In the last post, I looked at some of the less apparent activities upon becoming a new CISO, namely:
- Stop thinking that infosec is your business.
- Stop making technology purchases.
- Ask your vendors to explain what you have in your services inventory.
In this post, we will take this a step further and closer to actual business as usual and maintaining your security team as a functional part of the organisation.
Don’t say “NO!” to everything.
This is an obvious thing to do, but it is much harder to do in practice. The reality is that this requires a complete change in mindset from the traditional view of the everyday CISO. As a species, the CISO is a defensive creature who is often required to back up every decision and be the scapegoat of every mistake (see One CISO, Three Envelopes https://thomlangford.com/2014/12/01/three-envelopes-one-ciso/) and generally rubber-stamp choices that are out of their bailiwick and control.
The mindset shift requires a leap of faith wholly because of this perceived threat of blame and accountability when, in fact, it does just the reverse.
It starts naturally enough with the language that is used by the CISO and the team, for instance, changing the Change Approval meeting to the Risk Review meeting and not communicating a yes/no or go/no-go response to changes but rather a level of risk associated with the request and alternative approaches as appropriate. There is a need to communicate this shift in the culture, of course, but people will see that they are accountable for decisions that affect the business, not the security team. Shifting the mindset away from being a gatekeeper to a security team that provides sensible and straightforward advice based upon clearly understood risk criteria is a fundamental step towards avoiding being known as the Business Prevention Unit. Politely correct other’s language when they mention an action that requires sign-off or approval from “Security” and help them understand their role in the business decision.
This approach does not require a snap of the fingers for 50% of the problems to go away. Still, carefully planning and educating your stakeholders alters the impact you can have on the business dramatically for the better. It also allows you to more easily draw a line between the activities of the security team and the company’s performance, all for the price of merely no longer saying “no”.
Stop Testing Your Perimeter
What? Are you serious?!
As you enter a new environment, you will be taking many critical pieces of information on trust and from people with vested interests in their careers, livelihoods and reputations. Your arrival upsets the status quo and has the potential to disrupt the equilibrium; all reasons to not always be forthcoming with every piece of information you request. It isn’t about people being dishonest or deliberately misleading you, but merely being complex, multi-faceted human beings with multiple drivers and influences.
Your perimeter is one of the fundamental pieces of your information security puzzle. Despite cries of “the perimeter is dead”, it remains a prominent place for attacks to happen and where you should feel fully confident that you know every node in that environment to the best of your ability.
Whatever your testing cycle is, suspend it for some time and conduct as complete an investigation as possible into precisely what your perimeter comprises. It can be done automatically with discovery tools, manually through interviews with those responsible, visually in data centres (where you have old school “tin” still being used, and any combination of the above. You will likely find devices that you, and probably existing team members, weren’t aware of, especially with the proliferation of the Internet of Things devices being used throughout the enterprise now. Did facilities install a new access control system or room booking system? Did they consult IT, or more to the point, you?
It sounds like the stuff of legend or the script to the Ocean’s 11 movies, but do you remember when a Las Vegas casino was broken into… through their fish tank? Knowing what devices are where on your network and perimeter is vital and must be considered table stakes in any decent security programme. An alternative is simply a form of security theatre that gives the impression of security and does nothing but create a false sense of security. A cycle of no testing is worth discovering what you don’t know because you can do something about it.
Building your plan
Now you have a grip on your environment in a relatively straightforward, simple, effective and quick way. Through this process, you will ascertain your stakeholders, advocates and even a few potential adversaries. Then, armed with this information, you can provide an accurate picture of the business to the business in a way that makes sense and displays a grasp of the fundamentals.
Building your plan will always start with your initial assessment and what needs to be done to become operational or steady-state. The trick, however, is to ensure that this baseline achievement is perceived as the end state of security but rather merely the first stepping stone to ever more impressive services, capabilities and ultimately, profit and growth for the company.
The plan itself, however? That is yours and yours alone. Although other posts in this Blog will help as you plot your course into the future, nothing will replace your understanding of the local culture, organisation and, ultimately, what you need to achieve to meet the expectations of the business leadership. Know what the rules of your organisation are, when to adhere to them, when to bend them, and most importantly, when to break them (but only when experience tells you it is the right thing to do):
“The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.”Oliver Wendell Holmes
Be the Old Man, be the CISO.
Links to other interesting stuff on the web (affiliate links)
5 Ways Penetration Testing Reduces Overall Security Costs
Avoiding Security Theater: When is a “Critical” Really a Critical?