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.

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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.

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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.


Not All Risks Are Bad (even the bad ones…)

Keep_Calm_Big_ThinkThe 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.

tiger__extIt’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.