We’re in recession, lest we forget – it isn’t like the press is going to let it slip from our minds – so money in a tight field is getting tighter. However, even for large businesses improving security need not cost the earth, or indeed anything at all ( apart from some time, and we must recall that time is equal to money ). To that end, I thought that I’d put down five very cost-effective and pragmatic ways to significantly improve your security.
Certainly at a desktop or server OS level, patches are mostly available for free. ( If you have devices, operating systems or applications that require a maintenance contract for patch updates – this isn’t quite for free, however let’s, for the time being assume that this cost is covered off already. ) Patching up to date ensures that, with the exception of those pesky “zero-day” problems, that your system is protected against known vulnerabilities. I’ve been to many, many organisations where patching is so out of date the measure is years – that’s seriously wrong. The excuse is often – “our application is so unstable we can’t” – let us think carefully about this statement and consider, under these circumstances what we should do about it … if and only if this is true and there is nothing that you can do to get the application maintained – then can it remain as is – however the device or server should be isolated behind other mitigations. ( So much so that if I am scanning your network in a vulnerability or penetration test – I don’t want to be able to see the patch level. )
2. Review your Firewall Rules
When was the last time you reviewed your firewall rules ? You’ve added some recently I’m willing to bet, but have you purged old entries ? Do you have a process for deleting rules when they are no longer needed ? Each “allow” rule is a doorway into your network – if it isn’t needed, lock the door. Incidentally, at this time it is wise to pre-empt the next point, is there supporting documentation surrounding your firewall ruleset ? At a minimum, you need to know what the rule is for in English, ( e.g. “allow port 80 tcp to 184.108.40.206 from 220.127.116.11” doesn’t tell me anything, “http website access to the stock server from the warehouse subnet” does. ) And who owns it ( John Smith from Warehouse Control ). That way, a review involves going through the list calling Bob and asking him if he still needs that rule.
Review your docs – dry run through processes and procedures – do they still work ? Update them if not. Are there any documents that are clearly missing ? Write them. Review your policies, you are of course doing this annually anyway aren’t you, but IT moves faster than on a yearly basis, and I’m pretty sure that a mid-term review wouldn’t do you any harm – issue errata if you don’t want to actively change the policy at this stage – but keep the changes to hand for the updates and it will save time later. Check that your supporting documentation is up-to-date and relevant – such as your firewall rules above – if it isn’t in English, make a translation – you might know what it means, however if you get hit by the proverbial bus ( or get an offer you can’t refuse ) – then your successor will need to figure it out – the more uncertainty there is in that time the higher the risks of an incident – if you want an incentive a public breach that might be blamed on you after you’ve left ( “My predecessor left such a mess it was impossible to manage” ) might haunt you for a long time. It never ceases to amaze me how small this industry actually is.
4. Cull dead accounts
Like old firewall rules, old, unused accounts are opportunities to an external attacker. Hopefully you have a policy in place for removing accounts when an employee leaves, but it is still well worth going through and auditing. Look for test accounts, administrator accounts, contractor or supplier accounts and system accounts that wouldn’t be identified by a leavers process, and may well not have the same lockout or expiry controls. At the same time, have a quick check to make sure that all accounts have the correct settings – there are many tools and code available for walking AD or other directories to look for specific settings freely available on the net.
5. Educate a bit
I’m not talking about a huge CBT on security here – that’s hardly free. However writing and sending an e-mail to all staff is. Give some thought to what your major concerns and issues are, write a positive statement of ways to manage these risks ( one per e-mail, send a few ) and get it out there. Creating awareness, putting ideas into the heads of staff and giving them details of whom to contact with concerns or questions is going to reap long-term benefits that you can only imagine now. This is probably the largest return on investment that you can imagine – proactive staff will head off problems you have yet to conceive, and, given a voice, they’ll give you ideas and suggestions that will not only improve security, but could well make your business more profitable overall.
These are just five simple suggestions – you could extrapolate a little I’m sure to find a few other things that won’t cost a thing, but will improve your security ( here’s a clue – if you start with the word “review” or “audit” and follow with things like “running services”, “configurations” or “file/folder/group permissions” you’ll probably come up with another few ). It’s an interesting time to be in Security – budgets are down, but threats are up – pro-active low-cost work could be the difference between success and failure – these things really should be part of a security routine anyway – but we are so often firefighting or implementing the next new thing that we don’t get much of a chance – this breathing space might actually be what the doctor ordered …