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The Hitlist: Compliance

The Hitlist is a new series where we will attempt to provide a quick list of security considerations for a particular technology or initiative within an organization.  Our first post will be on compliance.  What we mean is if your organization is attempting to become compliant to an industry standard or regulation, these are things that will have to be considered and more than likely implemented across the board for things such as PCI-DSS, HIPAA, ISO27k, FISMA and more.  Here is the hitlist for things to consider when planning to meet a compliance standard:

1. Patch Your Stuff

Everyone hates having to patch their servers and network devices every month or so.  This might be one of the most basic security requirement maintaining network security. You must patch not only operating systems, but also software applications such Adobe and Java.  We often see anywhere from 20-60% of the vulnerabilities on a network as critical or high and usually 50-80% of those are either Microsoft, Java and Adobe.  If you don’t do this on a regular basis, it’s time to start.

2. Risk Assessment

How do you know what to protect if you don’t know where your risks are?  A risk assessment will evaluate your biggest gaps and your biggest liabilities.  This will allow your organization to focus its efforts where the most impact can be made quickly.

3. Data Classification

You need to know what your data is and where your data is.  If only a small portion of your data contains sensitive information, then all of your data doesn’t need to be under the same scrutiny.  You need to identify what the sensitive data is so that you can identify where that data is.  Once you know where it resides, then you can put controls and processes in place to protect it.  Additionally, it is essential to have policies and procedures in place so that all this information is documented.

4. Network Monitoring/Testing

Many compliance standards require annual penetration testing and vulnerability assessments.  Additionally tools should be in place to monitor the network in real time: antivirus, intrusion detection/prevention (IDS/IPS), enterprise class firewalls, Data Loss Prevention (DLP).  The extent of the required real-time monitoring will vary on the budget of the organization, the requirements of the compliance standard and the type of data being protected.

5. Data Encryption

Do you have sensitive data?  It needs to be encrypted now.  Whenever it moves (email, ftp, file shares) that communication needs to be encrypted.  Whenever it’s at rest (USB drives, file shares, desktops, mobile devices) it needs to be encrypted, no exception.  Industry standard, strong encryption is the only sure way to make sure that if portable media is lost or stolen, prying eyes can’t read the data.

6. User Training

Most standards require annual security training.  It is also just a good practice for any organization.  How many of your users can recognize a phishing email?  How many users have their guard up for a phone call asking them to give up sensitive information?  Users need to good reminders on basic security tenants.

7. Authentication

Why lock your doors if the key is hanging on the wall?  Not only to strong and unique passwords need to be enforced (this includes the C-suite), but 2 factor authentication needs to be strongly considered, especially for access to sensitive data.  If 2 factor authentication is available, then the complexity requirements on passwords can drop a notch (that doesn’t mean 6 characters, no special characters).  An ideal corporate authentication strategy for standard users would be 8-12 characters, numbers, letters, special characters, and a password history of at least 10 in addition to 2 factor authentication.  For users with direct access to sensitive data or with technical administration roles the requirements should be stricter.

8. Separation of Duties

Have you ever seen the movie where they are about to launch the nuclear missiles and it requires a code and 2 keys?  They do that so that no single person can launch a nuclear missile.  The same is true for network administrative.  Your network admins should be using their standard user accounts for performing administrative functions.  They should have separate accounts used for remote access, email access, and workstation access from the accounts they use to manage the network.  There are exceptions based on the magnitude of the operations (adding users, joining a computer to the domain, etc).  I have seen too many organizations where a system administrator has a standard account that is a member of the most privileged groups in the domain and also uses that account for remote access.

9. Centralized Logging

This one isn’t a requirement for all standards, but it is for some and it is essential to know what is happening in your network.  Centralized logging can allow you to find information about a security incident without having to go look through 15 different sources.  Additionally, there are tools that allow an organization to add analytic and correlation to those logs that provides intelligence on top of the logs.  What if you could know if a user account was attempting to log into your network from multiple cities or countries?  This is how you can reduce the mean time of 87 days until discovery of a breach to just a few days.

10. Physical Security

If you have everything else buttoned up, but leave the back door open, it doesn’t matter.  You need to be able to know when people come and go, you need to be able to see when people come and go, and  you need to know where your assets are.  Electronic key cards, video surveillance, and asset management are essential to a robust network security program.

11. Auditing

You can theorize about how good you are, you can make educated guesses, and you can read a bunch of studies, but until you have a third party measure your compliance against your policies and your standards  you won’t know.  Most standards require for ‘periodic review,’ but put it this way, how will you ever know if you are compliant without having someone look?

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