Last Updated on May 6, 2011
You need to give people information and transparency so that they can understand security. It’s essential to make them a part of the security process and ensure they are aware of the company security policy.
These words were told yesterday, may, the 4th 2011 on Barcelona during the Check Point Experience, by Gil Shwed, the founder and Chairman of the Information Security Vendor, for unleashing the 3D Security model of the company, a model which focuses on policy people and enforcement.
No better moment could be found for emphasizing the role of the user inside the information security process!
The dramatic events of RSA, Epsilon and Sony Data Breach are redefining the information (in)security landscape and consequently rising many questions and concerns among the security professionals for the true extent of the events. RSA tokens, whose seeds were allegedly compromised during the breach are used in more than 25.000 corporations all over the Globe. The Epsilon Data Breach involved 2% of customers: for a company which sends out over 40 billion e-mails a year on behalf of over 2,500 clients, this means millions of individuals at risk and needing to be on alert from scams and phishing for years. Last but not least Sony, for which a total of more than 100 million records were stolen during two separate waves of attack on its PlayStation Network and Qriocity Service.
Now the question is: what do Mr. Shwed’s words deal with the latter events?
Well, (too) many words have been spent so far: recalling the security concerns for cloud based services (mostly in case of Epsilon and Sony) and the role of Advanced Persistent Threats which are becoming an harmful attack vectors for Enterprises, using spear-phishing mail to overwhelm the first line of defence made by the employees. Apparently old school techniques under renewed dresses. Nevertheless there is a point which, in my opinion, has not been adequately emphasized so far, and the point is just the answer to the previous question.
Simply said the uncovered point is the role of the people in the (in)security process which led to the breach. Hopefully this is not exactly the kind of role wished by Mr. Swhed, anyway if we reverse the paradigm, the result is exactly the same: on one hand, if it is true that the individual made aware of the policy enforces the first level of security and is the core of the security process itself, it is also tue that the unaware individual is the core of the breach. This is exactly what happened in the affair of RSA and Epsilon where the people, the first line of defense of any organization, was the first line to be breached, well before the systems, and the breach in the people was the trigger for the breach in the systems as well.
RSA clearly explained this occurrence in a blog post, and the appealing subject “2011 Recruitment Plan” of the phishing e-mail, hiding a zero-day Adobe Flash vulnerability (CVE-2011-0609) embedded into an excel spreadsheet, went into the annals of Information Security. Clearly the poisoned spreadsheet injected a RAT (Remote Access Tool) used to gain privileges and move freely into the network up to the final target.
Things were not so different for Epsilon, in which individual company employees were initially targeted for email scams and used to gain access to the internal database as happened.
So far there is not evidence of a similar occurrence for Sony, however today’s Sony’s Response to the U.S. House of Representatives, written by Kazuo Hirai, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Sony Computer Entertainment America, in response to questions posed by the subcommittee members of the House Commerce Committee, in some steps closely resembles original RSA announcement.
Sony has been the victim of a very carefully planned, very professional, highly sophisticated criminal cyber attack.
And in case of RSA:
Recently, our security systems identified an extremely sophisticated cyber attack in progress being mounted against RSA.
(Not too much) curiosly the two steps are very similar, and likely the adjective sophisticated was used to emphasize an external origin of the attack aimed to exclude an internal fault and the presumable consequent fall of shares), nevertheless I could not help joining the two sentences and, presumably the two events, even if so far Sony did not show the same transparency of RSA and only few details are known.
Ultimately these events (to which I should add the Night Dragon malware), show that the new cyber-attacks are targeting users, and employees inside the Organization. Not only they targeted users to achieve the attack, but also the aftermaths will keep on targeting users for years: as a matter of facts, even if the full consequences of the RSA breach are not completely clear so far, PSN and epsilon users will presumably be the targets of a new wave of spear-phishing and spam emails (so far no news have been reported of a fraudulent use of Credit Cards Number stolen, which, according to Sony, were encrypted).
In all the cases, quoting Mr. Shwed’s words, we deduce the need for the user to be the core of the security process. The security process must shift to a level which involves policy definition, people awareness and, policy enforcement, at the device level, through an appropriate configuration, and most of all at the user level, through an appropriate education.