AISA Annual Conference wrap up

If there’s one word that summarises what information security professionals learned at the recent AISA Annual Conference it’s 'multi-factorial'. Although two-factor authentication isn't new, we need to think of security from a number of different perspectives.

Firstly, suffering a security breach is a reality. As Rik Ferguson of Trend Micro said during the closing panel discussion, “breaches happen”. The question then becomes one of how we react and deal with them once we let go of the assumption that we can build impenetrable fortifications.

One of the issues that many have faced is that information regarding breaches is often hard to come by. Organisations whose security has been compromised are often loathed to share the information. “We shouldn’t stigmatise those who have been attacked,” said Jeremiah Grossman from WhiteHat Security. Unless people are prepared to share their experiences in a supportive forum the opportunity to learn from these incidents is limited.

This is critical. John Walton, the Microsoft Office 365 Principal Security Manager, says that while businesses are reluctant to tell people when their systems have been breached, hackers are exactly the opposite and boast about breaches they’ve executed. As a result, the hacker community is far better at sharing information. This gives them an advantage over their potential targets.

Given the massive growth in the adoption of Office 365 - it’s Microsoft’s fastest growing product line - it’s not surprising that Microsoft has taken a proactive approach to security. Walton acknowledges that training is important but that it is “not enough”. When training ends, user behaviour falls back to older, less secure habits until the next block of user education.

The War Room exercises he advocates and uses, pitting two teams designated as red and blue against each, go further than regular training. These exercises pit a team of ‘hackers’ against an infosec response team giving both groups an opportunity to understand how to react to a threat in practice.

Srikanth Nadhamuni, Advisor to UID Authority of India and Chief Executive Officer of Khosla Labs, is responsible for the delivery of the AADHAAR project - a massive program of collecting biometric data from every citizen in India with a view to enabling access to government services that are dependent on the administration of personal identity for effective delivery.

Although not using exactly the same approach advocated by Walton, Nadhamuni has engaged in war-rooming as a way of understanding how to react to potential security breaches.

This is critical as Nadhamuni asks “how do you ensure the security in all of this. Not just IT but also people?”.

Dr Hugh Thompson, who established his infosec credibility when he broke into Florida’s electronic voting system for a PBS TV special in 2006, says that training remains important but that we shouldn't underestimate the teaching opportunities that come from simulations and actual breaches.

Grossman, reminded us during the roundtable that it’s still important to put as many hurdles in front of potential hackers. That means carrying out regular threat assessments and ensuring that your software is well maintained and developed with a focus on security from the start and not as an post-development bolt-on.

So, if there’s an over-riding message to be taken away from the AISA Annual Conference it’s that unauthorised system access is inevitable. The question is one of readiness and ensuring that if data is accessed, that you can mitigate the damage.

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