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The Assessment Will Help Your Organization Tackle Any Security Obstacle

When faced with an obstacle, how do you take the first step? I have found it helps to follow the steps outlined in Lisa Avellan’s article “Five Simple Steps When You Don’t Know Where to Start”:

  1. Breathe and relax
  2. Prioritize
  3. Make the best decision
  4. Act immediately
  5. Evaluate

Today’s obstacles in business are typically around managing information security and the growing cyberthreats. As you are faced with security obstacles, these 5 steps can help:

  1. Breathe and relax—The scope and complexity of an assessment can seem stressful and overwhelming at first. Take a breath, relax and begin to tackle it step by step. You will find the actual process to be less agonizing then at first assumed.
  2. Prioritize—I recommend that you start by conducting an assessment. Assessing the risk and gaps in your information security structure will help you identify what type of information is stored, how it is transmitted and accessed, and determine what risk poses possible threats to the information. The risk assessment enables you to identify hazards and risk factors that could cause harm, analyze and evaluate these hazards, and determine the best course of action to mediate the harms and risk.
  3. Make the best decision for your organization—As I outline in my recent Journal article, every organization has different needs—some may need a complete overhaul, while others just need a tune-up. There are a number of different approaches to assessing the security needs of your organization. A risk assessment helps you to determine your security needs to mitigate risk. A gap analysis helps you to find the holes. A security audit is an extensive overview of an organization’s security systems and processes and helps you determine specific security needs.
  4. Act immediately—No need to panic! Since the assessment precedes your proactive security efforts, it is important that you first take inventory. An effective risk assessment is the foundation of an effective risk management program. Regular assessments are important to the success of any business and form the foundation of an effective IT risk management program. If you are looking to improve your security posture and boost your compliance, risk assessments and gap assessments are the key to continuous improvement and well-informed leadership decisions.
  5. Evaluate—Think of an assessment as a way to evaluate where you are. For example, a risk assessment is about gathering data, determining threats, analyzing risk factors and prioritizing to determine mitigation.

When it comes to managing information security, I would add a sixth step to Avellan’s list:  breathe and repeat. Repeated assessments and tests allow for continuous, targeted improvements that allow for optimal risk mitigation over the long term.

Read Tyler Hardison’s recent Journal article:
Building a Strong Security Posture Begins With Assessment,” ISACA Journal, volume 3, 2018.

Formalizing the Cybersecurity Role in MDM

While some cybersecurity teams may be anxious to get involved with master data management (MDM), there are prerequisites that we strongly recommend be in place prior to starting down the implementation path. Having a well-defined software development life cycle (SDLC) in place is important. Even more important is that adherence to the SDLC be institutionalized. Tied into this is the architecture review board, which should be reviewing all significant changes or new implementations of data, systems, technology, etc. These 2 processes should be addressed in the information security policy and, where applicable, the data governance policy.

With these building blocks in place, the following steps will get you started mapping a data protection plan that can be outlined in a governance standard document and referenced in your company’s information security policy and data governance policy:

  • Step 1—Identify and document data owners for governance decisions. Ask the business to identify who can make decisions regarding data retention, data destruction, data classification, disaster recovery and business continuity planning.
  • Step 2—Validate with the IT team their responsibilities for providing the hardware, operating systems, software patching, maintenance and systems support. Follow this by asking what disaster recovery plans are in place. If there is a discrepancy between disaster recovery needs and documented disaster recovery plans, bring the business and IT teams together to resolve and record the details. The same goes for any associated business continuity plans.
  • Step 3—Develop a detailed document regarding the standards and procedures for access control, logging and monitoring, privileged access management, and compliance guidelines for backup data retention and any other relevant processes. It is an imperative that the cybersecurity team holds a seat on the architecture review board to ensure the identification of sensitive or protected data and to recommend the appropriate protection level.
  • Step 4—With the appropriate cybersecurity training, authorize the MDM staff to act as cybersecurity deputies owning the guardianship of data sources, data access and data egress. The MDM team also needs to maintain the data map that documents MDM data storage and flows.
  • Step 5—Institute quarterly meetings between the cybersecurity team and the MDM team to review the configurations of all related data tools ensuring access is appropriately assigned.
  • Step 6—Of great importance, user access reviews should be instituted for all data flows. This is typically done by performing quarterly access reviews for the applications that interact with MDM. We suggest assigning this task to each application team. Then turn it over to internal audit team for their review.
  • Step 7—In organizations where data loss prevention (DLP) software can be funded, we recommend its implementation because it adds real-time, preventative control for keeping data secure.

In the process of implementing the previous list, the cybersecurity team should perform the governance role of defining the levels of security for each data type based on its classification (e.g., public, confidential and restricted).

Ensure that your classification names align with your company’s documented management terms and that they are congruent with the corporate document management definitions.

It is important to outline which data require encryption during transmission, what data require encryption at rest and what data requirements apply if the data are transmitted to a 3rd party. Within this guidance, cybersecurity also sets the standards for compliance, which should include considerations for Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, General Data Protection Regulation, personally identifiable information, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, etc.

Read Sonja Hammond and Chip Jarnagin’s recent Journal article:
Cybersecurity vs. Master Data Management,” ISACA Journal, volume 3, 2018.

Understanding the Threat Landscape

Privacy and security are issues society struggles with on a daily basis, both in our private lives and in our work. We all strive to be happy, and safety is an important but an uncertain factor in our lives. When I was younger, I worked in prison, where I felt safer than I do these days on the Internet. In prison, there was insight into the threat landscape and the measures you had to take when threats occur. It was clear and visible. You simply had to press a red button and a guard or fence was there to protect you. The Internet, on the other hand, is complex, invisible and difficult to handle. There is a sense of urgency to have information security in place, but often one has no idea how to do this.

It is no longer a question if, but when, an organization will fall victim to a cyberattack. It is against this background of increased opportunity for information security breaches and heightened awareness of the repercussions of such breaches that organizations are seeking to protect their information and minimize the risk of possible damage resulting from a breach.

We observe an increase in awareness that adequate business information security (BIS) is needed, but with the increasing complexity of information security, it is important to ask ourselves how we can apply BIS effectively. The aim of our Journal article is to establish a core set of critical success factors (CSFs) that organizations can take into account when establishing a security strategy or implementing an information security program. We certainly tried to provide fresh and new insights in the CSFs needed to implement an effective business information security strategy. One of these CSFs is to “never waste a good security incident” and use it to accelerate.

Read Yuri Bobbert and Talitha Papelard-Agteres’ recent Journal article:
Never Waste a Good Information Security Incident: An Explorative Study into Critical Success Factors for the Improvement of Business Information Security,” ISACA Journal, volume 3, 2018.

Establishing a Triumvirate—Understanding the Interests for Enhancing Collaboration Between the CISO, the CIO and the CRO

Ofir EitanIn one of my recently published ISACA Journal articles, “Clash of the Titans: How to Win the ‘Battle’ Between Information Security and IT Without Losing Anyone,” I pointed out some of the challenges the chief information security officer (CISO) faces when it comes to prioritizing information security interests over IT interests. Although my insights refer mainly to finding common ground with the IT and infrastructure departments, at times the CISO needs to find other resources and common interests with other units to either “finance” the CISO’s solutions or implement the CISO’s policies.

One of the CISO’s natural partners is the chief risk officer (CRO), and this partnership should be nurtured and adopted by all information security members as well. Given that the CRO is accountable for enabling effective governance of significant risk while balancing risk and reward, cyberthreats and information risk should be a top priority. These threats can potentially impose not only technological risk but can also easily lead to regulatory, reputational, competitive risk and more. This formulates an intrinsic collaboration between the risk management (RM) function and the information security function within the organization.

That said, this collaboration between information security and RM must take place naturally and not only when there is a business deadlock or a disagreement between IS and IT. Nevertheless, I argue that the mutual interests also apply to the CIO and the IT division as well. In my opinion, this “triumvirate dynamic” is a win-win-win situation for all parties—information security, IT and RM—as Illustrated and explained in the following model:

  • CISO and CRO
    • The CISO needs the CRO to support governing information security interests.
    • The CRO needs the CISO to operationally identify and mitigate cyberthreats and risk.
  • CISO and CIO
    • The CISO needs the CIO’s IT services and resources to comply with policies.
    • The CIO’s interest is to deliver accountabilities from the CIO’s human resources to be taken under the CISO’s responsibility.
  • CRO and CIO
    • It is in the CRO’s interest that each division will comply with relevant regulations.
    • The CIO seeks the CRO’s understanding regarding resources constraints to prioritize projects and operations.

Figure 1:  The Triumvirate Dynamic

Read Ofir Eitan’s recent Journal article:
Clash of the Titans: How to Win the ‘Battle’ Between Information Security and IT Without Losing Anyone,” ISACA Journal, volume 3, 2018.

Leveraging SOC Use Cases

The majority of modern organizations have embarked on the path security operations centers (SOCs) are building. Today, the SOC is not a modern trend; it is a forced restructuring and reorganizing of existing information security or cybersecurity departments. An SOC is a set of staff, processes, technologies and facilities that are primarily focused on identification (detection) and response to cybersecurity incidents, which arise as a result of cybersecurity threat realizations.

From the management point of view, a use case within SOCs is a mechanism for consistent selection and implementation of cybersecurity incident detection scenario rules, tools and response tasks. From the practical (technical) point of view, a use case is a specific condition or event (usually related to a specific threat) to be detected or reported by the security tool.

The main component of use cases is a cybersecurity incident detection scenario rule (i.e., a correlation rule), which includes:

  • Syntax of the rule within a specific security information and event management (SIEM) system
  • Event source (any software or firmware [tools] that have logging capability and the ability to provide access to log data)
  • Event category or accurate recorded event (log data)

However, there is a bad news:  There is no full event category catalog. Therefore, it is necessary to prepare a separate event category or accurate recorded event (log data) list (catalog) for every event source. This is a great challenge within a large IT infrastructure because, on the one hand, this catalog must be focused on cybersecurity (but it is clear only for cybersecurity staff) and, on the other hand, the catalog must be focused on specific event sources (but it is clear only for IT staff)!

Experience has shown that without an event category catalog, it is very difficult and sometimes impossible to carry out the design of a use case and, consequently, next steps within SOCs.

My recent ISACA Journal article addresses an existing challenge and provides a suggested catalog for popular event source types (e.g., operating system, database management system, web server, mail server, application software, router, firewall, antivirus tool).

Read Aleksandr Kuznetcov’s recent Journal article:
Event Category Catalog for SOC Use Cases,” ISACA Journal, volume 3, 2018.

Working With Access Certification Data

I want to take this opportunity to dive a little more into the metrics that come out of an access certification program. One of the greatest joys in life is when you have enough data that you can identify patterns and trends in your certification program to monitor the health of your access controls. I can certainly identify plenty of research and articles on the textbook way to manage privileged access or to set up access control and role-based security. However, I have found very little research or guidance to indicate what “good” results are for an access certification.

This is one opportunity where you can use a data-driven approach in determining the health of your controls. Many organizations will see a slew of changes from their access certifications, despite front-end controls to add and remove access that are perceived as effective. Of course, in some situations this could be by design. Maybe the changes found are low risk, such as view-only access to data that are not confidential. However, a larger number of changes (more than 5%) usually indicates opportunities for improvement.

To generate more conversation around what good access certification metrics look like, I am inviting others to share their experiences and access certification metrics, and whether they feel the metrics indicate a positive or negative trend for their access controls. During your last certification event, what percentage of entitlements were removed? How would you characterize your front-end provisioning and deprovisioning/termination controls? Does the percentage of entitlements removed match up to the strength of the front-end controls? If you have strong controls, the entitlements removed should be low. If you have weak controls, the number of entitlements removed should be larger.

Do you have strong controls and the results of access certifications are bearing that out? Then consider doing certifications on a less frequent basis. Your users will appreciate it!

Read Vincent J. Schira’s recent Journal article:
Rethinking User Access Certifications,” ISACA Journal, volume 2, 2018.

How to Prioritize Security Controls Implementation

When developing an information security architecture framework in a new organization, there are a few steps that normally have to be taken to identify the business requirements, the right framework and the controls needed to mitigate/minimize business risk. In my Journal article, I explained the process of how this works.

Once the controls are identified, it is time to create projects and implement them. This might not be a big issue when dealing with a mature company that already has many of controls in place and only needs a few additions. However; this could be challenging when the number of projects and controls increase. The question is how to prioritize these projects and controls and implement the most important ones first.

To prioritize these tasks, we use a risk-based approach utilizes the enterprise risk register. When developing security architecture controls, they must have a one-to-one relation with business risk, otherwise the controls are irrelevant to the business. Using the same approach, we can identify the impact on the business if one particular control is not in place and prioritize the controls based on their business impact.

As an example, assume we have the following controls identified as needing to be implemented:

  1. Web application vulnerability management
  2. Endpoint malware protection

Assuming business-critical data are hosted on the database and accessible by the web application serving customers, the relevant risk for the first one could be “data loss” and for the second one “IT operation failure.” We can add likelihood of occurrence to this as well and calculate the overall risk.

Figure 1 shows the risk calculation for this scenario and, as you can see, web application vulnerability management takes priority based on the overall risk ranking. (Is this a surprise?)

Figure 1—Risk Calculation for Controls

Identified Control

Relevant Business Risk

Relevant Information Security Risk

Business Risk Score/Impact (1-5)

Information Security Risk Score/Likelihood (1-5)

Overall Risk Score

Web application vulnerability management

Data loss

Critical data loss




Endpoint malware protection

IT operation failure

Malware-infected clients




In summary, the previously described process would help prioritize security architecture controls. Note that when dealing with operational risk, the process might be a bit more complicated, and a risk management framework should be followed.

Read Rassoul Ghaznavi-Zadeh’s recent Journal article:
Information Security Architecture: Gap Assessment and Prioritization,” ISACA Journal, volume 2, 2018.

First Steps for Automating Your IOC Provision Sources

Ofir Eitan, CISM, and Aviv SrourThe first step is always the hardest. If your organization lacks adequate cybersecurity intelligence processes and you are looking for a quick win solution, we are here to assist. We have compiled a complementary list of cyberthreat intelligence sources that yield positive results from some of the most notable cybersecurity companies available on the Internet.

The first step is to automate the data mining processes from these websites. Therefore, we highly recommended organizations invest in programming a crawling process using Python or, if available, set up a communication line between your database and the source by using an application programming interface (API). Furthermore, we advise you to contact your required sources, whether that be a security company or indicators of compromise (IOC) provider, for additional information regarding their services and the best methods to consume them.

If you wish to take it to the next level, you can always set up an automated management platform by downloading software or subscribing to a service. To this end, we recommend downloading the open-source GitHub platform MISP, which can help manage your IOC aggregation process. If there any operational constrains such as a short in IT maintenance resources or legal dictations, you should consider acquiring an IOC management platform or purchasing a full-service package from a cyberintelligence provider. Figure 1 contains some cyberintelligence sources and has links to help you learn more about them.

Figure 1:  Cyberintelligence Sources


Relevant Link



RSA labs




Check Point


Crowd Strike




Microsoft Secure




Trend Micro


Team Cymru




Seculert Blog








Carbon Black




The names of the companies presented in this article are solely the suggestions of the authors and are not backed by any financial, material or other motive. It should be emphasized that any recommendation regarding the cyberintelligence services mentioned in this publication does not replace an orderly procurement process.

Read Ofir Eitan’s recent Journal article:
The Missing Link in Assessing Cyberrisk Factors Through Supply Chains,” ISACA Journal, volume 2, 2018.

Cryptographically Protecting Databases Against Data Breaches

Information security professionals should start considering cryptographic approaches to protect enterprise data and mitigate database breaches. System security in layers provides an approach for many organizations today. However, these approaches depend on human factors. Cryptographic measures ensure that databases are protected even if a database is stolen or there is an insider attack.

Professionals need to start today by evaluating and building cryptographically secure databases. By starting now, professionals will be able to accurately assess the impact, development requirement, operational support and costs. Then, an accurate model can be shared with management to deploy into the enterprise environment.

At first glance, it seems paradoxical to encrypt data yet perform queries. How will an analyzer read or compute the data when the data are encrypted? Fortunately, advances have been made in cryptography research that enable analysis and computation on encrypted data. One approach is to encrypt the data and then compute over the encrypted data. Thus, only the resulting output is revealed rather than requiring the database to be stored in plaintext. Another approach is to have onion layering, whereby unmodified Structured Query Language (SQL) queries are executed over the encrypted data. However, the data have particular encryption to enable range queries, sorting and filtering.

A more recent approach is to enable learning over privatized data. No encryption needs to be performed, nor is there any key management required. Privatized data are stored in such a way that in the event of a breach, there is no personally identifiable information that is leaked.

Given the multitude of recent advances in cryptography and privacy techniques, there is little reason that data should be stored in plaintext. Security professionals must protect databases from external and internal threats. There is a small performance penalty that must be paid to achieve this notion of stronger security. Encryption or privatization must be performed up front. Subsequent processing and analysis will be over the encrypted or privatized data. However, the net benefit is a significant improvement in security defenses and no more plaintext databases.

Read Josh Joy’s recent Journal article:
Toward Encrypted and Private Databases,” ISACA Journal, volume 1, 2018.

Developing a DLP Program

Larry G. WlosinskiWe live in an age where a tremendous amount of information is shared freely on the Internet, and, in many cases, with little regard for the consequences. In some cases, we do not even recognize sensitive or confidential information, which can come in many forms and exists in every organization. The loss or exposure of this data can affect people, their families, their well being (e.g., healthcare), the organization and, in some instances, the country.

It is because of these concerns that I wrote my recent Journal article. The article begins with an identification of the types of data that need protection and where they are located. From there, it goes on to provide examples of threats, the associated risk factors and the causes of data loss. These areas are presented as an awareness and training outline for all organizations to improve their in-house rules of behavior, security and privacy training programs, and internal data protective procedures.

My article also contains information obtained from reviewing and analyzing data loss protection (DLP) software products. I reviewed many web-promoted DLP products, evaluations and comparative articles, and organized my findings by area of concern:  data at rest, in transit and in motion. My analysis revealed that there are a variety of perspectives on DLP, with little product overlap. By bringing the various features, capabilities and proposed solution together, I hope that  vendors can improve their products, and the organization that acquire their products better evaluate what is presented and choose the best solution to secure their data.

From there, I turned my thoughts to how organizations may have defined and implemented a DLP program. The section in my article on best practices for DLP planning and preparation goes into some detail on how to implement a program. The article contains lists of best practices to address concerns in the areas of staff/people, management, deployment, protective controls and product selection. I even included some bad practices that should be avoided.

My research also led me to think about where the DLP technology is going. Consequently, I summarized my findings as they relate to technology and the DLP industry, which encompasses the supporting professionals and services. From this section, you can gain some insight into the future, which can help improve your organization’s plans and overall strategy.

I encourage anyone and everyone involved in DLP to read this article and use it as a starting point to develop, and/or to improve your DLP program. We are all at risk if we do not try our best to protect data, our privacy and threats to the organization.

I invite you to share your thoughts on this subject via the comment section on this blog.

Read Larry G. Wlosinski’s recent Journal article:
Data Loss Prevention (DLP): Next Steps,” ISACA Journal, volume 2, 2018.

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