Companies with Virtual CSOs get ahead without losing an arm and a leg

Security remains a complex discipline.  This ever-changing challenge grows in complexity daily as new threats emerge and compliance requirements increase.  Several regulations including HIPAA require organizations to have a person whose role is to ensure compliance within the organization.  This is why organizations need a designated person with primary responsibility for security and compliance.  This person is the Chief Security Officer (CSO).

The Role of a Chief Security Officer

A Chief Security Officer or CSO is first and foremost a business leader in the organization.  He or she sets the organization’s security vision and ensures that it is in line with other business objectives.  The CSO works with other business leaders such as the senior financial manager such as a Chief Financial Officer (CFO), business owner, senior partners, or Chief Executive Officer (CEO), senior IT executive such as the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Operating Officer (COO) to implement security and compliance initiatives throughout the company.

Some CSO activities may include:

  • Establishing and evangelizing the security vision
  • Defining security strategy and goals
  • Determining the level of acceptable risk
  • Defining and implementing security and compliance governance
  • Coordinating compliance activities and communicating with regulatory groups
  • Creating, publishing and maintaining security policies
  • Ensuring security awareness of risks and organizational security policies
  • Coordinating incident response activities (e.g. data breach, IP theft)
  • Ensuring physical security for company facilities including offices, sites, and datacenters.

Challenges

The CSO role is still relatively new, and it has seen some challenges in implementation.  Information security involves much cooperation from Information Technology (IT) and compliance requirements include many sections on technical controls, so it is understandable that IT is often seen as the group responsible for security, but this is not ideal because security and compliance both involve much more than just technical controls.  The actions of people including employees and outside actors are essential to maintaining security and compliance, and this requires someone or a group with more than the technical skills.

Some chief security roles may be given to IT, legal, or HR, employees. However, this approach often results in these individuals handing security as a secondary role, so security does not get the priority it is due.  Furthermore, a central point of contact lacks in the organization in this approach.

The Role of a Virtual CSO

A virtual CSO performs the same activities a CSO would but they do so on a part-time basis.  The role may be comprised of several persons to cover a company even when a person is on vacation or otherwise unavailable.  Virtual CSOs allow organizations to utilize highly specialized skill sets by provides companies with expert resources in security. This is made possible without the high fixed cost of adding dedicated security executives.

Virtual CSOs can assist organizations by developing effective strategies essential to evaluate and mitigate risks, maintain operational continuity and secure the organization. Virtual CSOs address areas of security need whether these are on personnel issues, timely employee background checks, technology, rehabilitation or procedures and policies to designing.

Virtual CSOs partner with businesses to understand how core information assets have been deployed. They work hand in hand with organizations as they study the security placed around the assets and what improvements can further be made. Virtual CSOs provide assistance in integrating security into organizational strategies and processes, and they help companies develop tailor-made delivery plans that are fitting to their needs and budget.

Ideal Traits

Ideal virtual CSOs should be well-versed at understanding exploits, attacks, controls, countermeasures, and vulnerabilities. They should have a thorough understanding of technology such as operating systems, virtualization, storage, and networking but business and leadership skills are even more important for this role.  Security and compliance are more about people than it is about technology so the virtual CSO should be able to interface and direct people and lead change efforts.

Virtual CSOs need to be able to translate risk to data, information or computers, into the risk to business. They should be able to determine the how to respond to risks including mitigating, accepting, transferring or avoiding risk.

Summary

The Chief Security Officer role is more vital to companies of all sizes than ever before.  CSOs are in high demand but for those who do not need a full-time person and the expense that goes with it, a virtual CSO may be the answer.  Sometimes this role is added to a pre-existing role within the organization but this can lead to compliance being treated as a secondary activity, and it does little to protect organizational information security.

Virtual CSOs work across business and functional lines. They see through the complete deployment of strategic and holistic approaches in dealing with specific business issues. This is done by carefully assessing risks related to the organization’s reputation, information, assets and all people involved. Such is crucial especially for businesses that are looking at long-term sustainability and expansion.

Recent indictments reveal debit card fraud techniques

On May 9, 2013, Federal prosecutors issued indictments against eight individuals for hacking and theft.  The case revealed the methods used by hackers to gain access to debit card numbers that were ultimately used to withdraw $45 million.

Hackers gained unauthorized access to credit card processing companies and conducted what hackers term “unlimited operation”.  Unlimited operation is an attack where debit cards account balances and withdrawal limits are removed.  In this case, attackers performed unlimited operation on several prepaid MasterCard debit cards and then distributed the card numbers and pins to groups around the world.  These groups recoded gift cards and hotel entry cards with the stolen card numbers and then coordinated withdrawals from ATMs.

We have spoken of the increase in the coordination of cyber-attacks many times, and this is an excellent example.  In a little over two hours on December 22, 2012, the criminals were able to withdraw $400,000 from 140 ATMs across New York City.  A series of thefts in February resulted in the theft of almost $2.4 million in 10 hours, and the group is accused of stealing a total of $45 million by following this procedure for different card issuers and locations.

The banks involved in this case might have prevented the theft by monitoring for anomalous behavior such as the excessive use of a card number or the modifications required in unlimited operation attacks.  Anomalous behavior monitoring is valuable no matter where the next attack comes from, and it is useful in other industries as well.

Ineffective Security Policy Adherence Results in Another Data Breach

The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) had a mobile device containing 100,000 youth and employee records stolen on January 2, 2013.  The device was unencrypted and not password protected despite a policy by the DJJ requiring both encryption and password protection on mobile devices. This latest breach further demonstrates the importance of encrypting mobile devices but more importantly, it shows that a policy alone is not enough.  Organizations and government agencies need to make sure that employees are aware and adhering to their policies.  Without this, such policies are worthless.

Do you have a mobile device encryption policy?  If so, do you know if employees are following it?  Don’t let this happen to you.

 

Malware behind university data breach

Salem State University in Massachusetts issued a data breach warning to faculty and students on March 11.  The warning informed them that information for over 25,000 persons including social security numbers had been breached.  The breach was caused when malware, identified as Vobfus, infected the university’s human resources database.

Malware is often seen as a nuisance or a productivity inhibitor but an infected computer can pose a much great risk to organizations and it should not be overlooked.  Malware gets behind the organization’s perimeter and it can act with the credentials of legitimate users including administrators.  Just because a system is behind a firewall or in a demilitarized zone doesn’t mean it is safe as threats from the inside are just as virulent as those from the outside.  Recently, malware has been the cause of a number of recent data breaches including supermarkets, banking institutions, and retailers.

Antivirus software is essential but it is only the first step in protecting against malware.  New malware and revised versions of existing malware are continually being released and antivirus signatures will miss some malware, potentially even the most dangerous ones.  Understand what normal traffic looks like on your network so that abnormalities can be quickly identified.  Take notifications from users about suspicious activity seriously and consider implementing technologies that utilize behavior based scans to detect viruses and intrusions.  Lastly, know what to do and who to call if there is a data breach

Cyber Forensics: Collecting evidence for today’s data breaches

FingerprintEric Vanderburg

I will be presenting at the ISACA CPE & Social Event – Cyber Forensics & Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Miami Heat Basketball Outing today at 3:00 PM.  The topic is “Cyber Forensics: Collecting evidence for today’s data breaches” and it should be an enjoyable talk.

Many forensic techniques focus on obtaining data from local machines, servers or data storage equipment but evidence for modern attacks often resides in many places and the techniques for obtaining this data go beyond those used in the typical forensic investigation.  In this presentation, ISACA members will learn about:

·         Detecting intrusions
·         Network evidence
·         Attack pattern analysis
·         Statistical flow analysis
·         Traffic analysis

View the ISACA event.

50,000 Medicaid providers’ data breached

On March 8, 2013, a contractor working for North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) billing department stored unencrypted data of 50,000 Medicaid providers on a thumb drive that was to be transferred between facilities.  However, the drive was lost along with the data it contained which includes names, social security numbers, dates of birth and addresses of the 50,000 providers.

In last week’s article titled, data breach threats of 2013, we cited breaches by third parties as one of the top three highest rated threats in the Deloitte survey of technology, media and telecommunications companies and here is a perfect example of a third party data breach.  As mentioned last week, organizations can conduct vendor risk management to reduce this threat.  The vendor risk management process begins by evaluating the security of third parties that work with sensitive data, controlling what data they have access to and conducting periodic audits to ensure that they maintain the same security standing.

Unfortunately, the North Carolina HHS assumed that their contractor, Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), was taking adequate security precautions.  HHS Secretary Aldona Wos said, “We expect our vendors to maintain the security of information.”  However, N.C HHS is only now requesting validation of these assumptions.  Wos stated: “I have instructed CSC that North Carolina expects an independent third-party assessment to assure CSC’s adherence to required security standards.”

Data breach threats of 2013

A recent study by Deloitte, titled Blurring the lines: 2013 TMT global security study, shows that 59% of Technology, Media, and Telecommunications (TMT) companies suffered a data breach.  88% of these companies do not believe that they are vulnerable to an external cyber threat such as hacking.  Rather, the three highest threats were:

  1. Employee errors and omissions
  2. Denial of service (DoS) attacks
  3. Security breaches by third parties

Employee errors and omissions

Awareness is a critical factor here, and Deloitte lists it as one of the top three security initiatives of 2013.  70% of TMT companies responded in the survey that employee mistakes were an average of high vulnerability.  The risks, as stated by Deloitte, include, “talking about work, responding to phishing emails, letting unauthorized people inside the organization, or even selling intellectual property to other companies.”  To counter this, companies are conducting awareness training, often through security firms with experience in the area, and creating materials that employees will see on a regular basis to remind them of their responsibility to protect the data they work with.

Denial of service (DoS) attacks

Denial of Service (DoS) attacks was also rated a high threat.  DoS attacks overload targeted information systems making them slow to respond to requests or taking them down entirely.  Due to the relative ease of conducting a DoS and the criticality of information systems to today’s businesses, it is no wonder that DoS makes the list.  These attacks are often triggered by saying something that irks a hacker group or by opposing a hacker group of their interests.  Organizations can protect themselves by monitoring the messages they are sending especially through social networking and by working out an incident response plan for handing a DoS attack that includes the public relations factors in addition to the technical ones.

Security breaches by third parties

Breaches by third parties are at the top of the listing party because the average company deals with so many third parties in the course of doing business.  In fact, 79% of respondents said the sheer number of third parties they deal with would be an average of high threat.  With so many third parties, it is difficult to determine if each has a sufficient level of security to protect adequately the data they work with and, as we all know, security is only as effective as the weakest link.  Organizations have responded by more thoroughly screening third parties and assigning them a risk rating for the type of data they will be working with through a process called vendor risk management.  The third party then needs to demonstrate security that is in line with the risk rating they have.  This process is required by regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

The threat landscape of 2013 continues to grow, and companies are tasked with more responsibility to protect the data they work with.  As can be seen from Deloitte’s survey, security awareness, denial of service and third party breaches are three major concerns for companies in 2013.  To protect themselves, businesses can conduct security awareness training, create incident response plans, and screen third parties who work with sensitive data.