My annual home insurance quote came through this morning, with the usual 10-20% uplift that I know I can remove again through simply phoning the provider and threatening to leave. It is a pretty standard technique in the industry that has been going on for years, and that preys upon the lazy people in the world who can’t be bothered to look for a better deal.
Rewind a few months when I spoke with a very senior executive who admitted that he saw information security as a form of insurance.
“I don’t want to have to pay for it, but I do because I know that when I need it you guys come and fix the problems we are in”
This is a somewhat common and fair attitude to information security given our background as an industry and how we often interact with the business (a particularly large topic that this entire blog is really about). yet what was so interesting was his follow on comment:
“the things is, I am sure there is so much more information security can do for us, I just don’t know what it is”
When I first took out home insurance, I was most concerned about getting the cheapest quote. I was young, free and almost single, but all of the extras that the larger insurance companies were offering (and charging for) did not concern me. If my house burnt down I would find somewhere else to live while the insurance company sorted everything out, what do I need a hotel for? Lost my house keys? I will change the crappy lock on the front door myself when I get round to it, I don’t need a locksmith from the insurance company to do it for me.
Fast forward to today, and I live a far more complex busy life, cash rich (relatively speaking), time poor, with responsibilities to my children and wife, and a lifetime of memories in my house that are virtually irreplaceable. if things go wrong, I need it fixed quickly and easily and with the minimum of impact to me and my family. I even have proactive services, such as boiler cover and servicing to reduce the likelihood of things going wrong in the first place. Therefore I am leveraging every aspect of what the insurance company can give me even before something goes wrong, and the peace of mind that I get knowing they are looking out for me even prior to disaster striking is worth (almost!) every penny.
An information security programme must be able to sell every aspect of its services to the business, and not just be seen as a reactionary force. if it does that, every time something goes wrong, both the financial and emotional premiums of paying for your services will increase time over time until the point the programme is seen as imply an overhead like paying the rent and keeping the plant watered, i.e. when the time comes, costs to be reduced.
Look at how you provide service before the fact; risk assessments, security testing, awareness and education can all be seen as services that prevent and/or add value to the business. What about the day to day? Consultancy to the business to do things securely without them even thinking about it; it doesn’t have to have “security” written on it to be a win for you and the business. And of course don’t forget after the event; incident management, business continuity, or even helping in the quality acceptance environments after something has been developed.
The key is to be involved in the full lifecycle of your business, whatever they are. They will be different from business to business and industry to industry, so it may not always be easy to identify, but it is extremely valuable.
And the prices we quote every year? Unlike insurance premiums, we are worth every penny.
Note: I don’t actually like the analogy of infosec and insurance, but it is one I regularly hear, so I decided to try and embrace it in this blog. I still don’t like it, but I can see how it could be useful for a simple elevator pitch or short conversation. There are plenty of analogies out there, and the best place for them in my humble opinion is at The Analogies Project. Check them out, and use them wherever possible. Even better, think about becoming a contributor.
In the years running up to the beginning of the second world war the British government was extremely concerned that in the event of hostilities breaking out, the german Luftwaffe would launch significant attacks against Britain and especially London. With an estimated 250,000 casualties in the first week alone, the consensus was that millions of Londoners would flee, leaving the industrial war engine to grind to a halt. Several psychiatric hospitals were even set up on the outskirts of London to handle the huge numbers of casualties psychologically affected by the bombing.
History tells us this was not the case, despite horrific numbers of casualties and extensive damage to homes, property and businesses throughout London.
A Canadian psychiatrist, J. T. MacCurdy, in his book The Structure of Morale postulated this was because the effect of a bomb falling on a population splits them into three groups:
1. The people killed by the bomb. As MacCurdy puts it
the morale of the community depends on the reaction of the survivors, so from that point of view, the killed do not matter. Put this way the fact is obvious, corpses do not run about spreading panic.
Harsh, but true in this model.
2. The Near Misses, the ones that
feel the blast, … see the destruction… but they survive, deeply impressed. It may result in ‘shock’…and a preoccupation with he horrors that have been witnessed.
3. The Remote Misses. These are the people who hear the sirens, the bombs explode, watch the aircraft overhead, but the bombs explode down the street. For them the experience of the bombing is that they survived easily, unlike the Near Miss group. The emotion as a result of the attack…
is a feeling of excitement with a flavor of invulnerability.
Near miss = trauma, remote miss = invulnerability.
Diaries and recollections of the period certainly support these theories. For instance, when a laborer was asked if he wanted to be evacuated to the countryside (after being bombed out of his house twice) he replied;
What, and miss all this? Not for all the tea in China!
The reason for this attitude, the sense of invulnerability, is that they have been through the very worst of time… and survived. They had faced their fears, and realized they were not as bad as they thought they were going to be, and in fact the result of surviving had given them a sense of elation that made them feel even more alive than before.
This is a very long way of saying that we may very easily view security incidents and breaches like this. Sony (perhaps) are the ones right at the centre of the blast. they are affected directly, and don’t even run around spreading panic because they are too busy dealing with the incident itself.
The near misses, Sony’s vendors, suppliers and partners are probably reeling from the near miss and are probably doing all they can to ensure it doesn’t happen to them. in short why are traumatized.
Finally, there is the rest of us. Yeah baby! Another breach, and it wasn’t us! We are invincible! We don’t need to do anything different at all, because we are survivors!
I think I see an issue here. Every time we are not breached, we become more confidant that we will not be breached, and become over confident and convinced we are having the time of our lives doing great stuff in the infosec world and not being breached. let’s hope that bomb doesn’t drop too close to home to burst that bubble, otherwise Careers is So over ceases to be a funny industry joke and very much a reality. Take the precautions now, take the threat seriously, and do what you can now, before it is too late.
I would strongly recommend reading the Book David & Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell if you would like to read more about this concept as well as others along the same lines.
A personal note…
I am now under new employment as a result of an acquisition of my previous employer, and I have been fortunate enough to be elevated to Group CISO of the acquiring company. Unsurprisingly this has resulted in a massive new workload, travel schedule and responsibilities, and hence my distinct lack of posts this last few months. Despite this I have still been nominated for European Personal Security Blog 2015 in this years Blogger Awards; thank you!
Additionally, I am so proud to say that not only is my new employer keen to promote this blog internally in the new company, but also thrilled to say we have become the newest sponsor of the European Security Blogger Network.
Finally, I have been on the road a huge amount the last few weeks, including at RSA USA where I was very happy with my presentation at the RSA Studio; I spoke about how we have changed our approach to security awareness, and the use of the Restricted Intelligence product to catalyse it.
There were also talks at Munich Identity Management Conference, although the talks are not public yet.
Next week, Bsides London, InfoSec Europe, European Blogger Awards and RSA Unplugged. I am mentoring a rookie at Bsides, Speaking at infoSec, as well as at the Tripwire booth, sponsoring (and nominated!) at the Blogger Awards, and just watching at RSA Unplugged.
It’s has been a busy few months!
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That devilishly handsome bloke you see to the right is Bruce Hallas. I used to go to school with him nearly 25 years ago, and then last summer, at the first old boys school reunion that our year organised since leaving I met him again, and it turns out we are in the same infosec business. I spoke to him about all of the good work I am doing, the company I work for, the many countries I visited and generally tried to make myself feel more important than the skinny eighteen year old I was when I last saw him. He told me that he runs his own infosec consultancy, his own blog, works with the UK government, and was in the process of setting up “a project” as a freely available, self funding, resource of analogies/stories to help people better understand information security. (Bruce immediately won the “my life is awesome since leaving school” competition of course.)
Since that time, The Analogies Project has grown from one man, an idea and a website to something producing real, quality content, and with a very promising and bright future.
In the words of the Project itself;
The Analogies Project has a clear mission. To tackle the unintelligibility of information security head on and secure the engagement of a much broader audience. Its aim is to bridge the chasm between the users, stakeholders and beneficiaries of information security and those responsible for delivering it.
Through a series of innovative initiatives the Analogies Project will enable information security professionals to effectively communicate with their chosen audiences. The content will be delivered through a variety of alternative communication techniques, media and partners.
The part of this project that I like the most is that it is essentially a community project. Bruce isn’t charging money for membership to the analogies as they are written (and they are coming thick and fast now!), and none of the contributors are charging for their work either. There are not only the web contributions in the form of a library, but a book planned, a conference, and even an opera! With the momentum that is currently behind the project at the moment there is every reason to believe in its future success.
So why am I contributing? Honestly, I have selfish and philanthropic reasons to do so. Obviously it gets my name out there, allows me to practise my writing, test some ideas and also say “I was there from the start”. All that aside though, I have frequently struggled in my day job to get infosec concepts across to people, either directly, in meetings or even in awareness training. To have had a resource like this available to me five years ago would have made my life so much easier, allowed me to advance the infosec “cause” more effectively and given me a set of tools I knew were consistant with the prevailing thoughts of industry commentators. Having a centralised, peer validated, toolkit available is fundamental to us as professionals when it comes to the messaging we give to our users, clients, bosses, teams and even the infosec community as a whole.
It’s still early days, but I have submitted my first contribution just last week (soon to be published I hope) and I am already inspired enough to be working on my second and third. There are a number of analogies already in place, and I would urge you to read them and consider them in the context of your current communications to your audiences, whomever they may be. The book will be another important milestone and one I hope to play a part in; indeed I hope to be able to play a part in the the project for the forseeable future, and why I am happy and proud to display my “contributor” badge up on the top right of this site.
If you feel you have something to contribute, then head over to The Analogies Project and let Bruce and the organisers know. If you don’t feel ready to, then certainly check it out anyway. You won’t regret it.