“Machines Don’t Cause Risk, People Do!”

Posted May 26th, 2010 by

A few weeks back I read an article on an apparent shift in emphasis in government security… OMB outlines shift on FISMA” take a moment to give it a read. I’ll wait….

That was followed by NASA’s “bold move” to change the way they manage risk

Once again the over-emphasis and outright demagoguery on “compliance,” “FISMA reports,” “paper exercises,” and similar concepts that occupy our security geek thoughts have not given way to enlightenment. (At least “compliancy” wasn’t mentioned…) I was saddened by a return to the “FISMA BAD” school of thought so often espoused by the luminaries at SANS. Now NASA has leapt from the heights… At the risk of bashing Alan Paller yet again, I am often turned off by the approach of “being able to know the status of every machine at every minute, ” – as if machines by themselves cause bad security… It’s way too tactical (incorrect IMHO) and too easy to make that claim.

Hence the title of this rant – Machines don’t cause risk, people do!

The “people” I’m talking about are everyone from your agency director, down to the lowliest sysadmin… The problem? They may not be properly educated or lack the necessary skills for their position – another (excellent) point brought forth in the first article. Most importantly, even the most seasoned security veteran operating without a strategic vision within a comprehensive security program (trained people, budget, organizational will, technology and procedures) based upon the FISMA framework will be doomed to failure. Likewise, having all the “toys” in the world means nothing without a skilled labor force to operate them and analyze their output. (“He who dies with the most toys is still dead.”) Organizations and agency heads that do not develop and support a comprehensive security program that incorporates the NIST Risk Management Framework as well as the other facets listed above will FAIL. This is nothing new or revolutionary, except I don’t think we’ve really *done* FISMA yet. As I and others have said many times, it’s not about the paper, or the cost per page – it’s about the repeatable processes — and knowledgeable people — behind what the paper describes.

I also note the somewhat disingenuous mention of the risk management program at the State Department in the second article… As if that were all State was doing! What needs to be noted here is that State has approached security in the proper way, IMHO — from a Strategic, or Enterprise level. They have not thrown out the figurative baby with the bath water by dumping everything else in their security program in favor of the risk scoring system or some other bright, shiny object. I know first-hand from having worked with many elements in the diplomatic security hierarchy at State – these folks get it. They didn’t get to the current level of goodness in the program by decrying (dare I say whining about?) “paper.” They made the organizational commitment to providing contract vehicles for system owners to use to develop their security plans and document risk in Plans of Action and Milestones (POA&Ms). Then they provided the money to get it done. Is the State program a total “paragon of virtue?” Probably not, but the bottom line is that it’s an effective program.

Mammoth Strategy, Same as Last Year

Mammoth Strategy, Same as Last Year image by HikingArtist.com.

Desiring to know everything about everything may seem to some to be a worthy goal, but may be beyond many organization’s budgets. *Everything* is a point in time snapshot, no matter how many snapshots you take or how frequently you take them. Continuous, repeatable security processes followed by knowledgeable, responsible practitioners are what government needs. But you cannot develop these processes without starting from a larger, enterprise view. Successful organizations follow this–dare I say it–axiom whether discussing security governance, or system administration.

Government agencies need to concentrate on developing agency-wide security strategies that encompass, but do not concentrate on solely, what patch is on what machine, and what firewall has which policy. Likewise, system POA&Ms need to concentrate on higher-level strategic issues that affect agencies — things like changes to identity management schemes that will make working from home more practical and less risky for a larger percentage of the workforce. Or perhaps a dashboard system that provides the status of system authorization for the agency at-a-glance. “Burying your head in a foxhole” —becoming too tactical — is akin to burying it in the sand, or like getting lost in a bunch of trees that look like a forest. When organizations behave this way, everything becomes a threat, therefore they spray their resource firepower on the “threat of the day, or hour.”

An organization shouldn’t worry about patching servers if its perimeter security is non-existent. Developing the larger picture, while letting some bullets strike you, may allow you recognize threats, prioritize them, potentially allowing you to expend minimal resources to solve the largest problem. This approach is the one my organization is following today. It’s a crawl first, then walk, then run approach. It’s enabled management to identify, segregate, and protect critical information and resources while giving decision-makers solid information to make informed, risk-based decisions. We’ll get to the patches, but not until we’ve learned to crawl. Strangely, we don’t spend a lot of time or other organizational resources on “paper drills” — we’re actively performing security tasks, strategic and tactical that follow documented procedures, plans and workflows! Oh yes, there is the issue of scale. Sorry, I think over 250 sites in every country around the world, with over 62 different government customers tops most enterprises, government or otherwise, but then this isn’t about me or my organization’s accomplishments.

In my view, professional security education means providing at least two formal paths for security professionals – the one that SANS instantiates is excellent for administrators – i.e., folks operating on the tactical level. I believe we have these types of security practitioners in numbers. We currently lack sufficient seasoned professionals – inside government – who can approach security strategically, engaging agency management with plans that act both “globally” and “locally.” Folks like these exist in government but they are few. Many live in industry or the contractor space. Not even our intelligence community has a career path for security professionals! Government as a whole lacks a means to build competence in the security discipline. Somehow government agencies need to identify security up-and-comers within government and nurture them. What I’m calling for here is a government-sponsored internal mentorship program – having recognized winners in the security game mentor peers and subordinates.

Until we security practitioners can separate the hype from the facts, and can articulate these facts in terms management can understand and support, we will never get beyond the charlatans, headline grabbers and other “self-licking ice cream cones.” Some might even look upon this new, “bold initiative” by NASA as quitting at a game that’s seen by them as “too hard.” I doubt seriously that they tried to approach the problem using a non-academic, non-research approach. It needed to be said. Perhaps if the organization taking the “bold steps” were one that had succeeded at implementing the NIST guidance, there might be more followers, in greater numbers.

Perhaps it’s too hard because folks are merely staring at their organization’s navel and not looking at the larger picture?

Lastly, security needs to be approached strategically as well as tactically. As Sun Tzu said, “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

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Categories of Security Controls in Outsourcing

Posted May 25th, 2010 by

As I’m going through a wide variety of control frameworks in a managed services/cloud environment, I’m reminded of how controls work when you’re a service provider.  Mentally, I break them down into four “buckets”:

  • Controls that I provide to all customers as part of my baseline. In other words, these are things that I do for all of my customers because it’s either part of the way that I do business or it makes sense to do it once and scale it out to everybody.  Typically these are holistic information security program things (ISO 17799/27001/27002 or similar) matched up with my service-delivery architecture.
  • Controls that I provide as an add-on service. Not all of my customers need these but I want to offer them to my customers to help them with their security program.  Usually these are services and products supporting a regulatory framework specific to one industry:  PCI-DSS, FISMA, GLBA, etc fit in here if my market is not exclusive to customers governed by those regulations.  In order to keep the base cost for the other customers low, these aren’t included in the base service but are available for a price.
  • Controls that I am planning on building. I don’t have them yet but they’re on my roadmap.  Sometimes this is how I get into new markets by building the products and services that match up against the regulatory framework for that market, then build to that as a specification.
  • Controls that I will not provide. Maybe this control doesn’t apply to my products and service (The “We don’t actually own a Windows/HP-UX/AIX server” problem).  Maybe the controls framework didn’t scope my solutions into its assumptions.  Maybe the economics of this didn’t work out.  Maybe I don’t provide this because it’s dishonest for both myself and you as my customer for me to say I provide this–think along the lines of accepting risk on your behalf which puts me into a conflict of interest.  This is why any vendor who says they provide 100% compliancy against FooFramework is lying.

Transparency ties it all together.  The good providers will tell you upfront which controls belong in which buckets.

Tool Bucket photo by tornatore.

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A Funny Thing Happened Last Week on Capital Hill

Posted April 1st, 2010 by

Well, several funny things happened, they happen every week.  But specifically I’m talking about the hearing in the House Committee on Homeland Security on FISMA reform–Federal Information Security: Current Challenges and Future Policy Considerations.  If you’re in information security and Government, you need to go read through the prepared statements and even watch the hearing.

Also referenced is HR.4900 which was introduced by Representative Watson as a modification to FISMA.  I also recommend that you have a look at it.

Now for my comments and rebuttals to the testimony:

  • On the cost per sheet of FISMA compliance paper: If you buy into the State Department’s cost of $1700 per sheet, you’re absolutely daft.  The cost of a security program divided by the total number of sheets of paper is probably right.  In fact, if you do the security bits right, your cost per sheet will go up considerably because you’re doing much more security work while the volume of paperwork is reduced.
  • Allocating budget for red teams: Do we really need penetration testing to prove that we have problems?  In Mike Smith’s world, we’re just not there yet, and proving that we’re not there is just an excuse to throw the InfoSec practitioners under the bus when they’re not the people who created the situation in the first place.
  • Gus Guissanie: This guy is awesome and knows his stuff.  No, really, the guy is sharp.
  • State Department Scanning: Hey, it almost seems like NIST has this in 800-53.  Oh wait, they do, only it’s given the same precedence as everything else.  More on this later.
  • Technical Continuous Monitoring Tools: Does anybody else think that using products of FISMA (SCAP, CVE, CVSS) as evidence that FISMA is failing is a bit like dividing by zero?  We really have to be careful of this or we’ll destroy the universe.
  • Number of Detected Attacks and Incidents as a Metric: Um, this always gets a “WTF?” from me.  Is the number increasing because we’re monitoring better or is it because we’re counting a whole bunch of small events as an attack (ie, IDS flagged on something), or is it because the amount of attacks are really increasing?  I asked this almost 2 years ago and nobody has answered it yet.
  • The Limitations of GAO: GAO are just auditors.  Really, they depend on the agencies to not misrepresent facts and to give them an understanding of how their environment works.  Auditing and independent assessment is not the answer here because it’s not a fraud problem, it’s a resources and workforce development problem.
  • OMB Metrics: I hardly ever talk bad about OMB, but their metrics suck.  Can you guys give me a call and I’ll give you some pointers?  Or rather, check out what I’ve already said about federated patch and vulnerability management then give me a call.

So now for Rybolov’s plan to fix FISMA:

  1. You have to start with workforce management. This has been addressed numerous times and has a couple of different manifestations: DoDI 8570.10, contract clauses for levels of experience, role-based training, etc.  Until you have an adequate supply of clueful people to match the demand, you will continue to get subpar performance.
  2. More testing will not help, it’s about execution. In the current culture, we believe that the more testing we do, the more likely the people being tested will be able to execute.  This is highly wrong and I’ve commented on it before.  I think that if it was really a fact of people being lazy or fraudulent then we would have fixed it by now.  My theory is that the problem is that we have too many wonks who know the law but not the tech and not enough techs that know the law.  In order to do the job, you need both.  This is also where I deviate from the SANS/20 Critical Security Controls approach and the IGs that love it.
  3. Fix Plans of Actions and Milestones. These are supposed to be long-term/strategic problems, not the short-term/tactical application of patches–the tactical stuff should be automated.  The reasoning is that you use these plans for budget requests for the following years.
  4. Fix the budget train. Right now the people with the budget (programs) are not the people running the IT and the security of it (CIO/CISO).  I don’t know if the answer here is a larger dedicated budget for CISO’s staff or a larger “CISO Tax” on all program budgets.  I could really policy-geek out on you here, just take my word for it that the people with the money are not the people protecting information and until you account for that, you will always have a problem.

Sights Around Capital Hill: Twice Sold Tales photo by brewbooks. Somehow seems fitting, I’ll let you figure out if there’s a connection. =)

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20 Critical Security Controls: What They Did Right and What They Did Wrong

Posted January 21st, 2010 by

Part 1

Part 2

Takeaways from the 20 CSC and what they do right (hey, it’s not all bad):

You have to prioritize. On a system basis, there are maybe 50-60 800-53 controls (out of a number just shy of 200) that need to be built 100% correctly and working every single time.  The rest (I know, I’m putting on my heretic hat here) can lapse from time to time.  For example, if I don’t have good event monitoring, my incident response team doesn’t have much work because I don’t know if I’m pwned or not.  What 20 CSC does is try to reduce that set of stuff that I should be concerned about into a set of controls that are technical, tactical, and track to classes taught by SANS vulnerability-based .

Common controls are more important than ever. They help you scope the smaller systems.  In fact, roughly half of the 20 CSC apply to the modern Enterprise and should be absorbed there, meaning that for systems not owning infrastructure, we only have 10 or so controls that I have to worry a bunch about, and 10 that I just need to be aware of what’s provided by my CISO.

Give examples. I’ll even go as far as to say this:  it should be a capital offense to release a catalog of controls without a reference implementation for both an Enterprise/GSS and a smaller IT system/Major Application inside of it.  20 CSC stops maybe one step short of that, but it’s pretty close in some controls to what I want if they were structured differently.

Security Management v/s IT Management. IT asset inventory, configuration management, change control:  these are IT management activities that somehow get pushed onto the security team because we are more serious about them than the people who should care.  I think 20 CSC does an OK job of just picking out the pieces that apply to security people instead of the “full meal deal” that ITIL and its ilk bring.

Control Key photo by .faramarz.

Now for what they did wrong:

It’s Still Not a Consensus, Dammit! That is, it’s a couple of smart people making a standard in a vacuum and detached from the folks who will have to live by the work that they do.  Seriously, ask around inside the agencies:  who admits to helping develop 20 CSC aside from “yeah, we looked at it briefly”?  And I’m not talking about the list that SANS claims, that’s stripped from the bios of the handful of people who did work on 20 CSC.  Sadly, this is the quick path to fail, it’s like building an IT system without asking the users what they need to get their job done on a daily basis.  Guys, we should know better than this.

It’s Still Not a Standard. It’s still written as guidance–more anecdote than hard requirements.  This isn’t something I can put into a contract and have my contractors execute without modifying it heavily.  It’s also not official, something I’ve already touched on before, which means that it’s not mandatory.  If you want to make this a standard, you need to turn it into ~50 controls each written as a “contracting shall”.  More to come on this in the future.

It Has Horrible Metrics. And I’m talking really horrible…it’s like the goatse of security metrics (NSFW link, even though it’s wikipedia).  Why?  Because they’re time-based for controls that are not time-based.  Metrics need to be a way to evaluate that the control works, not the indirect effects of the control.  Of course, metrics are just a number, but at the end of whatever assessment, my auditor/IG/GAO/$foo has to come up with some way to rank the work that I’ve done as a security officer.  If 20 CSC is the vehicle for the audit and the metrics are hosed, it doesn’t matter what I can do to provide real security, the perception from my management is that I don’t know what I’m doing.

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20 Critical Security Controls: Control-by-Control

Posted January 20th, 2010 by

OK, now for the control-by-control analysis of the 20 Critical Security Controls.  This is part 2.  Look here for the first installmentRead part 3 here.

Critical Control 1: Inventory of Authorized and Unauthorized Devices. This is good: get an automated tool to do IT asset discovery.  Actually, you can combine this with Controls 2, 3, 4, 11, and 14 with some of the data center automation software–you know the usual suspects, just ask your ops folks how you get in on their tools.  This control suffers from scope problems because it doesn’t translate down to the smaller-system scale:  if I have a dozen servers in an application server farm inside of a datacenter, I’ll usually know if anybody adds something.  The metric here (detect all new devices in 24 hours) “blows goats” because you don’t know if you’re detecting everything.  A better test is for the auditor to do their own discovery scans and compare it to the list in the permanent discovery tool–that would be validation that the existing toolset does work–with a viable metric of “percentage of devices detected on the network”.  The 24 hour metric is more like a functional requirement for an asset discovery tool.  And as far as the isolation of unmanaged assets, I think it’s a great idea and the way things should be, except for the fact that you just gave us an audit requirement to implement NAC.

Critical Control 2: Inventory of Authorized and Unauthorized Software. Sounds like the precursor to whitelisting.  I think this is more apropos to the Enterprise unless your system is the end-user computing environment (laptops, desktops).  Yes, this control will help with stuff in a datacenter to detect when something’s been pwned but the real value is out at the endpoints.  So yes, not happy with the scope of this control.  The metric here is as bad as for Control 1 and I’m still not happy with it.  Besides, if you allow unauthorized software to be on an IT device for up to 24 hours, odds are you just got pwned.  The goal here should be to respond to detected unauthorized software within 24 hours.

Critical Control 3: Secure Configurations for Hardware and Software on Laptops, Workstations, and Servers. This is actually a good idea, provided that you give me a tool to apply the settings automagically because manual configuration sucks.  I think it’s about a dozen different controls all wrapped into one, it’s just trying to do too much in one little control.  The time-based metric for this control is really bad, it’s like watching a train wreck.  But hey, I’ll offer up my own: percentage of IT assets conforming to the designated configuration.  It’s hinted at in the implementation guide, make it officially the metric and this might be a control I can support.

Critical Control 4: Secure Configurations for Network Devices such as Firewalls, Routers, and Switches. This is basically Control 3 for network devices.  The comments there also apply here.

Critical Control 5: Boundary Defense. This control is too much stuff crammed into one space.  As a result, it’s not concise enough to be implemented–it’s all over the map.  In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that this isn’t really one control, it’s a control theme with a ton of controls inside of it.  The “audit requirements” here are going to utterly kill me as a security manager because there is so much of a disparity between the control and the actual controls therein.

Critical Control 6: Maintenance, Monitoring, and Analysis of Audit Logs. Some of this control should be part of Controls 3 and 4 because, let’s be honest here, you’re setting up logging on devices the way that the hardening guide says you should.  The part that’s needed in this control is aggregation of logs and review of logs–get them off all the endpoints and into a centralized log management solution.  This is mentioned as the last “advanced” implementation technique but if you’re operating a modern Enterprise, I don’t see how you can get the rest of the implementation done without some kind of SIEM piece.   I just don’t get the metric here, again with the 24 hours.  How about “percentage of devices reporting into the SIEM”?  Yeah, that’s the easy money here.  The testing of this control makes me do a facepalm:  “At a minimum the following devices must be tested: two routers, two firewalls, two switches, ten servers, and ten client systems.”  OK, we’ve got a LAN/WAN with 15000 endpoints and that’s all we’re going to test?

Critical Control 7: Application Software Security. You keep using those words, I do not think they mean what you think they mean.  Application security is a whole different world and 20 CSC doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of it.  Oh, but guess what?  It’s a tie-in to the 25 Most Dangerous Programming Errors which is about all this control is:  a pointer to a different project.  The metric here is very weak because it’s not tied back to the actual control.

Critical Control 8: Controlled Use of Administrative Privileges. This should be part of Controls 3 and 4, along with something about getting an Identity and Access Management system so that you have one ID repository.  I know this is a shocker to you, but the metric here sucks.

Critical Control 9: Controlled Access Based on Need to Know. This is a great idea, but as a control it’s too broad to achieve, which is why the 20 CSC were created in the first place.  What do we really want here?  Network share ACLs are mentioned, which is a control in itself, but the rest of this is hazy and leaves much room for interpretation.  Cue “audit requirements” and the part where Rybolov says “If it’s this hazy, it’s not really a standard, it’s a guideline that I shouldn’t be audited against.

Critical Control 10: Continuous Vulnerability Assessment and Remediation. All-in-all, not too bad.  I would suggest “Average time to resolve scan findings” here as a metric or even something as “hoakey” as the FoundScan metric just to gauge overall trends.

Arm Control photo by Crotchsplay.

Critical Control 11: Account Monitoring and Control. Haven’t we seen this before?  Yep, this should be incorporated into Controls 8, 3, and 4.  However, periodic account reviews are awesome if you have the patience to do it.

Critical Control 12: Malware Defenses. OK, this isn’t too bad.  Once again, the metric sucks, but I do like some of the testing steps.  The way I would test this is to compare our system inventory with my total list of devices.  A simple diff later, we have a list of unmanaged devices.

Critical Control 13: Limitation and Control of Network Ports, Protocols, and Services. Host firewalls was not what I thought of… I’m thinking more like firewalls and network segmentation where you have to get change control approval to add a firewall rule.  As far as the host setup, this should be part of Control 3.

Critical Control 14: Wireless Device Control. Not bad, but this should be dumped into a technical standard that you use like a hardening guide.  Metric here still sucks, but I don’t really need to say this again… oh wait, I just did.

Critical Control 15: Data Loss Prevention. Puh-lease.  I’ll be the first to admit, I’m a big believer in DLP done right, and that it’s an awesome tool to solve some of the unique .  But I don’t think that the market is mature enough to add it into your catalog of controls.  Also this will fall flat on its face if your system is just a web application cluster:  DLP addresses the endpoints (desktops, laptops, mobiles) and the outbound gateways (email, web, etc).  The problem with this control is that if you don’t buy and implement a full DLP solution (cue Rich Mogull and his DLP guide), there isn’t anything else that has a similar capability.  This is one of those controls where the 800-53 mapping gets really creative–Good Ship Lollipop Creative because we’re tapdancing around the issue that DLP-type solutions aren’t specifically required in 800-53.

These controls don’t have automated ways to implement and test them:

Critical Control 16: Secure Network Engineering. This control is a steaming crater.  It’s very much a guideline instead of an auditable standard.

Critical Control 17: Penetration Tests and Red Team Exercises. Not bad.  Still too easy to shop around for the bargain-basement penetration test team.  But yeah, pretty good overall.

Critical Control 18: Incident Response Capability. Good control.  Hard to test/audit except to look at after-incident reports.

Critical Control 19: Data Recovery Capability. Not bad here.  Not real COOP/DR/ITCP but about on par with typical controls frameworks.

Critical Control 20: Security Skills Assessment and Appropriate Training to Fill Gaps. Good idea.  Hard to implement without something like 8570.10 to give you a matrix by job position.  You want to change the world here, give your own mapping in the control.

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Opportunity Costs and the 20 Critical Security Controls

Posted January 13th, 2010 by

This is a multi-post series.  You are at post 1.  Read post 2 hereRead Post 3 here.

This post begins with me.  For the past hour or so I’ve been working on a control-by-control objective analysis of SANS 20 Critical Security Controls.  This is a blog post I’ve had sitting “in the hopper” for 9 months or so.  And to be honest, I see some good things in the 20 CSC literature.  I think that, from a holistic perspective, the 20 CSC is an attempt at creating a prioritization of this huge list of stuff that I have to do as an information security officer–something that’s really needed.  I go into 20 CSC with a very open mind.

Then I start reading the individual controls.  I’m a big believer in Bottom-Line-Up-Front, so let me get my opinion out there now: 20 Critical Security Controls is crap.  I’m sorry John G and Eric C.  Not only is 20 CSC bad from a perspective of controls, metrics, and auditing tests, but if it’s implemented across the Government, it will be the downfall of security programs.  I really believe this.

Now on to the rationale….

Opportunity Costs. I can’t get that phrase out of my head.  And I’m not talking money just yet–I’m talking time.  See, I’m an IT security guy working for a contractor supporting a Government agency–just like 75% of the people out there.  I have a whole bunch of things to do–both in the NIST guidelines and organizational policy.  If you add anything else to the stack without taking anything away,  all you’ve done is to dilute my efforts.  And that’s why I can’t support 20 CSC–they’re an unofficial standard that does not achieve its stated primary goal of reducing the amount of work that I have to do.  I know they wanted to create a parallel standard focusing on technical controls but you have to have one official standard because if it’s not official, I don’t have to do it and it’s not really a standard anymore, it’s it?

Scoping Problems. We really have 2 tiers inside of an agency that we need to look at: the Enterprise and the various components that depend on the Enterprise.  Let’s call them… general support systems and major applications.  Now the problem here is that when you make a catalog of controls, some controls are more applicable to one tier than the other.  With 20 CSC, you run the classic blunder of trying to reinvent the wheel for every small system that comes along.

Threat Capabilities != Controls. And this is maybe the secret why compliance doesn’t work like we think it will.  In a nice theoretical world, it’s a threat-vulnerability-countermeasure coupling and the catalog of controls accounts for all likely threats and vulnerabilities.  Well, it doesn’t work that way:  it’s not a 1-to-1 ratio.  Typical security management frameworks start from a regulatory perspective and work their way down to technical details while what we really want to do is to build controls based on the countermeasures that we need.  So yeah, 20 CSC has the right idea here, the problem is that it’s a set of controls created by people who don’t believe in controls–the authors have the threat and vulnerability piece down and some of the countermeasures but they don’t understand how to translate that into controls to give to implementers and their auditors.  The 20 CSC guys are smart, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t help but get the feeling that they don’t understand how the “rest of the world” is getting their job done out there in the Enterprise.

The Mapping is Weak. There is a traceability matrix in the 20 CSC to map each control back to NIST controls.  It’s really bad, mostly because the context of 800-53 controls doesn’t extend into 20 CSC.  I have serious heartburn with how this is presented inside the agencies because we’re not really doing audits using the 20 CSC, we’re using the mapping of NIST controls with a weird subtext and it’s a “voluntary assessment” not an audit.

Guidelines?!?!?! This is basic stuff.  If it’s something you audit against, it *HAS* to be a standard.  Guidelines are recommendations and can add in more technique and education.  Standards are like hard requirements, they only work if they’re narrowly-scoped, achievable, and testable.  This isn’t specific to 20 CSC, the NIST Risk Management Framework (intended to be a set of guidelines also) suffers from this problem, too.  However, if your intent is to design a technical security and auditing standard, you need to write it like a standard.  While I’m up on a soapbox, for the love of $Diety, quit calling security controls “requirements”.

Auditor Limitations. Let’s face it, how do I get an auditor to add an unmanaged device to the network and know if we’ve detected it or not.  This is a classic mistake in the controls world:  assuming that we have enough people with the correct skillsets who can conduct intrusive technical tests without the collusion of my IT staff.

And the real reason why I dislike the 20 Critical Security Controls:

Introduction of “Audit Requirements”. One of the chief criticisms of the NIST Risk Management Framework is that the controls are not specific enough.  20 CSC falls into this trap of nonspecificity (Controls 7, 8, 9, and 15, I’m talking to you) and is not official guidance–a combination that means that my auditor has just added requirements to my workload simply because of how they interpret the control.  This is very dangerous and why I believe 20 CSC will be the end of IT security as we know it.

In future posts (I had to break this into multiple segments):

  • Control-by-control analysis
  • What 20 CSC got right (Hey, some of it is good, just not for the reasons that it’s supposed to be good)

SA-2 “Guideline” photo by cliff1066™.

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