Monday, November 16, 2009

Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires - A Smokey The Bear Approach to Security

A few weeks back Larry Pesce from PaulDotCom posed the following question on Twitter:

"Hmm. If you had to deploy ONE security technology in your organization, what would it be? What is the risk reduction vs, total effort?"

Many people quickly replied. Some answers included: a comprehensive patch management solution (my pick), Security Information Management (SIM) system, network based firewall, Intrusion Prevention System (IPS), incident response plan, and my personal favorite "a very large dog..." . Larry quickly followed up asking what would the second technology be and why?

I struggled with that question. After all it is a "no win" situation. A proper incident response plan would certainly be needed but is reactive. Network defenses would be beneficial but do not take in account a mobile workforce. I finally settled on some sort of central system that would facilitate the system hardening of the end nodes. The reasoning for my answer is the result of experiences I had early in my information systems career.

During my time as a desktop support tech, I spent most days putting out fires. The lack of centralized patch management, host based firewalls, build procedures, and asset management was the source of chaos for the desktop and systems administration teams. Worm outbreaks, improper configuration, and end users running with local administrator rights were the norm not the exception. Consequently, the team was too busy chasing their tail around to be proactive. Those experiences resonated heavily with me and ever since I have insisted in being proactive whenever possible.

Would have proper incident response or a SIM solution have helped my former employer? Maybe. Incident Response procedures and SIM's are important parts of any defense infrastructure but they are reactive, not preventative. Consequently, I would certainly place them in my top five but only after implementing the basics of defense.

While Larry's hypothetical situation is enough to give any security practitioner nightmares, I found it to be a great source of self reflection. Larry discusses the replies in more detail during Episode 172 of PaulDotCom Security Weekly, so check it out when you get a chance. I'm interested to know what you would choose and how fast you would update your resume if you found yourself in the same situation.

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