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Getting Ahead in Information Security

getting ahead

(Originally Posted on the VIA Resources Blog here.)

Advancing your career in information security, let alone getting a job in it in the first place is challenging and sometimes overwhelming at best. It can often feel like an exclusive club that is hard to break into, and the “elder statesmen” of the community distant and aloof. With these kind of barriers where do you even start to try and network and make contact with people who could not only progress your career but also start it?
The real answer at first appears flippant; if you want to be a part of a community you need to engage with it and join in. Obviously, that is harder than it seems, so here are three ways you can help yourself to getting ahead in Information Security:

1. Start attending the many free events that are held every week.
There are plenty of these around, you just have to look for them, such as (ISC)2 and ISACA events, plenty of sponsor driven events and community driven events. Europe’s largest information security event, Infosecurity Europe is a free three day event which not only gives you access to all of the vendors out there, but also an excellent education programme. Traditionally on the same week there is also BSides London, a free one days event, although this one is ticketed. Not in London? Then consider BSides ManchesterSteelCon and SecuriTay. Seek them out and you will find them. Not in the UK, then Google is your friend.

2. Attend some of the bigger, paid for conferences.
Obviously this is not always easy, especially given the price of the tickets and the whole reason you are reading this is that you need a job! All of these conferences require a huge amount of effort and willpower to get them to run smoothly on the day, and many of them require… volunteers. 44CON has one of the best volunteer crew programmes I have come across, with plenty of perks available. By volunteering for these events you are not only showing yourself to be a stand-up member of the community, willing to help out and contribute, but you will also get unprecedented access to the attendees, speakers and organisers. They are yours for the networking!

3. Contribute to the community.
This could be anything from volunteering (above), blogging, tweeting, offering to speak, writing articles for the various community news outlets, in fact anything that gets your name out there. Submit in the variety of Call for Papers (CfP) and you normally get a free ticket, and sometimes travel expenses paid too. Depending upon your grammatical and public speaking skills, this could be very tough but who said progressing your career was easy? Being able to articulate your personal opinions on the often very contentious issues in the industry is an excellent way of improving your ability to assimilate, process and form your own opinions and views for the benefit of the community. What better way of getting known in the industry?

All of the above require time dedication and effort, but since this is your career we are talking about, are these too much to ask?

Flushing Risk at 44CON

logo-1I have just returned from two long days and two long nights of 44CON, the premier conference in London for technical InfoSec professionals (and even a few of us management types). It saw the debut of by “Flushing Away Preconceptions of Risk” presentation, an expansion of the my recent post for the Analogies Project.

The core messages of the presentation are not necessarily pleasant ones; the correct use of risk in any organisation is one of the most powerful tools in an information security programme, and yet it seems to me that very few of us understand it fully. Many of us struggle with not only identifying what the real risks are in the first place, but also how to measure them and even how to properly treat them.

Doing my bit to advertise 44CON

Doing my bit to advertise 44CON

Identifying risks at first seems like an easy think – identify assets, and then identify what could go wrong. I won’t elaborate the analogy much here (read it at the Analogies Project), but given how we regularly fail to identify risky behaviours correctly in our daily lives it should be no surprise we fail to do so professionally. The same bias applies to when we subsequently try and measure the risks; every mechanism we use introduces potential errors and even vagueness. I was quite proud to introduce the Langford/Malik Risk Model (ver 1.0), an approach that I evolved from one that Javvad Malik introduced in his book. Again, it uses an analogy although this time of a pub fight to not only describe levels of risk but also risk appetite. I do hope that not too many of you will find it useful next Friday and Saturday night.

ThomLangford_2014-Sep-08

The Langford/Malik Risk Model ver 1.0

Finally the effective treatment of risk was covered, and how we so often simply do what has been done before, not what is going to be effective now. Just because a risk hasn’t been realised doesn’t mean you have treated it effectively, it just means that an incident hasn’t happened (that you know of).

The slides are below, but since my presentation style has evolved more into storytelling rather than bullet point reading, by themselves they may say little to you, but the session was recorded and when it is released I will make it available here. Like any presentation it barely touches the surface of risk management and its issues, but it was intended to be thought provoking and prompt people to not assume that just because they have always done things in a certain way that it is the best or even correct way.

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As for 44CON itself, well, any conference that has a “gin o’clock” on each day has to be pretty good in my books! It was a very well organised conference, with an excellent and highly motivated Crew to help support it. SpeakerOps were particularly good providing a personal touch I have not seen at any other conference. The quality of the talks and the speakers was also excellent, but as I alluded to in my introduction, many of them were technically beyond me!

The highlight for me however was a workshop I attended demonstrating the beta version of the Cyber CPR product. This is a virtual machine (that can also be deployed on ultra portable hardware if need be) that builds and entire incident management environment allowing for the discovery, gathering and analysis of evidence during an incident. It build a virtual “war room” environment, where multiple incidents can be tracked at once, in a secure and separate environment from the one that has actually just been breached. With tools built into the backend and access via a browser it even does away to have many of the tools on your own environment, making it great for remote and ad hoc use alike.

The product is in Beta at the moment, and does lack a few features, (they described it as not ready for active duty), but what i saw  was very polished and useful even in it’s beta configuration. Commercially it will be available for free with up to three users, and only $5k GBP for up to twenty (please don’t quote me on these figures though). I would strongly recommend you take a look at this excellent environment that for very little outlay will significantly improve many current incident response teams, and their over use of Excel. The team expects it to be commercially ready by Spring next year.

ThomLangford_2014-Sep-13

Obligatory selfie with Jonathon Schiefer

The final highlight was to be able to meet Jonathon Schiefer  the director of the film Algorithm  which had its European debut at 44CON on Wednesday night. It was fascinating to hear about the backstory of the film, his challenges and even how he made the film financially and technically. He was an absolute pleasure to chat with, and I thoroughly regretted my decision to have a curry instead of watching the film. At a stretch you could say we are kindred spirits when it comes to our film making, but he is without a doubt in an entirely different league to me!

44CON will be back next year, but we were also enticed with the news of another 44CON spring conference being planned as well. I would strongly recommend anyone who can get to London to attend both of these conferences. Congratulations to Adrian and Steve and the many people in the crew for putting on a fabulous conference.

Top Five From RSA USA 2014

rsac2014-program-guide-cover-320x407pxI attended the RSA Conference USA last week and was able to witness the chaos, FUD, genuine insight, original thoughts and 25,000 people queueing for a coffee and bagel at 10 o’clock in the morning.

Rather than even attempt to do an end of show round up that other have been able to do far more successfully than me, here are the five things that I remembered the most from the week:

3M Visual Privacy

I still think 3M produce the best privacy filters for monitors, but I have been waiting a long time for technology to catch up and remove the unsightly and easily-left-behind at home piece of plastic in favour of a solution built into the screen itself. Whilst I didn’t unfortunately see that, one of the product managers assured me that this is exactly what the boffins at 3M are currently working on. This is going to be a huge step towards universal and transparent (forgive me) visual security for people using laptops in public places.

MISD_PrivacyFilters_Apple_IMG_ENWW3M also surprised me by demonstrating a pice of software they have designed as well; the known problem with privacy filters is that they only protect you from people looking at your screen from your left or right. From directly behind you they can easily see your screen. The software uses the built in webcam to recognise the users face, and if another face appears in the background looking at the screen, pops up a warning to the user and blurs the screen. To be honest it was a little clunky when I saw it, and it is currently only being developed for Windows, but this is exactly the sort of environment that people working with sensitive information need to “watch their backs” almost literally. I hope they continue to refine the software and expound it to all other major platforms.

Security Bloggers Meetup

sbnRSAC USA sees the annual meet up of the Security Bloggers Network, so i was very excited to be able to attend this year and witness the awards show and a great deal of silliness and nonsense (to whit, the “bald men of InfoSec” picture for one). I managed to meet for the first time a whole bunch of people that I have either conversed with or followed myself, and some of whom I have very much admired. No name dropping I am afraid as there is too much of that later on in this post, but one thing I did take away was that there is a very valid desire to harmonise the North American and European Security Blogger Awards moving forwards which can only be a good thing and build the international blogger network further. In fact, you can now nominate for the EU Security Bloggers awards here.

The "infamous" bald men of security.

The “infamous” bald men of security.

SnoopWall and Miss Teen USA

snoopwall-website-logoIt wouldn’t be a security conference without some kind of booth babe furore and this one was no different. Although the presence of booth babes has dramatically reduced over the last few years there were still a few vendors insisting on using them. And then we thought we had hit a new time low with the presence of Miss teen USA, Cassidy Wolf, at the SnoopWall booth in the South Hall. Condemnation was rapid and harsh. BUT WAIT… THERE’S MORE TO THIS STORY THAN MEETS THE EYE! After I retweeted my feelings about a teens presence at a conference that could best be described as a recovering alcoholic when it come misogyny, I was contacted by Patrick Rafter, the owner VP of Marketing of SnoopWall.

They have partnered with Cassidy to promote privacy amongst teens in complement to their product that detects the misuse of, for instance, the webcam on your computer or your phone. For those that may not know, Cassidy was the victim of blackmail from an ex classmate who hacked into her webcam in her bedroom, took photos and then demanded more pictures. It goes without saying she stood up to the blackmailer, and has since made privacy one of her “causes” during her tenure as Miss Teen USA. Was having her at their booth at RSA a little misjudged? Yes. Is their cause and campaign (and software for that matter) actually have very good intentions? Absolutely. I chatted with Patrick a day later and while he acknowledged how Cassidy’s presence could have been misinterpreted, he strongly defended her presence and her intentions. I honestly found it laudable. Hopefully over the next few years as the industry finally sorts out its booth babe problem, people like me won’t be jumping to the wrong conclusions as we assume the worst.

The Thomas Scoring System

Thomas Scoring System LogoA few months ago I posted about Russell Thomas’ approach to risk management. I had the good fortune to meet with Russell at the Security Bloggers Meet Up and chatted in depth about his approach to measuring risk consistently. He has turned this idea into a very practical approach via an Excel spreadsheet, a point I made in my earlier review. This is important because without a way to implement at a very practical level it remains a theory. The following day Russell was kind enough to walk me through how to use the system in practical terms, and I am going to be trying it out in my day job as soon as possible. I would urge you to take a look at the Thomas Scoring System as I strongly believe it is a great way of bringing metrics together in a meaningful way.

Gene Kim & The Phoenix Project

I was fortunate enough to have been introduced to Gene Kim, the founder of Tripwire, author, DevOps enthusiast and all round genius/nice guy a few months ago, and we had chatted a couple of times over Skype. (Gene is very generously offering me his guidance around writing a book and his experiences publishing it; yes you heard it here first folks, I intend to write a book!) Knowing he was at RSA I was able to seek him out, and I can now say I have met one of my InfoSec heroes. He is a genuinely charming, funny and generous guy, and he was good enough to sign a copy of his book, The Phoenix project, as well as allow me to get a selfie with him. I would strongly encourage everyone in this field, as well as many of those not in it to read The Phoenix Project, as it quite literally changed the way I looked at the role of InfoSec in a business, and that wasn’t even the main thrust of the book.

Gene very graciously allowing me to take a selfie with him

Gene very graciously allowing me to take a selfie with him

It has taken me nearly a week to recover from RSA, but despite the scandal and boycotts and minor demonstrations it was an excellent conference, as much for the presentations as the “hallway track”. As always, my thanks to Javvad for being my conference wing man again.

Is that Javvad, or a waxwork I am posing with?

Is that Javvad, or a waxwork I am posing with?

Now it is back to real life.

A Christmas Public Service Announcement

I have known the good folks of Twist and Shout for a few years now and think their approach to information security awareness and education is spot on. Using good production values, great scripting and where appropriate some humour they have made some great short films. I have been fortunate enough to use some in my own presentations as well.

I am thrilled to be playing a part in their latest Christmas viral in collaboration with another project I am involved in, Host Unknown. I hope you enjoy it.

(It also explains why I have been sporting a beard for the last few weeks.)

The IRMS – a new angle on information security and risk management

photo[1]I have recently returned from a conference that I might not have ordinarily attended or even been able to justify, namely the Information & Records Management Society (IRMS) conference in Brighton.

I had been invited to participate in a panel session on Monday morning entitled “Adapt or Die: Is Records Management still relevant in a World of Big Data” alongside Christian Toon (@christiantoon) and Phil Greenwood of Iron Mountain, and Sarah Norman of HM Treasury. Not only was it an excellent discussion, but it struck me quite how similar the challenges are between the IRM world and the risk management/CISO world.

We answered a question around how can the IRM folks avoid only getting funded and have attention paid to them after an emergency, and it immediately struck me that this is exactly what happens with security. Another related question concerned connecting effectively to the business and I was able to relate the tasks of the IRM function to the Confidentiality, Integrity & Availability (CIA) goals of the information security professional, and how the two goals are very similar.

Even the opening speech spoke about IBM’s Four V’s of big data (quoted), namely:

  • Volume: Enterprises are awash with ever-growing data of all types, easily amassing terabytes—even petabytes—of information.
  • Velocity: Sometimes 2 minutes is too late. For time-sensitive processes such as catching fraud, big data must be used as it streams into your enterprise in order to maximize its value.
  • Variety: Big data is any type of data – structured and unstructured data such as text, sensor data, audio, video, click streams, log files and more. New insights are found when analyzing these data types together.
  • Veracity: 1 in 3 business leaders don’t trust the information they use to make decisions. How can you act upon information if you don’t trust it? Establishing trust in big data presents a huge challenge as the variety and number of sources grows.

Isn’t this exactly the sort of thing that CISO’s have to grapple with every day?

The world of the IRMS and the world of the Infosec Professional are very closely related it seems, and I think this relationship is one that needs to be explored by both communities further to ensure mutual goals are more easily met.

Christian Toon and me looking rather spiffy

Christian Toon and me looking rather spiffy

On a personal side I had a great time speaking with the vendors, watching a few presentations and taking part in the pub quiz (we didn’t win..). There was even a black tie gala dinner on Monday that was an absolute blast that culminated in my friend, Christian Toon, being awarded a fellowship of the IRMS which was just fantastic to to be able to see.

I am sincerely hoping to go to next years event, and perhaps hoping even more that by then the argument to attend will be much easier as our industries begin to forge closer ties.

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