A few months ago I was approached by a security vendor to see if I would be willing to join them as a Security Advocate, a first of its kind position int heir company. I was referred to them by my old chum and average friend, Javvad Malik (@j4vv4d), so naturally I was very suspicious and asked them to get off the line as I was expecting a very important call.
Once the initial confusion was worked out, I discussed the role, and over the course of a weekend came to the conclusion that this was not only a great opportunity but great timing too. 2020 has been tough on everyone, and running a new business in this environment has been challenging at best. Thankfully, after reaching this decision and following a number of weeks of interviews culminating in an online presentation by me, they reached the same decision that I should join their company.
So, as of Monday 30th November 2020, (TL)2 Security Ltd will be on hiatus for the foreseeable future as I take on the Security Advocate role for Sentinel One. My new employers are very happy for me to see any outstanding work through to completion, and of course, this blog, Host unknown and The Lost CISO will all be continuing.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank all of my clients (even those of you who took three months to pay me, you know who you are…) to say thank you for your trust in me and for the opportunity to work with you and your wonderful companies. To say I had a blast would be an understatement.
For now, though, it is exciting times ahead, to be sure.
Hands up if you have been to an in-person conference or summit since the middle of March this year. Yeah, me neither.
And so we saw the rapid build-up of the online webinar, starting from the first tentative steps made by the BBC’s Have I Got News For You, through to LinkedIn Live, Zoom based cabinet briefings being “hacked”, and the advent of the vanity backdrop. And there was much celebration amongst members of ISACA and (isc)2 as we could now still get CPE’s for sitting around drinking coffee and chatting with our infosec mates.
Some fo the first ones were, frankly, a little bit crap. Poor sound and video, and events organisers more used to managing people in person rather than at the end of a dodgy video link. But these were pioneering days, and let’s face it, we needed those CPEs. It didn’t take long for features to start pouring into platforms like Zoom, Teams, Discord, even Webex (used only by employees of Cisco and people trapped in a Cisco building), and other platforms like BrightTALK. Events people got better at putting them on and using the tools, and the quality went up. New tools (or tools that found a new audience) such as StreamYard and Livestorm have truly democratised the ability to produce slick online conferences with a big budget feel at pocket-friendly pricing.
The rot is starting to seep in, and quickly too. It’s only been a few months as well.
For context since the beginning of this month (October) to the end of next month, I will have hosted over 30 hours of online events, mostly as a full-on Host but also as a panel moderator, and some poor behaviours are starting to seep in already.
So I present to you my Top Ten Webinar Peeves, from both sides of the screen
Start on time. Even if some of your speakers are suffering from technical difficulties, start on time. You should always have a plan B anyway, or a host that can think on their feet quickly enough to engage the audience for the few extra minutes needed. Unlike a physical conference, you don’t have a captive audience. They will leave to do something else or assume it was cancelled last minute. Be on screen straight away and engage immediately.
Finish on time. Or slightly earlier. Never overrun. Your attendees are busy people and have meetings and places to be. Again, they are not a captive audience with the promise of a free drink or six at the end of the show and will leave the session at the published time. This means any closing remarks, thanks to sponsors or calls to action will be lost, and the benefit of the session in the first place significantly reduced.
Test the platform upfront. There are so many different platforms out there now, all with their own quirks and foibles. Each one has a different workflow to share your screen to give a presentation or require an upload prior to the session. Others require a certain browser to work properly, and they all seem to handle audio devices in different ways. Get it sorted upfront.
Position your camera properly. Everybody’s home setup is different, but there are basics that need to be observed. Don’t sit with a window or other light source right behind you as it will darken your image such that you can’t be seen. Can’t move? Then close the curtains. Try out different lights in different locations to get the best picture of you (you want to be recognised at a real conference, later on, don’t you?), and get the camera at the same hight as your eyes. Nobody wants to look into your nostrils. This might mean putting your laptop on a stack of books or similar, but the change is very noticeable.
Use a wired microphone and headphones. Having audio coming out of your speakers is suboptimal and can result in feedback. Wired is best because of latency and sound quality. There are some Bluetooth headsets and buds available that do a good job here, but they are the exception, not the rule.
Present to the schedule. As a speaker, if you have been given a 15-minute slot, speak for 15 minutes (give or take a couple of minutes I am not a heartless monster). the organisers will have some buffer built-in and can work on the fly for genuine accidental overruns, but if your 15-minute slot goes on for 40 minutes, that is rude and disrespectful to the organisers, the speakers following you, and the audience who may not have even joined to watch you but rather subsequent speakers.
Have a timer. Conversely, more organisers should have a visible countdown clock on-screen that will allow everyone to see how much time they have remaining. Additionally, confirming on a regular basis that the speaker knows they will be interrupted and shut down if they exceed their slot by too much is a good way of reinforcing the message to the speaker.
Have a discussion area available. Not all questions are going to be answered in the session, so having a Slack, Discord or other platforms available will help immensely and ensure your speakers have an opportunity to connect to the audience after the session if need be.
Let everyone speak. A good host will ensure that everyone on a panel or discussion gets the opportunity to put their point across. Most of the time everyone is happy for this to happen, but sometimes people like the sound of their own voice over everyone else’s. Short of removing that person from the session, it is very difficult to manage that without causing embarrassment. Don’t be that person. Let the moderator/host guide you through the whole session as they have a much better idea of what is supposed to happen and when.
For goodness’ sake, have fun! As if this year hasn’t been tough enough already, having an opportunity to get together and listen to good talks should be embraced and be enjoyable.
So, speakers, presenters and organisers alike, some tips to make these new (obligatory post-COVID statement here) webinars and sessions more effective for everyone. There are plenty of other tips (don’t use a virtual background if you don’t have a green screen for instance), but these will certainly improve any even you are involved in, and in whatever capacity.
The best thing about virtual events though is that I can get my tea and snacks whenever I want, and not when the venue staff decide. Win-win.
Although I am not a formally qualified auditor, I have had a fair amount of experience of carrying out audits and risk assessments in met various roles towards becoming a CISO. I have also been able to present on the topic and have articulated many of the unique challenges faced by auditors and audits alike.
A similar thing happened to a (barely adequate) friend of mine recently, when his auditor reported a finding that “users have read access to the Windows System32 folder” flagging it as a high risk. Even Microsoft stated that this is how their operating system works, and under “normal operation” cannot be changed. My (barely adequate) friend does not run nuclear power stations, by the way.
Pushing back against these decisions in a formal manner is the only approach you can take; remove the emotion from the conversation and engage as soon as possible, even if it means potentially derailing the audit for an hour or so. If you are able to get team members to do research on the subject, or call in recognised SME’s, then all the better, but establishing the facts early is important. The longer the matter goes on though, the harder it is to resolve.
If that fails, wait until the report or draft comes in. This is an opportunity to formally respond and present evidence to the contrary. This response should be sent not just to the auditor, but also the company they work for (i.e. up the chain of command), as well as other stakeholders such as the clients that commissioned the audit. Their input is important as they are the ones both paying for the audit and with the most vested interest in its outcomes.
Finally, getting everyone involved around an actual table (difficult at the moment I know, but a videoconference will do the trick too) is the last course of action. Hopefully having line management, client/stakeholder, SME’s etc facing off will produce a more amenable result. Don’t expect it to disappear though, perhaps just be downgraded to medium or low.
Being an auditor has a complex dynamic. Third party auditors need to show value to whomever is paying the bills and can sometimes extend the scope or severity of issues to show “value for money”. They can also, ironically, be risk averse and not stand down for fear of being accused of wasting time and a subsequent law suit. An auditor is also trying to be an expert across multiple disciplines at once, as well the one of actually being an auditor, so there are always going to be knowledge gaps. Acknowledging that is a huge step to being a better auditor, and taking time to do independent research on topics you might have not understood as well as you have thought is vital.
For me, auditing/risk assessing was always an opportunity to help the people being assessed; this was a skill as well as a level of emotional intelligence that was shown to me by an ISO 27001 auditor in India, someone I remains friends with after over 12 years. That two-way engagement has been vital to establishing trust and subsequent transparency during audits, and has resulted in better quality findings and a willingness to address them.
Worst case, when it comes to an auditor that won’t back down, you can always just be Accepting the Risk and moving on with the day job.
(TL)2 Security has experience is risk assessment and audit across the security organisation. From a high level risk and gap assessment through to advisory and support services on meeting various certification audits, contact us to find out more.
Business Continuity Plans; probably the most important, yet undervalued and underfunded, part of your security team. This is the team that deals with what might happen to kill you tomorrow, versus what is actually killing us today. A justifiable investment is very hard to make, because they prove their worth when nothing happens; much like the rest of security, but that nothing is going to happen at some unspecified time in the future.
And then something happens, and the leadership are baying for your blood, crying “why didn’t we do something about this before?”. After an initial flurry of investment and interest, it dies down again to pre-crisis levels, and trhe sequence continues.
Maintaining that level of interest is very difficult in virtually any modern business because of the common demands on any listed company; quarterly earnings reports that continually drive down general and administration costs (you are an overhead there, Mr Security), and lurching from one poor investment briefing to another mean there is little room for “what if” investment.
So let’s play some games instead. If they won’t take its seriously, then neither will we. (That’s supposed to be sardonic, by the way.)
Doing tabletop exercises and practising the the plans you have in place is a great way of gaining interest in what it is you are doing, but can be very challenging g to start. The people you are targeting are, after all, the most senior and time poor people in the company. So, let’s start small.
Start with a team within your sphere of influence that has a role to play; maybe the SOC team, and include if you can the departments of peers, such as Legal or Communications. Run a scenario over an hour, record it, document it, create a transcript if need be, and share that report as widely as possible. Make sure you clearly record somewhere that you carried out the test as well, it’s useful fro compliance reasons.
Then rinse and repeat, and each time rely ion the success of the most recent exercise to build the scale and seniority of the exercise. It always surprises me frankly, ho much senior executive try and avoid the exercises, but thoroughly enjoy them when they finally submit to one. it is like they finally see the real world impact of what it is they are doing and the influence they can leverage during times of crisis. I could theorise about the egotistical nature of the phenomenon, but i will leave that to the psychologists and other trick-cyclists.
As the scale of the tests get larger, consider not only running them over longer periods of time and bringing in third parties to manages. This helps in two ways:
You get to be directly involved in the exercise without knowing all the “answers”.
They can bring a level of expertise you won’t have had, as well as tools and bespoke environments to practise with.
These can be run over extended periods, normally no more than a day, but can go beyond if supported. Four hours is a good place to start, with a working lunch in the middle (it helps attract people; everyone loves a free lunch). These third parties may be able to bring additional technology such as a dedicated virtual environment that includes a physically separate network, dedicated laptops, tablets and phones, that ensure the environment is carefully tracked and recorded, and no real world disruptions are encountered. Finally, they can also add real people to interact with, actually phoning the participants, “tweeting” or posting on other social media as part of the exercise, giving an even more realistic feel.
If you want to go extra fancy, you can even run them over multiple geographies, but make sure you can walk before you run!
Given recent circumstances with COVID-19, the lockdown and massive changes to working practises, being able to respond quickly to dramatic changes in the working environment is no longer an exercise in the impossible future, but rather planning on how to operate in a fast moving, ever changing and dangerous environment whilst still maintaining a running and profitable business.
That doesn’t sound like a game to me.
Are you trying to get your Business continuity and Crisis Management plans out of the document and into an actual exercise for your business but don’t know how to start? (TL)2 Security can help with everything from your initial plan to a full day exercise. Partnering with industry leading organisations to bring the Situation Room to your business, and ensuring you have real world and actionable improvements and observations at the end of the process, contact (TL)2 Security for more information.
The one thing the current lockdown has taught me is that you really can eat too much chocolate… who knew?
Left to my own devices and without the distraction of a routine, regular work and people observing my unhealthy eating habits, my faulty brain tells me that more chocolate can only be a good thing and that I should continue to eat it until physical discomfort forces me to stop (in spite of my brain’s protestations.). It is an obsessive and compulsive behaviour that I recognise in myself, and do my best to contain, but it is a constant struggle arguing with myself that chocolate is not the most important thing in my life.
The same could be said to be true of many security professionals and their desire to roll out security practises to their organisations, implementing new procedures, standards, policies and ways of working that are designed to make the organisation very secure. They do this despite the protestations of the organisation itself telling them they have had enough, the new ways of working are too restrictive, difficult to follow and ultimately leave them with a security stomach ache.
This compulsion to think that security is the most important part of a business’ life is one that leads to users having security headaches all day and the business itself feeling slovenly, bloated and sluggish. (OK, that’s enough of the analogies.)
It is ultimately self-defeating, as users will do their best to work around draconian working practices, and the perception of a security organisation will be one of business prevention than vital service. I, and many others, have spoken about not being the department of “no”, but it goes well beyond just saying “yes”.
Agreeing to everything without thought of the consequences is potentially even more dangerous than saying no, especially in the short term. The vital distinction that needs to be made is that of a two way conversation between security and the end users and business. Finding out what is trying to be achieved is far more valuable than just focusing on what is being asked. Requests can be addressed in many different ways, not just by punching a whole in the firewall or switching off 2FA on the VPN, for instance.
In fact, this very conversation helps create even stronger relationships as it highlights two things:
How seriously you take their request.
How much you care about the organisation you both work for.
A great example of this in the above video is that of companies relaxing their security stance during the remote working ramp up of the lockdown. If the response was simply “no”, or even a straight “yes” with no consequences there would have been issues sooner or later. Working with the business, relaxing the standards for the initial growth and then methodically scaling and tightening the security once the initial growth is over is absolutely the right way to go.
So next time you feel yourself reaching for the chocolate wanting to say “no”, think beyond the the immediate consequences and how you can use security for the long term betterment of your organisation rather than your simple security stats.
And one bar of chocolate/security is always enough for everyone, right?
Do you need two re-align your security team to your business and don’t know where to start? (TL)2 Security has a proven track record helping security leaders and teams creat strtaegies and business plans that make real, competitive, differences to organisations. Contact (TL)2 to find out more.