File Integrity Monitoring – Why Change Management Is the Best Security Measure You Can Implement
With the growing awareness that cyber security is an urgent priority for any business there is a ready-market for automated, intelligent security defenses. The silver-bullet against malware and data theft is still being developed (promise!) but in the meantime there are hordes of vendors out there that will sell you the next best thing.
The trouble is, who do you turn to? According to, say, the Palo Alto firewall guy, his appliance is the main thing you need to best protect your company’s intellectual property, although if you then speak to the guy selling the FireEye sandbox, he may well disagree, saying you need one of his boxes to protect your company from malware. Even then, the McAfee guy will tell you that endpoint protection is where it’s at – their Global Threat Intelligence approach should cover you for all threats.
In one respect they are all right, all at the same time – you do need a layered approach to security defenses and you can almost never have ‘too much’ security. So is the answer as simple as ‘buy and implement as many security products as you can’?
Cyber Security Defenses- Can You Have Too Much of a Good Thing?
Before you draw up your shopping list, be aware all this stuff is really expensive, and the notion of buying a more intelligent firewall to replace your current one, or of purchasing a sandbox appliance to augment what your MIMEsweeper already largely provides, demands a pause for thought. What is the best return on investment available, considering all the security products on offer?
Arguably, the best value for money security product isn’t really a product at all. It doesn’t have any flashing lights, or even a sexy looking case that will look good in your comms cabinet, and the datasheet features don’t include any impressive packets per second throughput ratings. However, what a good Change Management process will give you is complete visibility and clarity of any malware infection, any potential weakening of defenses plus control over service delivery performance too.
In fact, many of the best security measures you can adopt may come across as a bit dull (compared to a new piece of kit for the network, what doesn’t seem dull?) but, in order to provide a truly secure IT environment, security best practices are essential.
Change Management – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (and The Downright Dangerous)
There are four main types of changes within any IT infrastructure
- Good Planned Changes (expected and intentional, which improve service delivery performance and/or enhance security)
- Bad Planned Changes (intentional, expected, but poorly or incorrectly implemented which degrade service delivery performance and/or reduce security)
- Good Unplanned Changes (unexpected and undocumented, usually emergency changes that fix problems and/or enhance security)
- Bad Unplanned Changes (unexpected, undocumented, and which unintentionally create new problems and/or reduce security)
A malware infection, intentionally by an Inside Man or external hacker also falls into the last category of Bad Unplanned Changes. Similarly, a rogue Developer implanting a Backdoor into a corporate application. The fear of a malware infection, be it a virus, Trojan or the new buzzword in malware, an APT, is typically the main concern of the CISO and it helps sell security products, but should it be so?
A Bad Unplanned Change that unintentionally renders the organization more prone to attack is a far more likely occurrence than a malware infection, since every change that is made within the infrastructure has the potential to reduce protection. Developing and implementing a Hardened Build Standard takes time and effort, but undoing painstaking configuration work only takes one clumsy engineer to take a shortcut or enter a typo. Every time a Bad Unplanned Change goes undetected, the once secure infrastructure becomes more vulnerable to attack so that when your organization is hit by a cyber-attack, the damage is going to be much, much worse.
To this end, shouldn’t we be taking Change Management much more seriously and reinforcing our preventative security measures, rather than putting our trust in another gadget which will still be fallible where Zero Day Threats, Spear Phishing and straightforward security incompetence are concerned?
The Change Management Process in 2013 – Closed Loop and Total Change Visibility
The first step is to get a Change Management Process – for a small organization, just a spreadsheet or a procedure to email everyone concerned to let them know a change is going to be made at least gives some visibility and some traceability if problems subsequently arise. Cause and Effect generally applies where changes are made – whatever changed last is usually the cause of the latest problem experienced.
Which is why, once changes are implemented, there should be some checks made that everything was implemented correctly and that the desired improvements have been achieved (which is what makes the difference between a Good Planned Change and a Bad Planned Change).
For simple changes, say a new DLL is deployed to a system, this is easy to describe and straightforward to review and check. For more complicated changes, the verification process is similarly much more complex. Unplanned Changes, Good and Bad, present a far more difficult challenge. What you can’t see, you can’t measure and, by definition, Unplanned Changes are typically performed without any documentation, planning or awareness.
Contemporary Change Management systems utilize File Integrity Monitoring, providing a zero tolerance to changes. If a change is made – configuration attribute or to the filesystem – then the changes will be recorded.
In advanced FIM systems, the concept of a time window or change template can be pre-defined in advance of a change to provide a means of automatically aligning the details of the RFC (Request for Change) with the actual changes detected. This provides an easy means to observe all changes made during a Planned Change, and greatly improve the speed and ease of the verification process.
This also means that any changes detected outside of any defined Planned Change can immediately be categorized as Unplanned, and therefore potentially damaging, changes. Investigation becomes a priority task, but with a good FIM system, all the changes recorded are clearly presented for review, ideally with ‘Who Made the Change?’ data.
Change Management is always featured heavily in any security standard, such as the PCI DSS, and in any Best Practice framework such as SANS Top Twenty, ITIL or COBIT.
If Change Management is part of your IT processes, or your existing process is not fit for purpose, maybe this should be addressed as a priority? Coupled with a good Enterprise File Integrity Monitoring system, Change Management becomes a much more straightforward process, and this may just be a better investment right now than any flashy new gadgets?