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Five Truths of Information Security

An effective security approach must balance required business operations and system availability

Information security professionals often find themselves filling a critical but unique role within an organization. An effective security approach must balance required business operations and system availability while still ensuring the confidentiality and integrity of these same systems. Systems that are absolutely secure are not usable. Likewise, systems that are completely usable are absolutely not secure.

When managing information security of any environment, bear in mind these five truths:

1. Incidents will happen

An incident response plan should not be a matter of “if”, but instead a matter of “when”. As defenders, we are tasked with managing and protecting every vulnerable service and system, which is a gargantuan task compared to the attacker, who must only successfully exploit one single vulnerability. The discipline of risk management would not exist if it were possible to eliminate all risk – some level of risk must be considered acceptable. A well-defined incident response plan can triage a compromised system in minutes. It will take much longer than that to develop a plan in the face of an incident, with significantly more damage occurring during the response process.

2. Systems will be compromised

As important as it is to be proactive, information security is by nature reactionary. Attackers will seek to locate and exploit weaknesses in your systems. Operating system patches exist for a reason. Privilege escalation attacks can bypass user permission levels. Virus writers design malware to evade detection, and constantly update their code before signatures can catch up.

3. Applications need to both work and be secure

Unless you work for a company like Hurricane Labs, information security is not the reason your business exists. As such, the organization will often be much more interested in furthering their business interests than funding the information security department. Architectural firms will hire architects, design firms will seek out designers. It is much easier for businesses to justify the cost of talent and assets that are aligned with their business goals than something more nebulous like the security of intangible assets.

Information Security is a series of trade-offs. We often cringe at hearing the term “legacy application” – we all have run into them, and we have all heard or seen firsthand the challenges of securing an application that was built in an era when security was much less of a concern. While the most security-conscious decision for securing such an application might involve an upgrade or total code rewrite, this is rarely practical. It will be up to you to manage the business operations while doing your best to keep these types of systems secure.

4. People will break things

Plan for what you consider least likely to happen. The builders of the Titanic claimed the ship to be unsinkable, and we all know how well that worked out. When faced with restrictions never underestimate the creativity and determination of your users. This is especially a prevalent issue in today’s environment, where cloud based and mobile data access is all the rage.

And you cannot simply paint a target on the average user, either. All too often, even those of us who should know better can take shortcuts or neglect to follow security best practices. Changes, upgrades, improvements, and redesigns can become necessary, and it is impossible to plan for every possible situation that may occur (even though you should try). Learn the technologies, ask questions, strive to improve, and think on your feet. Which brings me to my next point…

5. You will need to be an expert on something you’ve never seen before

Sometimes, you just need to know how to fly a helicopter

Although networking equipment and software is not always as awesome (or capable of flying), we often find ourselves in the same situation as Trinity in the video clip – we must work around something with which we are unfamiliar. Don’t let differences in command syntax or installation procedures fool you – the underlying technologies are frequently the same. Leverage what you know, use the resources you have available (Google is great for this), and find a way to be a hero.

The post Five Truths of Information Security appeared first on Hurricane Labs.

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Christina O’Neill has been working in the information security field for 3 years. She is a board member for the Northern Ohio InfraGard Members Alliance and a committee member for the Information Security Summit, a conference held once a year for information security and physical security professionals.

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