Archive for the ‘Data-Centric Security’ Category

Security Will Not End Up In the Network…

June 3rd, 2008 9 comments

It’s not the destination, it’s the journey, stupid.

You can’t go a day without reading from the peanut gallery that it is
"…inevitable that network security will eventually be subsumed into
the network fabric."  I’m not picking on Rothman specifically, but he’s been banging this drum loudly of late.

For such a far-reaching, profound and prophetic statement, claims like these are strangely myopic and inaccurate..and then they’re exactly right.


Firstly, it’s sort of silly and obvious to trumpet that "network security" will end up in the "network."  Duh.  What’s really meant is that "information security" will end up in the network, but that’s sort of goofy, too. You’ll even hear that "host-based security" will end up in the network…so let’s just say that what’s being angled at here is that security will end up in the network.

These statements are often framed within a temporal bracket
that simply ignores the bigger picture and reads like a eulogy.  The reality is that historically
we have come to accept that security and technology are
cyclic and yet we continue to witness these terminal predictions defining an end state for security that has never arrived and never will.

Let me make plain my point: there is no final resting place for where and how security will "end up."

I’m visual, so let’s reference a very basic representation of my point.  This graph represents the cyclic transition over time of where and how
we invest in security.

We ultimately transition between host-based security,
information-centric security and network security over time. 

We do this little
shuffle based upon the effectiveness and maturity of technology,
economics, cultural, societal and regulatory issues and the effects of disruptive innovation.  In reality, this
isn’t a smooth sine wave at all, it’s actually more a classic dampened
oscillation ala the punctuated equilibrium theory I’ve spoken about
, but it’s easier to visualize this way.


Our investment strategy and where security is seen as being "positioned" reverses direction over time and continues ad infinitum.  This has proven itself time and time again yet we continue to be wowed by the prophetic utterances of people who on the one hand talk about these never-ending cycles and yet on the other pretend they don’t exist by claiming the "death" of one approach over another. 


To answer that let’s take a look at how the cyclic pendulum effect of our focus on
security trends from the host to the information to the network and
back again by analyzing the graph above. 

  1. If we take a look at the arbitrary "starting" point indicated by the "You Are Here" dot on the sine wave above, I suggest that over the last 2-3 years or so we’ve actually headed away from the network as the source of all things security.   

    There are lots of reasons for this; economic, ideological, technological, regulatory and cultural.  If you want to learn more about this, check out my posts on how disruptive Innovation fuels strategic transience.

    In short, the network has not been able to (and never will) deliver the efficacy, capabilities or
    cost-effectiveness desired to secure us from evil, so instead we look at
    actually securing the information itself.  The security industry messaging of late is certainly bearing testimony to that fact.  Check out this year’s RSA conference…

  2. As we focus then on information centricity, we see the resurgence of ERM, governance and compliance come into focus.  As policies proliferate, we realize that this is really hard and we don’t have effective and ubiquitous data
    classification, policy affinity and heterogeneous enforcement capabilities.  We shake our heads at the ineffectiveness of the technology we have and hear the cries of pundits everywhere that we need to focus on the things that really matter…

    In order to ensure that we effectively classify data at the point of creation, we recognize that we can’t do this automagically and we don’t have standardized schemas or metadata across structured and unstructured data, so we’ll look at each other, scratch our heads and conclude that the applications and operating systems need modification to force fit policy, classification and enforcement.

    Rot roh.

  3. Now that we have the concept of policies and classification, we need the teeth to ensure it, so we start to overlay emerging technology solutions on the host in applications and via the OS’s that are unfortunately non-transparent and affect the users and their ability to get their work done.  This becomes labeled as a speed bump and we grapple with how to make this less impacting on the business since security has now slowed things down and we still have breaches because users have found creative ways of bypassing technology constraints in the name of agility and efficiency…
  4. At this point, the network catches up in its ability to process closer to "line
    speed," and some of the data classification functionality from the host commoditizes into the "network" — which by then is as much in the form of appliances as it is routers and switches — and always
    will be.   So as we round this upturn focusing again on being "information centric," with the help of technology, we seek to use our network investment to offset impact on our users.
  5. Ultimately, we get the latest round of "next generation" network solutions which promise to deliver us from our woes, but as we "pass go and collect $200" we realize we’re really at the same point we were at point #1.

‘Round and ’round we go.

So, there’s no end state.  It’s a continuum.  The budget and operational elements of who "owns" security and where it’s implemented simply follow the same curve.  Throw in disruptive innovation such as virtualization, and the entire concept of the "host" and the "network" morphs and we simply realize that it’s a shift in period on the same graph.

So all this pontification that it is "…inevitable that network security will eventually be subsumed into
the network fabric" is only as accurate as what phase of the graph you reckon you’re on.  Depending upon how many periods you’ve experienced, it’s easy to see how some who have not seen these changes come and go could be fooled into not being able to see the forest for the trees.

Here’s the reality we actually already know and should not come to you as a surprise if you’ve been reading my blog: we will always need a blended investment in technology, people and process in order to manage our risk effectively.  From a technology perspective, some of this will take the form of controls embedded in the information itself, some will come from the OS and applications and some will come from the network.

Anyone who tells you differently has something to sell you or simply needs a towel for the back of his or her ears…


Endpoint Security vs. DLP? That’s Part Of the Problem…

March 31st, 2008 6 comments

Larry Walsh wrote something (Defining the Difference Between Endpoint Security and Data Loss Prevention) that sparked an interesting debate based upon a vendor presentation given to him on "endpoint security" by SanDisk.

SanDisk is bringing to market a set of high-capacity USB flash drives that feature built-in filesystem encryption as well as strong authentication and access control.  If the device gets lost with the data on it, it’s "safe and secure" because it’s encrypted.  They are positioning this as an "endpoint security" solution.

I’m not going to debate the merits/downsides of that approach because I haven’t seen their pitch, but suffice it to say, I think it’s missing a "couple" of pieces to solve anything other than a very specific set of business problems.

Larry’s dilemma stems from the fact that he maintains that this capability and functionality is really about data loss protection and doesn’t have much to do with "endpoint security" at all:

We debated that in my office for a few minutes. From my perspective, this solution seems more like a data loss prevention solution than endpoint security. Admittedly, there are many flavors of endpoint security. When I think of endpoint security, I think of network access control (NAC), configuration management, vulnerability management and security policy enforcement. While this solution is designed for the endpoint client, it doesn’t do any of the above tasks. Rather, it forces users to use one type of portable media and transparently applies security protection to the data. To me, that’s DLP.

In today’s market taxonomy, I would agree with Larry.  However, what Larry is struggling with is not really the current state of DLP versus "endpoint security," but rather the future state of converged information-centric governance.  He’s describing the problem that will drive the solution as well as the inevitable market consolidation to follow.

This is actually the whole reason Mogull and I are talking about the evolution of DLP as it exists today to a converged solution we call CMMP — Content Management, Monitoring and Protection. {Yes, I just added another M for Management in there…}

What CMMP represents is the evolved and converged end-state technology integration of solutions that today provide a point solution but "tomorrow" will be combined/converged into a larger suite of services.

Off the cuff, I’d expect that we will see at a minimum the following technologies being integrated to deliver CMMP as a pervasive function across the information lifecycle and across platforms in flight/motion and at rest:

  • Data leakage/loss protection (DLP)
  • Identity and access management (IAM)
  • Network Admission/Access Control (NAC)
  • Digital rights/Enterprise rights management (DRM/ERM)
  • Seamless encryption based upon "communities of interest"
  • Information classification and profiling
  • Metadata
  • Deep Packet Inspection (DPI)
  • Vulnerability Management
  • Configuration Management
  • Database Activity Monitoring (DAM)
  • Application and Database Monitoring and Protection (ADMP)
  • etc…

That’s not to say they’ll all end up as a single software install or network appliance, but rather a consolidated family of solutions from a few top-tier vendors who have coverage across the application, host and network space. 

If you were to look at any enterprise today struggling with this problem, they likely have or are planning to have most of the point solutions above anyway.  The difficulty is that they’re all from different vendors.  In the future, we’ll see larger suites from fewer vendors providing a more cohesive solution.

This really gives us the "cross domain information protection" that Rich talks about.

We may never achieve the end-state described above in its entirety, but it’s safe to say that the more we focus on the "endpoint" rather than the "information on the endpoint," the bigger the problem we will have.


The Walls Are Collapsing Around Information Centricity

March 10th, 2008 2 comments

Since Mogull and I collaborate quite a bit on projects and share many thoughts and beliefs, I wanted to make a couple of comments on his last post on Information Centricity and remind the audience at home of a couple of really important points.

Rich’s post was short and sweet regarding the need for Information-Centric solutions with some profound yet subtle guideposts:

For information-centric security to become a reality, in the long term it needs to follow the following principles:

  1. Information (data) must be self describing and defending.
  2. Policies and controls must account for business context.
  3. Information must be protected as it moves from structured to
    unstructured, in and out of applications, and changing business context.
  4. Policies must work consistently through the different defensive layers and technologies we implement.

I’m not convinced this is a complete list, but I’m trying to keep to
my new philosophy of shorter and simpler. A key point that might not be
obvious is that while we have self-defending data solutions, like DRM
and label security, for success they must grow to account for business
context. That’s when static data becomes usable information.

Mike Rothman gave an interesting review of Rich’s post:

The Mogull just laid out your work for the next 10 years. You just
probably don’t know it yet. Yes, it’s all about ensuring that the
fundamental elements of your data are protected, however and wherever
they are used. Rich has broken it up into 4 thoughts. The first one
made my head explode: "Information (data) must be self-describing and

Now I have to clean up the mess. Sure things like DRM are a
bad start, and have tarnished how we think about information-centric
security, but you do have to start somewhere. The reality is this is a
really long term vision of a problem where I’m not sure how you get
from Point A to Point B. We all talk about the lack of innovation in
security. And how the market just isn’t exciting anymore. What Rich
lays out here is exciting. It’s also a really really really big
problem. If you want a view of what the next big security company does,
it’s those 4 things. And believe me, if I knew how to do it, I’d be
doing it – not talking about the need to do it.

The comments I want to make are three-fold:

  1. Rich is re-stating and Mike’s head is exploding around the exact concepts that Information Survivability represents and the Jericho Forum trumpets in their Ten Commandments.  In fact, you can read all about that in a prior posts I made on the subjects of the Jericho Forum, re-perimeterization, information survivability and information centricity.  I like this post on a process I call ADAPT (Applied Data and Application Policy Tagging) a lot.

    For reference, here are the Jericho Forum’s Ten Commandments. Please see #9:


  2. As mike alluded, DRM/ERM has received a bad rap because of how it’s implemented — which has really left a sour taste in the mouths of the consumer consciousness.  As a business tool, it is the precursor of information centric policy and will become the lynchpin in how we will ultimately gain a foothold on solving the information resiliency/assurance/survivability problem.
  3. As to the innovation and dialog that Mike suggests is lacking in this space, I’d suggest he’s suffering from a bit of Shitake-ism (a-la mushroom-itis.)  The next generation of DLP solutions that are becoming CMP (Content Monitoring and Protection — a term I coined) are evolving to deal with just this very thing.  It’s happening.  Now.

    Further to that, I have been briefed by some very, very interesting companies that are in stealth mode who are looking to shake this space up as we speak.

So, prepare for Information Survivability, increased Information Resilience and assurance.  Coming to a solution near you…


Security Today == Shooting Arrows Through Sunroofs of Cars?

February 7th, 2008 14 comments

In this Dark Reading post, Peter Tippett, described as the inventor of what is now Norton Anti-virus, suggests that the bulk of InfoSec practices are "…outmoded or outdated concepts that don’t apply to today’s computing

As I read through this piece, I found myself flip-flopping between violent agreement and incredulous eye-rolling from one paragraph to the next, caused somewhat by the overuse of hyperbole in some of his analogies.  This was disappointing, but overall, I enjoyed the piece.

Let’s take a look at Peter’s comments:

For example, today’s security industry focuses way too much time
on vulnerability research, testing, and patching, Tippett suggested.
"Only 3 percent of the vulnerabilities that are discovered are ever
exploited," he said. "Yet there is huge amount of attention given to
vulnerability disclosure, patch management, and so forth."

I’d agree that the "industry" certainly focuses their efforts on these activities, but that’s exactly the mission of the "industry" that he helped create.  We, as consumers of security kit, have perpetuated a supply-driven demand security economy.

There’s a huge amount of attention paid to vulnerabilities, patching and prevention that doesn’t prevent because at this point, that’s all we’ve got.  Until we start focusing on the the root cause rather than the symptoms, this is a cycle we won’t break.  See my post titled "Sacred Cows, Meatloaf, and Solving the Wrong Problems" for an example of what I mean.

Tippett compared vulnerability research with automobile safety
research. "If I sat up in a window of a building, I might find that I
could shoot an arrow through the sunroof of a Ford and kill the
driver," he said. "It isn’t very likely, but it’s possible.

"If I disclose that vulnerability, shouldn’t the automaker put in
some sort of arrow deflection device to patch the problem? And then
other researchers may find similar vulnerabilities in other makes and
models," Tippett continued. "And because it’s potentially fatal to the
driver, I rate it as ‘critical.’ There’s a lot of attention and effort
there, but it isn’t really helping auto safety very much."

What this really means and Peter doesn’t really ever state, is that mitigating vulnerabilities in the absence of threat, impact or probability is a bad thing.  This is why I make such a fuss about managing risk instead of mitigating vulnerabilities.  If there were millions of malicious archers firing arrows through the sunroofs of unsuspecting Ford Escort drivers, then the ‘critical’ rating is relevant given the probability and impact of all those slings and arrows of thine enemies…

Tippett also suggested that many security pros waste time trying
to buy or invent defenses that are 100 percent secure. "If a product
can be cracked, it’s sometimes thrown out and considered useless," he
observed. "But automobile seatbelts only prevent fatalities about 50
percent of the time. Are they worthless? Security products don’t have
to be perfect to be helpful in your defense."

I like his analogy and the point he’s trying to underscore.  What I find in many cases is that the binary evaluation of security efficacy — in products and programs — still exists.  In the absence of measuring the effective impact that something has in effecting one’s risk posture, people revert to a non-gradient scale of 0% or 100% insecure or secure.  Is being "secure" really important or is managing to a level of risk that is acceptable — with or without losses — the really relevant measure of success?   

This concept also applies to security processes, Tippett said.
"There’s a notion out there that if I do certain processes flawlessly,
such as vulnerability patching or updating my antivirus software, that
my organization will be more secure. But studies have shown that there
isn’t necessarily a direct correlation between doing these processes
well and the frequency or infrequency of security incidents.

"You can’t always improve the security of something by doing it
better," Tippett said. "If we made seatbelts out of titanium instead of
nylon, they’d be a lot stronger. But there’s no evidence to suggest
that they’d really help improve passenger safety."

I would like to see these studies.  I think that companies who have rigorous, mature and transparent processes that they execute "flawlessly" may not be more "secure," (a measurement I’d love to see quantified) but are in a much better position to respond and recover when (not if) an event occurs.  Based upon the established corollary that we can’t be 100% "secure" in the first place, we then know we’re going to have incidents.

Being able to recover from them or continue to operate while under duress is more realistic and important in my view.  That’s the point of information survivability.

Security teams need to rethink the way they spend their time,
focusing on efforts that could potentially pay higher security
dividends, Tippett suggested. "For example, only 8 percent of companies
have enabled their routers to do ‘default deny’ on inbound traffic," he
said. "Even fewer do it on outbound traffic. That’s an example of a
simple effort that could pay high dividends if more companies took the
time to do it."

I agree.  Focusing on efforts that eliminate entire classes of problems based upon reducing risk is a more appropriate use of time, money and resources.

Security awareness programs also offer a high
rate of return, Tippett said. "Employee training sometimes gets a bad
rap because it doesn’t alter the behavior of every employee who takes
it," he said. "But if I can reduce the number of security incidents by
30 percent through a $10,000 security awareness program, doesn’t that
make more sense than spending $1 million on an antivirus upgrade that
only reduces incidents by 2 percent?"

Nod.  That was the point of the portfolio evaluation process I gave in my disruptive innovation presentation:

24. Provide Transparency in portfolio effectiveness

I didn’t invent this graph, but it’s one of my favorite ways of
visualizing my investment portfolio by measuring in three dimensions:
business impact, security impact and monetized investment.  All of
these definitions are subjective within your organization (as well as
how you might measure them.)

The Y-axis represents the "security impact" that the solution
provides.  The X-axis represents the "business impact" that the
solution provides while the size of the dot represents the capex/opex
investment made in the solution.

Each of the dots represents a specific solution in the portfolio.

If you have a solution that is a large dot toward the bottom-left of
the graph, one has to question the reason for continued investment
since it provides little in the way of perceived security and business
value with high cost.   On the flipside, if a solution is represented
by a small dot in the upper-right, the bang for the buck is high as is
the impact it has on the organization.

The goal would be to get as many of your investments in your
portfolio from the bottom-left to the top-right with the smallest dots

This transparency and the process by which the portfolio is assessed
is delivered as an output of the strategic innovation framework which
is really comprised of part art and part science.

All in all, a good read from someone who helped create the monster and is now calling it ugly…


Thin Clients: Does This Laptop Make My Ass(ets) Look Fat?

January 10th, 2008 11 comments

Juicy Fat Assets, Ripe For the Picking…

So here’s an interesting spin on de/re-perimeterization…if people think we cannot achieve and cannot afford to wait for secure operating systems, secure protocols and self-defending information-centric environments but need to "secure" their environments today, I have a simple question supported by a simple equation for illustration:

For the majority of mobile and internal users in a typical corporation who use the basic set of applications:

  1. Assume a company that:
    …fits within the 90% of those who still have data centers, isn’t completely outsourced/off-shored for IT and supports a remote workforce that uses Microsoft OS and the usual suspect applications and doesn’t plan on utilizing distributed grid computing and widespread third-party SaaS
  2. Take the following:
    Data Breaches.  Lost Laptops.  Non-sanitized corporate hard drives on eBay.  Malware.  Non-compliant asset configurations.  Patching woes.  Hardware failures.  Device Failure.  Remote Backup issues.  Endpoint Security Software Sprawl.  Skyrocketing security/compliance costs.  Lost Customer Confidence.  Fines.  Lost Revenue.  Reduced budget.
  3. Combine With:
    Cheap Bandwidth.  Lots of types of bandwidth/access modalities.  Centralized Applications and Data. Any Web-enabled Computing Platform.  SSL VPN.  Virtualization.  Centralized Encryption at Rest.  IAM.  DLP/CMP.  Lots of choices to provide thin-client/streaming desktop capability.  Offline-capable Web Apps.
  4. Shake Well, Re-allocate Funding, Streamline Operations and "Security"…
  5. You Get:
    Less Risk.  Less Cost.  Better Control Over Data.  More "Secure" Operations.  Better Resilience.  Assurance of Information.  Simplified Operations. Easier Backup.  One Version of the Truth (data.)

I really just don’t get why we continue to deploy and are forced to support remote platforms we can’t protect, allow our data to inhabit islands we can’t control and at the same time admit the inevitability of disaster while continuing to spend our money on solutions that can’t possibly solve the problems.

If we’re going to be information centric, we should take the first rational and reasonable steps toward doing so. Until the operating systems are more secure, the data can self-describe and cause the compute and network stacks to "self-defend," why do we continue to focus on the endpoint which is a waste of time.

If we can isolate and reduce the number of avenues of access to data and leverage dumb presentation platforms to do it, why aren’t we?

…I mean besides the fact that an entire industry has been leeching off this mess for decades…

I’ll Gladly Pay You Tuesday For A Secure Solution Today…

The technology exists TODAY to centralize the bulk of our most important assets and allow our workforce to accomplish their goals and the business to function just as well (perhaps better) without the need for data to actually "leave" the data centers in whose security we have already invested so much money.

Many people are doing that with the servers already with the adoption of virtualization.  Now they need to do with their clients.

The only reason we’re now going absolutely stupid and spending money on securing endpoints in their current state is because we’re CAUSING (not just allowing) data to leave our enclaves.  In fact with all this blabla2.0 hype, we’ve convinced ourselves we must.

Hogwash.  I’ve posted on the consumerization of IT where companies are allowing their employees to use their own compute platforms.  How do you think many of them do this?

Relax, Dude…Keep Your Firewalls…

In the case of centralized computing and streamed desktops to dumb/thin clients, the "perimeter" still includes our data centers and security castles/moats, but also encapsulates a streamed, virtualized, encrypted, and authenticated thin-client session bubble.  Instead of worrying about the endpoint, it’s nothing more than a flickering display with a keyboard/mouse.

Let your kid use Limewire.  Let Uncle Bob surf pr0n.  Let wifey download spyware.  If my data and applications don’t live on the machine and all the clicks/mouseys are just screen updates, what do I care?

Yup, you can still use a screen scraper or a camera phone to use data inappropriately, but this is where balancing risk comes into play.  Let’s keep the discussion within the 80% of reasonable factored arguments.  We’ll never eliminate 100% and we don’t have to in order to be successful.

Sure, there are exceptions and corner cases where data *does* need to leave our embrace, but we can eliminate an entire class of problem if we take advantage of what we have today and stop this endpoint madness.

This goes for internal corporate users who are chained to their desks and not just mobile users.

What’s preventing you from doing this today?


Thinning the Herd & Chlorinating the Malware Gene Pool…

December 28th, 2007 3 comments

Alan Shimel pointed us to an interesting article written by Matt Hines in his post here regarding the "herd intelligence" approach toward security.  He followed it up here. 

All in all, I think both the original article that Andy Jaquith was quoted in as well as Alan’s interpretations shed an interesting light on a problem solving perspective.

I’ve got a couple of comments on Matt and Alan’s scribbles.

I like the notion of swarms/herds.  The picture to the right from Science News describes the
notion of "rapid response," wherein "mathematical modeling is
explaining how a school of fish can quickly change shape in reaction to
a predator."  If you’ve ever seen this in the wild or even in film,
it’s an incredible thing to see in action.

It should then come as no surprise that I think that trying to solve the "security problem" is more efficiently performed (assuming one preserves the current construct of detection and prevention mechanisms) by distributing both functions and coordinating activity as part of an intelligent "groupthink" even when executed locally.  This is exactly what I was getting at in my "useful predictions" post for 2008:

Grid and distributed utility computing models will start to creep into security
really interesting by-product of the "cloud compute" model is that as
data, storage, networking, processing, etc. get distributed, so shall
security.  In the grid model, one doesn’t care where the actions take
place so long as service levels are met and the experiential and
business requirements are delivered.  Security should be thought of in
exactly the same way. 

The notion that you can point to a
physical box and say it performs function ‘X’ is so last Tuesday.
Virtualization already tells us this.  So, imagine if your security
processing isn’t performed by a monolithic appliance but instead is
contributed to in a self-organizing fashion wherein the entire
ecosystem (network, hosts, platforms, etc.) all contribute in the
identification of threats and vulnerabilities as well as function to
contain, quarantine and remediate policy exceptions.

of sounds like that "self-defending network" schpiel, but not focused
on the network and with common telemetry and distributed processing of
the problem.
Check out Red Lambda’s cGrid technology for an interesting view of this model.

This basically means that we should distribute the sampling, detection and prevention functions across the entire networked ecosystem, not just to dedicated security appliances; each of the end nodes should communicate using a standard signaling and telemetry protocol so that common threat, vulnerability and effective disposition can be communicated up and downstream to one another and one or more management facilities.

This is what Andy was referring to when he said:

As part of the effort, security vendors may also need to begin sharing more of that information with their rivals to create a larger network effect for thwarting malware on a global basis, according to the expert.

may be hard to convince rival vendors to work together because of the
perception that it could lessen differentiation between their
respective products and services, but if the process clearly aids on
the process of quelling the rising tide of new malware strains, the
software makers may have little choice other than to partner, he said.

Secondly, Andy suggested that basically every end-node would effectively become its own honeypot:

turning every endpoint into a malware collector, the herd network
effectively turns into a giant honeypot that can see more than existing
monitoring networks," said Jaquith. "Scale enables the herd to counter
malware authors’ strategy of spraying huge volumes of unique malware
samples with, in essence, an Internet-sized sensor network."

I couldn’t agree more!  This is the sort of thing that I was getting at back in August when I was chatting with Lance Spitzner regarding using VM’s for honeypots on distributed end nodes:

I clarified that what I meant was actually integrating a
HoneyPot running in a VM on a production host as part of a standardized
deployment model for virtualized environments.  I suggested that this
would integrate into the data collection and analysis models the same
was as a "regular" physical HoneyPot machine, but could utilize some of
the capabilities built into the VMM/HV’s vSwitch to actually make the
virtualization of a single HoneyPot across an entire collection of VM’s
on a single physical host.

Thirdly, the notion of information sharing across customers has been implemented cross-sectionally in industry verticals with the advent of the ISAC’s such as the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center which seeks to inform and ultimately leverage distributed information gathering and sharing to protect it’s subscribing members.  Generally-available services like Symantec’s DeepSight have also tried to accomplish similar goals.

Unfortunately, these offerings generally lack the capacity to garner ubiquitous data gathering and real-time enforcement capabilities.

As Matt pointed out in his article, gaining actionable intelligence on the monstrous amount of telemetric data from participating end nodes means that there is a need to really prune for false positives.  This is the trade-off between simply collecting data and actually applying intelligence at the end-node and effecting disposition. 

This requires technology that we’re starting to see emerge with a small enough footprint when paired with the compute power we have in endpoints today. 

Finally, as the "network" (which means the infrastructure as well as the "extrastructure" delivered by services in the cloud) gains more intelligence and information-centric granularity, it will pick up some of the slack — at least from the perspective of sloughing off the low-hanging fruit by using similar concepts.

I am hopeful that as we gain more information-centric footholds, we shouldn’t actually be worried about responding to every threat but rather only those that might impact the most important assets we seek to protect. 

Ultimately the end-node is really irrelevant from a protection perspective as it should really be little more than a presentation facility; the information is what matters.  As we continue to make progress toward more resilient operating systems leveraging encryption and mutual authentication within communities of interest/trust, we’ll start to become more resilient and information assured.

The sharing of telemetry to allow these detective and preventative/protective capabilities to self-organize and perform intelligent offensive/evasive actions will evolve naturally as part of this process.



Understanding & Selecting a DLP Solution…Fantastic Advice But Wholesale Misery in 10,000 Words or More…

November 6th, 2007 9 comments

If you haven’t been following Rich Mogull’s amazing writeup on how to "Understand and Select a DLP Data Leakage Prevention Solution" you’re missing one of the best combinatorial market studies, product dissection and consumer advice available on the topic from The Man who covered the space at Gartner.

Here’s a link to the latest episode (part 7!) that you can use to work backwards from.

This is not a knock on the enormous amount of work Rich has done to educate us all, in fact it’s probably one of the reasons he chose to write this opus magnum; this stuff is complicated which explains why we’re still having trouble solving this problem… 

If it takes 7 large blog posts and over 10,000 words to enable someone
to make a reasonably educated decision on how to consider approaching the purchase of one of these solutions, there are two possible reasons for this:

  1. Rich is just a detail-oriented, anal-retentive ex-analyst who does a fantastic job of laying out everything you could ever want to know about this topic given his innate knowledge of the space, or
  2. It’s a pie that ain’t quite baked.

I think the answer is "C – All of the above," and t’s absolutely
no wonder why this market feature has a cast of vendors who are
shopping themselves to the highest bidder faster that you can say

Yesterday we saw the leader in this space (Vontu) finally submit to the giant Yellow Sausage Machine.

The sales cycle and adoption attach rate for this sort of product must
be excruciating if one must be subjected to the equivalent of the Old
Testament just to understand the definition and scope of the solution…as a consumer, I know I have a pain that needs amelioration in this category, but which one of these ointments is going to stop the itching?

I dig one of the first paragraphs in Part I which is probably the first clue we’re going to hit a slippery slope: 

The first problem in understanding DLP is figuring out what we’re
actually talking about. The following names are all being used to
describe the same market:

  • Data Loss Prevention/Protection
  • Data Leak Prevention/Protection
  • Information Loss Prevention/Protection
  • Information Leak Prevention/Protection
  • Extrusion Prevention
  • Content Monitoring and Filtering
  • Content Monitoring and Protection

And I’m sure I’m missing a few. DLP seems the most common term, and
while I consider its life limited, I’ll generally use it for these
posts for simplicity. You can read more about how I think of this progression of solutions here.

So you’ve got that goin’ for ya… 😉

In the overall evolution of the solution landscape, I think that this iteration of the DLP/ILP/EP/CMF/CMP (!) solution sets raise the visibility of the need to make decisions on content in context and focus on information centricity (data-centric "security" for the technologists) instead  of the continued deployment of packet-filtering 5-tuple network colanders and host-based agent bloatscapes being foisted upon us.

More on the topic of Information Centricity and its relevance to Information Survivability soon.  I spent a fair amount of time talking about this as a source of disruptive innovation/technology during my keynote at the Information Security Decisions conference yesterday.

Great conversations were had afterwards with some *way* smart people on the topic, and I’m really excited to share them once I can digest the data and write it down.


(Image Credit: Stephen Montgomery)

On-Demand SaaS Vendors Able to Secure Assets Better than Customers?

August 16th, 2007 4 comments

I’m a big advocate of software as a service (SaaS) — have been for years.  This evangelism started for me almost 5 years ago when I become a Qualys MSSP customer listening to Philippe Courtot espouse the benefits of SaaS for vulnerability management.  This was an opportunity to allow me to more efficiently, effectively and cheaply manage my VA problem.  They demonstrated how they were good custodians of the data (my data) that they housed and how I could expect they would protect it.

I did not, however, feel *more* secure because they housed my VA data.  I felt secure enough that how they housed it should not fall into the wrong hands.  It’s called an assessment of risk and exposure.  I performed it and was satisfied it matched my company’s appetite and business requirements.

Not one to appear unclear on where I stand, I maintain that the SaaS can bring utility, efficiency, cost effectiveness, enhanced capabilities and improved service levels to a corporation depending upon who, what, why, how, where and when the service is deployed.  Sometimes it can bring a higher level of security to an organization, but so can an armed squadron of pissed off armed Oompa Loompa’s — it’s all a matter of perspective.

I suggest that attempting to qualify the benefits of SaaS by generalizing in any sense is, well, generally a risky thing to do.  It often turns what could be a valid point of interest into a point of contention.

Such is the case with a story I read in a UK edition of IT Week by Phil Muncaster titled "On Demand Security Issues Raised."  In this story, the author describes the methods in which the security posture of SaaS vendors may be measured, comparing the value, capabilities and capacity of the various options and the venue for evaluating an SaaS MSSP:  hire an external contractor or rely on the MSSP to furnish you the results of an internally generated assessment.

I think this is actually a very useful and valid discussion to have — whom to trust and why?  In many cases, these vendors house sensitive and sometimes confidential data regarding an enterprise, so security is paramount.  One would suggest that anyone looking to engage an MSSP of any sort, especially one offering a critical SaaS, would perform due diligence in one form or another before signing on the dotted line.

That’s not really what I wanted to discuss, however.

What I *did* want to address was the comment in the article coming from Andy Kellett, an analyst for Burton, that read thusly:

"Security is probably less a problem than in the end-user organisations
because [on-demand app providers] are measured by the service they provide,"
Kellett argued.

I *think* I probably understand what he’s saying here…that security is "less of a problem" for an MSSP because the pressures of the implied penalties associated with violating an SLA are so much more motivating to get security "right" that they can do it far more effectively, efficiently and better than a customer.

This is a selling point, I suppose?  Do you, dear reader, agree?  Does the implication of outsourcing security actually mean that you "feel" or can prove that you’re more secure or better secured than you could do yourself by using a SaaS MSSP?

"I don’t agree the end-user organisation’s pen tester of choice
should be doing the testing. The service provider should do it and make that
information available."

Um, why?  I can understand not wanting hundreds of scans against my service in an unscheduled way, but what do you have to hide?  You want me to *trust* you that you’re more secure or holding up your end of the bargain?  Um, no thanks.  It’s clear that this person has never seen the results of an internally generated PenTest and how real threats can be rationalized away into nothingness…

Clarence So of
agreed, adding that most chief information officers today understand that
software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendors are able to secure data more effectively
than they can themselves.

Really!?  It’s not just that they gave into budget pressures, agreed to transfer the risk and reduce OpEx and CapEx?  Care to generalize more thoroughly, Clarence?  Can you reference proof points for me here?  My last company used, but as the person who inherited the relationship, I can tell you that I didn’t feel at all more "secure" because SF was hosting my data.  In fact, I felt more exposed.

"I’m sure training companies have their own motives for advocating the need
for in-house skills such as penetration testing," he argued. "But any
suggestions the SaaS model is less secure than client-server software are well
wide of the mark."

…and any suggestion that they are *more* secure is pure horsecock marketing at its finest.  Prove it.  And please don’t send me your SAS-70 report as your example of security fu.

So just to be clear, I believe in SaaS.  I encourage its use if it makes good business sense.  I don’t, however, agree that you will automagically be *more* secure.  You maybe just *as* secure, but it should be more cost-effective to deploy and manage.  There may very well be cases (I can even think of some) where one could be more or less secure, but I’m not into generalizations.

Whaddya think?


I see your “More on Data Centralization” & Raise You One “Need to Conduct Business…”

June 19th, 2007 1 comment

Bejtlich continues to make excellent points regarding his view on centralizing data within an enterprise.  He cites the increase in litigation regarding inadequate eDiscovery investment and the increasing pressures amassed from compliance.

All good points, but I’d like to bring the discussion back to the point I was trying to make initially and here’s the perfect perch from which to do it.  Richard wrote:

Christopher Christofer Hoff used the term "agile" several times in his good blog post. I think "agile" is going to be thrown out the window when corporate management is staring at $50,000 per day fines for not being able to produce relevant documents during ediscovery. When a company loses a multi-million dollar lawsuits because the judge issued an adverse inference jury instruction, I guarantee data will be centralized from then forward. "

…how about when a company loses the ability to efficiently and effectively conduct business because they spend so much money and time on "insurance policies" against which a balanced view of risk has not been applied?  Oh, wait.  That’s called "information security." 😉

Fear.  Uncertainty.  Doubt.  Compliance.  Ugh.  Rinse, later, repeat.

I’m not taking what you’re proposing lightly, Richard, but the notion of agility, time to market, cost transformation and enhancing customer experience are being tossed out with the bathwater here. 

Believe it or not, we have to actually have a sustainable business in order to "secure" it. 

It’s fine to be advocating Google Gears and all these other Web 2.0
applications and systems. There’s one force in the universe that can
slap all that down, and that’s corporate lawyers. If you disagree, whom
do you think has a greater influence on the CEO: the CTO or the
corporate lawyer? When the lawyer is backed by stories of lost cases,
fines, and maybe jail time, what hope does a CTO with plans for
"agility" have?

But going back to one of your own mantras, if you bake security into your processes and SDLC in the first place, then the CEO/CTO/CIO and legal counsel will already have assessed the position the company has and balance the risk scorecard to ensure that they have exercised the appropriate due care in the first place. 

The uncertainty and horrors associated with the threat of punitive legal impacts have, are, and will always be there…and they will continue to be exploited by those in the security industry to buy more stuff and justify a paycheck.

Given the business we’re in, it’s not a surprise that the perspective presented is very, very siloed and focused on the potential "security" outcomes of what happens if we don’t start centralizing data now; everything looks like a nail when you’re a hammer.

However, you still didn’t address the other two critical points I made previously:

  1. The underlying technology associated with decentralization of data and applications is at complete odds with the "curl up in a fetal position and wait for the sky to fall" approach
  2. The only reason we have security in the first place is to ensure survivability and availability of service — and make sure that we stay in business.  That isn’t really a technical issue at all, it’s a business one.  I find it interesting that you referenced this issue as the CTO’s problem and not the CIO.

As to your last point, I’m convinced that GE — with the resources, money and time it has to bear on a problem — can centralize its data and resources…they can probably get cold fusion out of a tuna fish can and a blow pop, but for the rest of us on planet Earth, we’re going to have to struggle along trying to cram all the ‘agility’ and enablement we’ve just spent the last 10 years giving to users back into the compliance bottle.


Security Application Instrumentation: Reinventing the Wheel?

June 19th, 2007 No comments

Two of my favorite bloggers engaged in a trackback love-fest lately on the topic of building security into applications; specifically, enabling applications as a service delivery function to be able to innately detect, respond to and report attacks.

Richard Bejtlich wrote a piece called Security Application Instrumentation and Gunnar Peterson chimed in with Building Coordinated Response In – Learning from the Anasazis.  As usual, these are two extremely well-written pieces and arrive at a well constructed conclusion that we need a standard methodology and protocol for this reporting.  I think that this exquisitely important point will be missed by most of the security industry — specifically vendors.

While security vendor’s hearts are in the right place (stop laughing,) the "security is the center of the universe" approach to telemetry and instrumentation will continue to fall on deaf ears because there are no widely-adopted standard ways of reporting across platforms, operating systems and applications that truly integrate into a balanced scorecard/dashboard that demonstrates security’s contribution to service availability across the enterprise.   I know what you’re thinking…"Oh God, he’s going to talk about metrics!  Ack!"  No.  That’s Andy’s job and he does it much better than I.

This mess is exactly why the SEIM market emerged to clean up the cesspool of log dumps that spew forth from devices that are, by all approximation, utterly unaware of the rest of ecosystem in which they participate.  Take all these crappy log dumps via Syslog and SNMP (which can still be proprietary,) normalize if possible, correlate "stuff" and communicate that something "bad" or "abnormal" has occurred.

How does that communicate what this really means to the business, its ability to function, deliver servce and ultimately the impact on risk posture?  It doesn’t because security reporting is the little kid wearing a dunce hat standing in the corner because it doesn’t play well with others.

Gunnar stated this well:

Coordinated detection and response is the logical conclusion to defense
in depth security architecture. I think the reason that we have
standards for authentication, authorization, and encryption is because
these are the things that people typically focus on at design time.
Monitoring and auditing are seen as runtime operational acitivities,
but if there were standards based ways to communicate security
information and events, then there would be an opportunity for the
tooling and processes to improve, which is ultimately what we need.

So, is the call for "security
application instrumentation"
doomed to fail because we in the security industry will try to reinvent the wheel with proprietary solutions and suggest
that the current toolsets and frameworks which are available as part of
a much larger enterprise management and reporting strategy not enough? 

Bejtlich remarked on the need for mechanisms that report application state must be built into the application and must report more than just performance:

Today we need to talk about applications defending themselves. When
they are under attack they need to tell us, and when they are abused,
subverted, or breached they would ideally also tell us

I would like to see the next innovation be security application instrumentation,
where you devise your application to report not only performance and
fault logging, but also security and compliance logging. Ideally the
application will be self-defending as well, perhaps offering less
vulnerability exposure as attacks increase (being aware of DoS
conditions of course).

I would agree, but I get the feeling that without integrating this telemetry and the output metrics and folding it into response systems whose primary role is to talk about delivery and service levels — of which "security" is a huge factor — the relevance of this data within the visible single pane of glass of enterprise management is lost.

So, rather than reinvent the wheel and incrementally "innovate," why don’t we take something like the Open Group’s Application Response Measurement (ARM) standard, make sure we subscribe to a telemetry/instrumentation format that speaks to the real issues and enable these systems to massage our output in terms of the language of business (risk?) and work to extend what is already a well-defined and accepted enterprise response management toolset to include security?

To wit:

The Application Response Measurement (ARM) standard describes a common
method for integrating enterprise applications as manageable entities.
The ARM standard allows users to extend their enterprise management
tools directly to applications creating a comprehensive end-to-end
management capability that includes measuring application availability,
application performance, application usage, and end-to-end transaction
response time.

Or how about something like EMC’s Smarts:

Maximize availability and performance of
mission-critical IT resources—and the business services they support.
EMC Smarts software provides powerful solutions for managing complex
infrastructures end-to-end, across technologies, and from the network
to the business level. With EMC Smarts innovative technology you can:

  • Model components and their relationships across networks, applications, and storage to understand effect on services.
  • Analyze data from multiple sources to pinpoint root cause problems—automatically, and in real time.
  • Automate discovery, modeling, analysis, workflow, and updates for dramatically lower cost of ownership.


…add security into these and you’ve got a winner.   

There are already industry standards (or at least huge market momentum)
around intelligent automated IT infrastructure, resource management and service level reporting.
We should get behind a standard that elevates the perspective of how security contributes to service delivery (and dare I say risk management) instead of trying to reinvent the wheel…unless you happen to like the Hamster Wheel of Pain…