Why your information security stinks & what to do

Confusing signals and finger pointing within the tech ranks makes the right response hard to figure out

Amit Yoran was the Department of Homeland Security's first director of the National Cyber Security Division of the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection office. But by September 2004 he was frustrated by what he saw as a lack of concern and commitment to Internet security. So he quit his post.

More than five years later, his frustration goes well beyond government. Everywhere he looks -- the vendor community, the typical IT security shop, the boardrooms of private enterprise -- he sees that same cluelessness. At next week's SOURCE Boston conference, he'll outline the problems in a talk with a blunt title: "Security Sucks."

Listen to SOURCE Executive Director Stacy Thayer's conference primer

In an interview with CSO Thursday, Yoran described it like a cancer that has metastasized throughout infosec's body.

"It's bad all around" said Yoran, now CEO of NetWitness. "The technology is inadequate. Decisions are not supported by metrics or realities of the particular enterprise environment. People are unable to grasp modern threats."

He said the recent attack against Google is a textbook example of sophisticated malware has become. Slight modifications of that exploit will continue to work even in well-monitored environments, he said. But what's more telling is how the community responded.

"A lot of attention was put on China, but there's a real blurring of our understanding of what's coming from nation states and non-nation-state actors," he said. "More recently, there's been a closer coupling between organized crime and state actors where intelligence services want to procure information collected by criminal gangs."

Meanwhile, he said, the complexity of individual IT environments is such that no one can handle the security of their apps, the behavior of their users or where in the network their data is sitting or traveling.

The malware used in these attacks get better every day at bypassing firewalls and signature-based antivirus. IDS technology can't keep up. The amount of malware and exploits are almost limitless. And, he said, the vendors don't have much more of a clue on how to deal with it than anyone else. The vendor community thrives on FUD -- Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt -- to sell products that don't offer the protection required for a large infrastructure. There's also a high-visibility conflict within the security industry where one vendor's analysis conflicts with that of another. "Confusing signals and finger pointing within the tech ranks makes the right response hard to figure out," he said.

Specifically, his SOURCE talk will delve into the following:

  • 1. Why security sucks: the compliance and platform-related death spiral of current security programs.
  • 2. The importance of Operation Aurora and the Google China hack to advanced threat awareness at the C Level
  • 3. Moving away from compliance-driven security programs.
  • 4. How to ensure that one's CEO gets information security news from the security organization rather than the FBI or NSA regarding sophisticated attacks and compromises within their organization.
  • 5. The minimum components of a sophisticated operational defensive security program in 2010.
  • 6. How to make security suck a whole lot less and make your security team more successful.

As for other things the community can be doing to smarten up, Yoran says:

Vendors can better clarify what their products are doing and not doing and ratchet down the hype. "DLP a great example," he said. "They won't stop data leakage. But if effective, it can stop accidental disclosure."

Work in more collaborative forums with standards bodies for more compatibility across platforms.

IT practitioners can ditch the false sense of security they feel because the alarm hasn't gone off on their IDS system or AV software. "You need to question your technology more," he said.

Realize you can't control everything and focus on putting the tightest security around the key assets while realizing that other parts of network could be breached. "From there, it's about how you can minimize the damage," he said.

Make better use of threat intelligence services, like the SANS Internet Storm Center, for example.

Read more about data protection in CSOonline's Data Protection section.

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