Developing an ISAP, ASAP

Five critical steps to maintaining a secure network.

Keeping your network secure in the current climate of internet assault is no small job.

Think back – how little has changed. In 2001, server-based worms were estimated to have cost private industry almost $3 billion. Code Red alone infected 359,000 servers in under 14 hours, and within 24 hours of Nimda, 50 percent of the infected hosts went offline. Fast forward to today and the exponential increase in breaches, how much is really that different?

These attacks reinforced the need for every organization to develop an information security action plan (ISAP). Doing this first involves evaluating, assessing, and auditing the existing security environment to identify major and minor problems (your inventory). Without knowing and understanding the current security posture, it is impossible to identify the most cost-effective solutions to deploy.

Veteran and well-trained security professionals realize there is no ‘silver bullet’ in information security. Following and adjusting to an industry security framework will keep you secure today and into the future. Using proper diligence to understand an organization’s security needs goes a long way in improving protection.

The following are critical first steps for building an ISAP to create a better defense in an increasingly dangerous cyberworld.

Creating Security Policy

First, create a clearly defined security policy that is strictly enforced. Understand that security goes beyond desktop PCs and ensure that the use of all laptops, copiers, fax machines, modems, and even printed information is included in the policy. Supply the policy to everyone in the organization, educate all employees about it, and enforce it consistently.

The policy is the roadmap to good security, and every employee should review it annually, be provided with opportunities to ask questions, and fully understand the policy. They should acknowledge their understanding of the policy in writing. The policy must become a standard part of the company culture and be enforced at the highest level. Not consistently enforcing policy can be worse than having no policy at all, because it could be used against the company (in litigation) to show that policy is not taken seriously in all cases.

Identifying Risk, Deploying Security

Second, identify an acceptable level of risk and deploy the appropriate level of security. It is no longer adequate for management to proclaim ignorance about potential vulnerabilities in the environment. Due diligence requires management to exercise sound judgment in protecting the environment consistent with the information being processed (i.e., the more sensitive the information, the more safeguards need to put in place).

After assessments have been performed, there are essentially three measures that can be taken. They are to reduce the risk (perform remediation), transfer the risk (take out insurance), or accept the risk (identify cost justification).

If overall risk reaches an unacceptable level, appropriate remediation steps must be taken to get the exposures reduced in severity. If that cannot be done, documentation must be created to identify justification for accepting the risk, or possibly insurance can be purchased to transfer the losses associated with the risk to another organization.

Implementing Verification

Third, access to internal hosts must be controlled and monitored. Are employees only given access to what they need to perform their specific job? Are logs reviewed daily for inconsistencies and abnormalities?

Since many security breaches can be attributed to ‘insiders,’ or exploit by a bad actor of an insider, trust no one. “Zero Trust”; it is important to live by an access philosophy of ‘least privilege’. Verify everyone and everything. Only give users the access they need to do their job. Not only must the data be protected and accountability of who is accessing it be maintained to ensure privacy, but simply tracking problems and events that occur in an environment are easier if it is possible to determine who has access to specific information. Even though incidents of access from outside a company get all the publicity, the most critical protection remains inside. Insider abuse of email or unmonitored internet access can cost in several ways beyond the lost employee time, bandwidth, and potential for viruses or worms.

Supplement the authentication and authorization system with audit trails and intrusion detection systems and use an incident response plan to follow up on suspicious activities and anomalies. Logs can be very large and contain enormous amounts of extraneous information. It is important to install tools that help sift through the abnormalities or make it possible to identify what a normal log looks like and flag unusual activity. Regular review of system logs can mitigate risk. This can include the implementation of modern extended endpoint detection and response solutions.

Testing Upgrades and Patches

Fourth, vendor upgrades and software/hardware patches should be tested adequately before migrating to production. Anti-virus tools should be deployed and automatically updated with new signature files.

Changes are constantly occurring in the environment. New software can introduce new vulnerabilities and it is well-known that some software companies do not create secure applications or operating systems. Be sure to have clear documentation to migrate all changes to production and a contingency plan should problems occur.

Malicious code continues to be a major problem for organizations. It is no longer adequate to simply install an antivirus tool and assume your problems are alleviated. It is not adequate to assume the user will behave properly to protect their desktop and company data. Today’s generation of protection must not be dependent on signatures and needs to consider other layers of information: users, files, hosts, and the network. Throw in deception technology and you have a robust solution.

Handling Any Defaults

Fifth, be sure default accounts, passwords, and settings have been appropriately handled in operating systems, routers, databases, and applications.

Keep in mind that almost all operating systems, including third-party applications, come with sample files, many of which are extremely dangerous. Almost any operating system and many application system installations require a powerful ‘administrative’ or privileged account to complete installation. This account is shipped with a default password, which often is not changed by the network, system, or application administrator. It should be changed immediately at initial installation even on test systems. If the account needs to remain in existence, it should be tightly locked down, audited, and, if possible, have its default name changed. In addition, it should not be used on a routine basis for administration. Individual administrative accounts should be assigned to authorized users with proper access requirements granted, training provided, and responsibilities understood.

In summary, there are numerous measures that can be taken to ensure a company’s infrastructure can protect its information assets. This all creates the requirement for a thorough information security action plan. A certified, qualified, well-trained chief information security officer can usually lead a corporation along a path to protected information assets and a secure business environment.

To learn more, call or email Ken Shaurette, FIPCO's Director – Information Security and Audit, at 800-722-3498 ext. 251 or today.


By, Ally Bates