[BreachExchange] 5 Common Pitfalls in IT Security & How to Overcome Them

Audrey McNeil audrey at riskbasedsecurity.com
Thu May 10 19:05:06 EDT 2018


Whenever there’s a data breach, it’s easy to get caught up in the root
cause analysis – a misconfigured device, an unpatched application, an
employee falling for a phishing attack, you name it. But really, the root
causes of most breaches are not these moment-in-time errors. Instead, they
are almost always shortsighted decisions made well before the breach ever

By making better decisions relating to security funding and operations,
enterprises can dramatically reduce the likelihood of a breach months or
even years down the road. Here’s my list of the “big five” most common
pitfalls that cause enterprises to increase the risk of a breach:

Pitfall 1: Failing to budget for professional services along with product
renewal costs

Most of us who wish to stay healthy understand the value of visiting the
doctor at regular intervals for checkups. If we were all experts on
physical fitness and diet, we wouldn’t need doctors. Unfortunately, many
enterprises do not adapt this recipe for personal health to their security
environments. This manifests itself in their budgets – they budget for
product/maintenance renewals, but not for professional services to
determine if their products are performing the way they should.

This “set it and forget it” mentality has led to an epidemic of
sub-optimally configured and deployed security tools that create yawning
gaps in defenses. This is why so many enterprises today find themselves
with massively complex, disparate and expensive-to-manage security
infrastructures that, when all is said and done, are largely ineffective
against modern adversaries.

One other thing to consider: Many organizations assume that security
original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are the best resource for deploying
and optimizing their security environments. The reality is, OEMs are
manufacturers, not security services integrators (SSIs), and their
expertise is often limited to their own technology suite. To truly
understand one’s infrastructure, it’s critical to have assessments
conducted by technology-neutral professional services organizations that
can provide strategic guidance on infrastructure rationalization and

Pitfall 2: Trying to do it all yourself

Many organizations take a “do it yourself” (DIY) approach to security
technology implementation. Security skillsets are more readily available
today on the employee market than ever before, and it is easy to fall into
the trap of trying to save money by using internal staff to deploy new
technologies. Not surprisingly, this can lead to problems ranging from
configuration issues, to suboptimal use of product features. In fact, DIY
deployments are one of the most common sources of vulnerability causing
data breaches. One of our OEM partners recently shared a statistic with me
that they derived from in-house data – 95 percent of clients that had a
breach were “do it yourselfers.”

While it’s understandable that many IT and security personnel want to take
on product deployment in-house – largely due to budget constraints – it
often results in one of two undesirable scenarios:

- Because the person responsible for implementation is not an expert on the
product or service, the technology is incorrectly configured.
- The department in charge is so resource-constrained that they rush to
deploy the product or service without understanding its capabilities and
enabling its advanced features. Replacing a simple port-based firewall with
a next-generation firewall and migrating legacy rule sets simply ensures
the same problems as before – with more expense.

The first problem opens organizations up to security and compliance risks,
while the latter prevents them from optimizing their technology investments.

Pitfall 3: Over-engineering, because you can

When you buy a new car, it’s all-too-easy to get caught up in fancy bells
and whistles, rather than focusing on what really matters – like driver
position and the comfort of using gas and brake pedals. Similarly, IT and
security teams have a tendency to over-configure new technology with
endless custom rules designed to send alerts on every possible scenario –
largely because they think this strategy will help them justify their
investment to c-suite and board members.

However, configuring too many rules can prevent the security operations
team from seeing the forest through the trees. Rather than alerting you to
real anomalous events, suspicious activity and potential threats, it can
bombard you with an oppressive number of security alerts that turn out to
be redundant or false-positives. Devoting so much time to benign alerts
causes organizations to waste enormous resources and severely compromises
security effectiveness.

Pitfall 4: Failing to understand your entire technology environment

Most security organizations don’t have a complete understanding of the
products and services in their IT environments. Rogue IT business units pop
up everywhere, introducing complexity and risk for security operations
teams. This is dangerous, because you can’t protect systems, services and
other assets if you don’t even know you have them. On top of this, many
security organizations don’t fully understand how the technologies in their
security environments can potentially integrate together to make life
easier on their security operations teams. Once the inventory is done, then
security teams can capitalize on the plethora of orchestration and
automation options on the market to make them more efficient. Additionally,
there is a burgeoning shelfware problem in security, where organizations
purchase the latest “checklist” of security tools but then never get around
to deploying them.

It is critical for security organizations to take a step back and
understand their complete inventory of security tools and services, as well
as the IT assets they are supposed to protect. If nothing else, get help
discovering and learning what is in the environment before adding more
complexity.  Once this is done, it becomes possible to rationalize the
security infrastructure into a more manageable and cohesive framework that
maps to the organization’s IT infrastructure and business objectives.

Pitfall 5: Failing to understand your company culture and lack of ability
to move quickly

Many security practitioners view their jobs in a vacuum, and fail to
realize that their company is unable to move as quickly as they would like.
Security projects often affect business users, requiring them to dedicate
time in requirements gathering or to test applications following a cutover.
Fairly frequently, we see clients building project timelines for security
projects that are simply unreasonable given the size and complexity of the

When planning out any security project, it is vital to understand the
capabilities of the internal staff to get high-quality work done in a
sensible time frame. It does no good to assign overly demanding timelines
to overworked or under-skilled staff, because they will make mistakes and,
ultimately, miss their deadlines (and miss them badly). It is far better to
assign achievable timelines that account for individual workloads and skill
sets – this will result in fewer errors and delays.

Overcoming the “Big Five”

Companies impacted by any one of these “big five” pitfalls face increased
security and compliance risks. They also likely aren’t getting the full
value out of their technology investments, which can be a major problem
when it is time to explain to C-Suite and Board executives how budget
dollars are translating into improved security posture.

When it comes to avoiding these potential pitfalls, awareness is half the
battle. The other half is translating this knowledge into sound
decision-making on security investments, operations and strategies. Only
then can companies reduce the risk of data breaches, compliance failures
and wasted resources. As the saying goes: “The first step to recovery is
admitting you have a problem.” Get professional help. Security systems
integrators have the advantage of seeing many clients make the same
mistakes, and getting their help will increase the likelihood that
companies will achieve enterprise security that is radically stronger,
simpler, less costly and more accountable.
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