I recieved the email below from a colleague at work. At first glance it is funny, the chief security officer being represented by a dog… Hilarious! Of course security is just about being able to bark at people and occasionally bite them. This role isn’t about corporate responsibility or even enterprise risk management, it is about wagging your tail and barking at people and getting them to do things because you have barked it so.
I’m having second thoughts about my growth plan if this is where it leads to.
If I am honest, I am guilty of this too. I have often described myself as an “overpaid security guard” to people who haven’t a clue about information security, and they nod knowingly at me, thinking they understand InfoSec policy, enterprise risk and even DLP.
The above example of belittling the security function of an organisation has steeled me into action; if I can’t explain the role of a CISO/CSO to my Mother, then I need to re-evaluate what it is I am doing and the impact it has on the business. It also annoys me that the role of CISO is so easily belittled. I don’t think I have ever seen a CFO role boiled down to an image of a coffee bean, or even the CIO image reduced to a mouse or keyboard. What makes this worse is that this product offers “the highest security for your files in the cloud” and yet this is how seriously they take security.
A fundamental part of this is down to us as CISO’s and security people to ensure we don’t belittle ourselves to ingratiate ourselves. It is extremely difficult for us to ensure we are valued and respected in our organisations as it is, and sometimes the somewhat subservient/comedic route feels easiest. This is not the best way; it is the longest and hardest route to acceptance and understanding because the role is by it’s nature seen as a frivolity and a hilarious side act.
(We should note however that there is a place for humour in security, and if used correctly it is extremely effective. The point I am making above is that security as a serious subject should not be presented as a humourous aside.)
I recall a situation where I noticed someone working at a hot desk who had no visible identification. I asked around if anyone knew who the individual was, and nobody did. As I approached the individual I was met with a chorus of “get him Thom” and “tackle him mate!” etc. with much hilarity ensuing. None of it was meant meanly of course, but it was synonymous with the simplistic attitude of security. If any of the people who had spoken those words had any real idea of the security implications of having someone in their office without any idea of who they are, then their response may have been a bit more serious. The best part is of course that I had plainly failed in my security education and awareness with this group of people.
We are not guard dogs. We are not security guards (although they are an important part of the security function). We are not bouncers. We are not doing security for theatrical effect.
We are here to protect your revenue, your reputation and your bonus payouts. We are here to ensure we maintain good relationships with our clients, and allow our organisations to take on greater risk and therefore reap greater reward. We are here to help inform the business of security risk and advise as required.
What’s so funny in that?
Note: I have been extremely quiet on here these last few months; my role has changed dramatically at work requiring more travel and less time for the frivolous acts of blogging. Combine that with a busy schedule with Host Unknown and my other info sec commitments I have neglected this blog site somewhat. Hopefully this post sees me back in the saddle again, and you can always catch up with me on Twitter. Oh, and the holiday was good too!
A lot of good stuff has already been written about this last week with regards to BSides London, InfoSecurity Europe and the Security Blogger awards, so this post is a personal recollection after the haze of too many late nights, early mornings and good times.
Tuesday 29th bought BSides London, and once again the volunteers surpassed themselves; it retained two tracks but definitely felt expanded with the workshops and a new location for the rookie track. The organizers should feel rightly proud of what they have done, and those of you who didn’t turn up on the day (and therefore denied others of a ticket) should take good long look at themselves in the mirror.
I had to spend the afternoon over at Infosecurity Europe as I was on a panel titled “One big threat to cyber security: IT Geeks can’t talk to management” alongside Dwayne Melancon and Stephen Bonner. It was only 25 minutes long but I felt we managed to push a lot of good advice and takeaways into it, and the conversations continued afterwards in the hallway. I even managed to get a reference to Kenny Loggins into one answer, something I feel rightfully proud of.
Then back to BSides to see Joseph Gwynne-Jones speak on the rookie track. I was mentoring Joseph this year, and to be honest I found it very challenging as Joseph is profoundly deaf; we couldn’t speak in the run up to BSides and could only communicate over email and Twitter. I advised as best I could, reviewed slides etc, but what was crucial was the ability of his interpreter being able to effectively communicate the jargon etc on the day. Given Joseph wouldn’t meet him until the morning of the conference this would be quite a challenge. As it turned out Ian Hodgetts did a marvelous job, and was also on hand to interpret into British Sign Language (BSL) of all of the talks Joseph went to. We believe this is a first for an info security conference. Joseph obviously did an absolutely cracking job and I was able to spend some time with him and Ian afterwards talking about what else we could do in the future to improve further. It was an eye opener for me, and an absolute education in how important it is to communicate clearly and effectively in these kinds of conferences to absolutely everyone who attends. At the after party I was able to wear the hoody that was generously given to me by the Abertay Ethical Hacking Society, and feel like a student again (if not look like one).
Wednesday bought Infosec Europe again after a few early morning meetings, (including some scheming and rubbing of hands with invisible soap with the good folks of 44CON at the 44Cafe – I can’t wait for September!) but the highlight was of course the Security Bloggers Awards. Between me and Host Unknown I was up for eight awards in total, and came away with the award for Best Personal Security Blog, again! I was both surprised and touched that I was able to get this award again. Host Unknown didn’t fare as well unfortunately, but I can guarantee that the next twelve months will put us in a very strong position for next year, both at the European awards as well as the USA awards at RSA. Unfortunately Andrew was indisposed to help us collect a Host Unknown prize (that we didn’t win).
(I have said this before but will say it again, everyone who is not only involved but also nominated for the blogger awards represents the very best of our industry in that they are all contributing their time and expertise to the community; I can’t recommend enough that if you are reading this that you also read their blogs too. Also, none of this would have happened without Brian Honan, Jack Daniel, Tenable, Tripwire and Firemon; thank you all.
Thursday bought another panel, this time in the Keynote Theatre with a panel on “Risk and control: Effective risk assessment methodologies to drive security strategy and investment” (alongside Vicki Gavin, Paul Haywood and moderated very well by Dave Clemente. It was a good, vibrant session and with plenty of questions both during and after the session.
Finally for the afternoon I got involved in only what can be termed a “flash mob” for Twist & Shout (as soon as that is released I will show it here!) and then got engrossed in the hallway track with the likes of Shan Lee, Quentyn Taylor, Peter Stephens, Jim Shields, Dave Lewis, Wim Remes, of course my conference partner in crime Javvad, and the lovely folks of Eskenzi and Acumin.
If there is one thing that is apparent form the above it is that any conference week is only valuable from the people you meet there. This list must be barely 10% of the people I shook hands with, shared a drink or said hello to, all of whom influence me to one degree or another. Whatever your thoughts on the infosec conference scene, this aspect alone is what makes it worthwhile. Apologies to anyone and everyone I have missed out.
InfoSecurity Europe is a show that has gone from strength to strength over the last few years, with the education programme improving; combine this with an excellent BSides London Conference, this week in Europe is one to look out for (although next year Infosec Europe and BSides will be from 2nd to 4th June at Olympia).
I was in the Manchester Central library over the last weekend, a newly refurbished space that has very recently been reopened to the public. I was only visiting Manchester, so it seemed like a good thing to do and I have to say I was very impressed with the space. There were computers and interactive kiosks throughout, even the cafe tables had a “Surface” like feel to them with images and documents you can read and manipulate with your fingers. As expected there was free Wi-Fi.
I connected to it, and duly fired up my VPN. It didn’t connect. Confused, I tried again. Still failed. Free, public Wi-Fi which blocks VPN! All I wanted to do was check the viewing figures of the latest Host Unknown video, but even that could potentially expose my Google username and password to anyone snooping; with BSides Manchester just around the corner I wasn’t about to become the subject of someone’s Wi-Fi pineapple presentation, so I tweeted my concern (as you do) and disconnected.
There isn’t a piece of general security guidance that gets published that doesn’t include the advice to only connect through a public Wi-Fi point unless you are using a VPN. The risk of having your personal details, usernames and passwords transmitted and subsequently intercepted is too high and YOU MUST NOT DO IT! USE A VPN AT ALL TIMES!
Great advice, except that VPN has still not been adopted properly by any major hardware or software manufacturers of computers, tablets and smartphones. There needs to be a built in, simple and ubiquitous approach to VPN now that mirrors the adoption of anti-virus of 15 years ago and encryption of 5 years ago. There are paid for solutions for enterprises and the more technically minded and free solutions of both for the small business and home user. But not when it comes to VPN. No Apple VPN, or Google VPN for the average home user to be able to use with little effort or even understanding.
The VPN solutions on offer are typically smaller packages that the average person would simply not come across, basically the technology has yet to be commoditised. If you have a problem convincing someone to use a decent complex password, think about trying to explain to them about using a VPN.
Even Apple, whose interface design in my opinion is some of the best in the industry has missed a trick with iOS7; VPN is buried in the settings apps, rather than being on the easy access swipe menu where you can quickly and easily enable it and disable it. And what about the option to have it permanently running, automatically reconnecting when the device goes into standby? I have lost count of the number of times I have been using free Wi-Fi at a conference or hotel only to realise that at some point my VPN has disconnected me without realising it, and I am supposed to be a security professional.
Convenience always wins over security (a wise person once said) and so until VPN is made as transparent as antivirus and encryption (when installed properly) we are simply wasting our time trying to educate the greater population about using it the next time they are in Starbucks.
(Note: the Manchester Central Library Twitter account did respond, and we are in the process of communicating about the evils of open, password free Wi-Fi. Perhaps some InfoSec locals may also wish to reach out to them to educate and discuss?)
But rather a heartfelt thank you and cry for your support! In exchange for not writing yet another piece on Heartbleed (enough coverage by me here from last week) I thought I would take this opportunity to talk about the European Security Blogger Awards.
In it’s second year only, the competition has certainly heated up with a large number of high quality blogs, blogs and podcasts on offer to vote for. There is a good commentary from IT Security Guru and Brian Honan on what it is all about here. I am thrilled, excited and pleasantly surprised to have been nominated in five categories this year:
- Best Corporate Security Blog
- Best Personal Security Blog
- Most Entertaining Blog
- Most Educational Blog
- Grand Prix best Overall Security Blog
(I’m not sure how I got into the corporate blog category, but it’s all good!)
Thank you to all of those who nominated this blog in all of those categories, but with the quality amount of the competition I shall have to start practicing my Hollywood Oscars “really upset but can’t show it that I lost to that charlatan” face when the winners are announced.
One of my other internet tenancies has also been nominated three time, Host Unknown:
- Best Security Video Blog
- Most Educational Blog
- Best New Security Blog
With less than a year in “business” it is great to be nominated here as well, and we have a number of very exciting activities coming up over the next few months.
I said this last year, and it is worth repeating again; this list of nominations represents the very best of what the information security blogging community has to offer. Some of it serious, some of it humorous and some of it acerbic, but all of it providing a viewpoint of one kind of another that is worth listening to, reading or watching. Use this as a shopping list for your RSS reader.
Voting closes on Wednesday 23rd April, and the awards will be announced on Wednesday April 30th at the Prince of Teck Pub, Earls Court.
Thank you again to those of you who nominated me, time for the voting campaign to begin!
The very term ‘risk” often makes people feel uncomfortable, with connotations of bad things happening and that if risk is not minimized or removed then life (or business) becomes too dangerous to continue.
Crossing the road is risky, especially if you live in a busy city, and yet people, young and old alike, do it every day. In fact it is riskier than flying and yet I would argue that there are more people afraid of flying that of crossing the road. Hugh Thompson of RSA put it very well in his 2011 RSA Conference Europe presentation when he raised the issue of “Sharkmageddon”; more people are killed every year sitting on the beach by falling coconuts than those by sharks, but there is an almost universal fear of sharks. We irrationally consider swimming in the sea safer (less risky?) than sitting under a coconut tree.
Risk is an inherent part of our lives, and if we let the realities of risk take control of our business decisions we become the corporate version of an agoraphobic; staying in the safe confines of the environment we know and not ever venturing out to be active in the outside world; ultimately we wither and fail be it as individuals or as a business.
In my experience, one of the most misunderstood approaches to treating a risk is to accept or manage it. Most people are comfortable with mitigating, transferring or avoiding a risk as they involve some kind of act to deal with them, something we are all familiar with. We fix a problem, give the problem to someone else or stop doing the thing that causes us the problem in the first place. However, it often feels wrong to simply accept a risk, in essence to do nothing. Although this is not strictly the case, it is essentially how we feel we are dealing with it. You are accepting that there is either nothing you can do, or nothing you are willing to do to reduce the risk. However, you are not blindly accepting it at face value; rather you are being cognisant of the risk as you continue your operational activities. You know it is there as you carry on your day job. These activities and the very environment you are operating in can change without notice, and make the decision to accept a risk now the wrong course of action.
For instance, it may now be cheaper to fix the risk than it was going to cost you, or the highly lucrative contract that made the risk acceptable is now over and there is a greater risk of financial lost that costs more than the revenue you are bringing in. The reasons for change are often financial, although not always. Your risk appetite may also have reduced or the industry you are operating in becomes more regulated; all of these example mean your decision to accept needs to be reviewed.
All risk decisions need to be reviewed regularly, for exactly the reasons given above, but in my opinion it is risk acceptance decisions that should be reviewed more often, as they are the ones that are made as a result of more transient and changing factors, and are the ones that will potentially harm the organisation the greatest.
It’s a bit like keeping a tiger as a pet – it looks awesome and maybe even draws admiring glances from many, but if you forget you locked it into your bathroom overnight you are going to have a very big surprise when you get up to go to the toilet in the middle of the night. You can’t accept risks without truly understanding them in the first place.