Prepare for the inevitable attack: what CISOs can learn from a cricket coach

The analogy between sports and business is one often made. But while watching a rampaging Australian cricket team thrash a beleaguered England in the recent Ashes series, I was struck by the similarities between cricket and IT security.

In many ways the chief information security officer (CISO) in a business has a similar job to that of the Australian coach, Darren Lehmann, preparing his team for whatever their adversaries will throw at them.

In a game that featured amateurs until the early 1960s, cricket has now become a serious business with a level of professionalism that players would not recognise, even compared with just 20 years ago. Similarly, today’s CISO is facing a threat from professional hackers and cyber-crime gangs that did not exist 10 years ago. In both cases, it is no longer a game of amateurs, but of highly trained and often highly resourced professionals with clear goals and objectives in mind.

Like a cricket coach, planning for a CISO is critical. The coach will put himself into the mind of his opponent and try and spot weaknesses, strengths and where he would attack if he were playing his own side. Similarly, a CISO needs to think like a cyber attacker because with a deeper understanding of the methodical approach attackers use to execute their mission he or she can identify ways to strengthen defences.

Planning before the game or cyber incident is essential to dealing with an attacker and making sure your team is ready.

During the game itself a coach assesses the threats and opportunities for the team and, with the captain, revises its plans. Visibility of what is going on during the game is critical since it is this this visibility that enables the coach and his captain to make tactical decisions to win the game.

In the same way, a CISO needs to have visibility and context during a cyber-incident to be able to identify indicators of compromise once a threat has entered the network. The CISO needs to take a two-tiered approach with tools and processes that combine trajectory capabilities, big data analytics and visualisation.

After the game and the (undoubted) victory for Lehmann and the Australian team, a cricket coach will work just as hard as during the game itself, analysing the results and assessing the abilities of the players, including their strengths and weaknesses. By carrying out this sort of forensic investigation of video and stats, he can determine ongoing weak links that he might need to replace, or strengthen during the coming season.

A CISO similarly needs to have the ability to look back at the security incident to determine what has happened and what steps need to be taken to mitigate the risk. Retrospective security uses this continuous capability to let the CISO essentially travel back in time and retrospectively identify which devices have been exposed to malware, regardless of when the file is identified as malware.

That requires not just the tracking every file but also the full lineage of every action that happens on every protected device—and mapping how the files travel through the organisation and what they do. By being able to determine the scope and root cause(s) of an outbreak, a CISO can quickly switch to response mode during an attack and effectively determine and implement the necessary controls and remediation steps.

Next time you watch the Australian cricket team play, think of the IT security team at the company you work for, or the bank which holds your savings. Sliding down the world rankings is bad enough for a team and fans if it doesn't perform. But failure in IT security can impact share price and reputation of a business, so it's even more vital that it is done right.

By planning before, during and after an incident, both the CISO and the cricket coach can be confident they have done all they can to prepare for the inevitable attack.

Dean Frye is technical director APAC at Sourcefire, now a part of Cisco.

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