September 9, 2010  7:54 AM

    The Seven Deadly Enterprise Security Sins, Part I

    Michael Morisy Michael Morisy Profile: Michael Morisy

    While the security threat landscape has changed drastically over the last decade, in many ways the discussion about security, particularly at the popular level, hasn’t kept pace. High-profile breaches, attacks, clever workarounds and individual viruses grab headlines while more sinister, on-going threats often lurk below the surface, unseen and unheard of by an organization until it’s too late.

    Continued »

    September 3, 2010  6:00 AM

    Wireless-based surveillance systems: Who’s watching who’s watching you?

    Kevin Beaver Kevin Beaver Profile: Kevin Beaver

    As you likely know, there are numerous 802.11-based wireless security surveillance systems on the market. Some are targeted at home users while others are aimed at the enterprise. I’ve actually seen such devices at my clients’ locations. That’s all fine and dandy – many businesses need some type of security surveillance system – and why not go wireless? It can be a heck of a lot cheaper.

    The problem is that these devices are often outside of the realm of typical network monitoring, maintenance, and security. The physical security folks install them and don’t notify IT. The IT folks may come across them and proclaim, “Those aren’t my devices to support.” The business ultimately suffers. How so? Well, given the lack of oversight, these devices are often installed with the defaults. Maybe WEP, maybe no encryption at all. Maybe a strong password, maybe the default. Furthermore, the central console often has a Web interface that’s wide open for anyone and everyone on the network to configure. Then there’s patching, audit logging and so on. All of these are critical functions of security – for servers, routers, and firewalls, that is.

    Even though these wireless-based surveillance systems often provide a way into the network and contain sensitive videos, logs, etc., they just aren’t as important – at least that’s the way it appears in many cases. They just end up in no-man’s land waiting to be attacked from a bad guy across the street or a rogue insider who likes to play around.

    Make sure these systems are on your – or someone’s – radar. If it has an IP address and an on/off switch, it’s fair game to those with ill intent.

    Kevin Beaver is an independent information security consultant, expert witness, author, and professional speaker with Atlanta-based Principle Logic, LLC and a contributor to the IT Watch Blog. He can be reached through his website at www.principlelogic.com.

    September 2, 2010  1:25 PM

    A Tiny Toolbelt: Lesser-known wireless network security resources

    Kevin Beaver Kevin Beaver Profile: Kevin Beaver

    Managing and securing wireless networks is difficult enough, so why re-create the wheel? Well, you don’t have to, at least to an extent. There are several wireless network “standards” you can lean on for ideas, tips, and documentation to help bring things full circle in your wireless environment. Here are the documents you need to get to know – or at least bookmark – for future reference:

    Center for Internet Security’s Wireless Networking Benchmark: Old but still relevant; contains wireless-related policies to consider as well as specific vendor configuration documents and information on performing wireless network assessments.

    NIST’s Establishing Wireless Robust Security Networks: A Guide to IEEE 802.11i: A newer and much more in-depth document; in my eyes, the mac-daddy reference for wireless network security.

    Last, and probably least, going beyond the standards are some free chapters of the book I co-authored Hacking Wireless Networks For Dummies:

    The important thing to remember is that no matter what these standards (or chapters) recommend, only you and your team know what’s best for your business and in your environment. Determine your risks and your risk tolerance and build it out from there.

    Kevin Beaver is an independent information security consultant, expert witness, author, and professional speaker with Atlanta-based Principle Logic, LLC and a contributor to the IT Watch Blog. He can be reached through his website at www.principlelogic.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @kevinbeaver.

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