Oz watchdog eyes whitelisting as “reasonable” privacy measure

  • Liam Tung (CSO Online)
  • — 07 December, 2012 07:34

Enterprise information security in Australia could come under much greater scrutiny with the nation’s Information Commissioner looking to drill down deeply into the details of an organisation’s security practices after a breach.

The Office of the Australian Information Commission (OAIC) has sought feedback on a wide range of security factors that could become part of how it assesses “the steps that the entity took to protect the information” and “whether those steps were reasonable in the circumstances” during a breach investigation.

The consultation paper puts forward whitelisting and patching as candidates to join the “reasonable steps” guidelines it will look for when assessing an organisation’s compliance with Australia’s privacy laws.

Whitelisting, which only permits approved files, applications and content on a network, is traditionally viewed as an extreme but the Defence Signals Directorate recently placed it as a highly-effective method of mitigating malware threats.

Under the guidelines put forward for debate, OAIC investigators could be asking:

    Is whitelisting of applications employed?
    Is whitelisted filtering of email content employed?
    Is whitelisting of web domains and IP addresses employed?


Other questions include whether an organisation’s systems are fully patched, have up-to-date antivirus, how and where encryption was used, what type of authentication was employed and whether network security was up to scratch.

“Are operating system functions that are not required disabled?” the OAIC asks, flagging potential risks for organisations harboring, for example, old Java versions on office desktops. 

“Removing or disabling unneeded software, operating system components and functionality from a system reduces its vulnerability to attack. Disabling functions such as AutoPlay or remote desktop, if they are not required, can make it harder for malware to run or an attacker to gain access,” the OAIC points out.

Questions over access include whether multi-factor authentication was required to access sensitive material, how liberally administrative privileges were doled out, and whether systems demanded strong passwords.

Security related questions also in scope canvas physical security, penetration testing, data breach response procedures, and personnel security, which would ask whether an organisation trains staff to be aware of social engineering or phishing.

The closing date for comments is Monday 7 January 2013.

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Tags: whitelisting, mitigating malware threats, breach, enterprise information security, Office of the australian commission (OAIC)

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