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12 Jun 2018

NBlog June 12 - infosec priorities

I'm rapidly bringing myself back up to speed on information security frameworks for July's security awareness materials. Today, I've been updating my knowledge on the wide range of frameworks in this area, thinking about the variety of concepts, approaches and recommendations out there.

There are several space-frame models. For some reason presumably relating to our visual perception, they are almost always symmetrical, often triangular or pyramidical in shape such as the ICIIP (Institute for Critical Information Infrastructure Protection) one above, developed at the USC Marshall School of Business in Los Angeles. The ICIIP model caught my eye back in 2008 shortly before ISACA adopted it as BMIS (Business Model for Information Security).

Alternatively the shape might represent the magic number 3, or perhaps 9 (3 squared) counting the nodes and links of a triangular 'pyramid' (glossing over the fact that the ancient Egyptian pyramids have square bases and hence 5 faces, not 4).

Talking of numbers, the dreaded Pareto principle or Pareto rule or 80:20 or whatever the thumbnail MBA guides and assorted self-proclaimed experts are calling it this year, rears its ugly head in some of the advice on information security. Speaking as an infosec pro with a scientific background and an interest in security metrics, I am more than a little cynical about Pareto under any and all circumstances. It's a very vague rule of thumb, at best, derived and wildly extrapolated from, of all things, an observation about the distribution of incomes in England at the end of the 19th Century. I kid you not.

In the context of information risk and security, it's misleading in the extreme. To my mind, 80% secure is woefully short of good practice, no matter how you determine the percentage (which, conveniently, virtually nobody advising Pareto in this space is inclined to do). I totally accept that 100% security is literally unattainable but 80 - really? Well OK then, you might claim to be able to get to 80% of the required level of security with 20% of the controls, or effort, or investment, or whatever. I might equally counterclaim that the remaining 20% of security takes 150% of the effort, maybe 200%. The figures are pure bunkum, made up on the spot. All Pareto really tells us is that life is a shit sandwich, and we should focus on the Stuff That Matters - prioritize in other words. Gosh. 

Priorities interest me in relation to information security. We have a huge array of possibilities in the future, far too many to handle in fact. We can only realistically deal with some of them, rather few when it comes down to it. It is inevitable that we need to focus. Yes, I hear you, "Focus on the 20%"! Whatever. Focus is the point, not your fake mathematics. So what should we focus on? Here it gets fascinating.

In the ISO27k-land, we are advised to focus on the risks, the information risks (although they don't - yet - say so). "Tackle the big risks first and work your way down from there, reviewing and revising constantly as your approach to information (risk and) security management matures" we're told. Hmmm.

Some (including me, at times!) would argue that we need to prioritize on business value, taking account of the effectiveness and efficiency of our information security arrangements AND, ideally, the projected real costs of incidents involving information - meaning both the impact and probability parts of risk.

Splitting that apart, it is feasible to address some high-impact incidents particularly if you limit yourself in some manner to credible scenarios. That's what the Business Impact Analysis component of Business Continuity Management does, extremely well. Better than us infosec wonks, anyway. It's a tiny wee tweak to use the BIA results to prioritize preventive activities in information security, so wee in fact that nobody except us will probably even notice. Cool! That's a substantial tranche of our security strategy and next budget proposal in the bag already, courtesy of those nice BCM people.

Addressing high-probability incidents is more science than art: simply look at your incident metrics to find out what is really going on. 

Oh, hang on a moment, 'incident metrics' is an alien term for some, while incident reporting is, let's say, lackluster at best, even in a fairly mature and compliant organization. 

Now that's an issue we can address through security awareness. 

My case rests, m'lud. Get in touch to subscribe to NoticeBored, soon. If you get your act in gear, you will receive July's awareness materials on security frameworks, helping your organization close the loop on infosec priorities.

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