[BreachExchange] Navigating the Five Frequent Hazards of IT Security

Audrey McNeil audrey at riskbasedsecurity.com
Tue May 15 21:50:26 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. 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. There are the top 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. 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 wide gaps
in a business’ 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 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” 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 sub-optimal 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:

1. Because the person responsible for implementation is not an expert on
the product or service, the technology is incorrectly configured.
2. 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

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 acceleration 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 for 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

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 myriad 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 “check list” 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 testing 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 business.

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 aren’t likely to get 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 the budget
is 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 realizing 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 drastically stronger, simpler, less costly and more
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