The view from a former state agency CIO: David O’Berry

David O’Berry was a former CIO at a state agency with 1000 employees, now he works for a security vendor. To give you an idea of his credentials, he has CISSP‑ISSAP, ISSMP, CCSP, CRISC, CSSLP, MCNE, CSPM and a CRMP!

He met his wife in college when a virus erased his senior thesis text and backups: luckily she was both a fast typist and a good sport. “That was by far the most expensive virus of my entire career!” Later on he had to attack another floppy-based virus, which was difficult because he had to run around the office finding infected disks and literally destroying them. He also faced down the Nachia/Welchia worm, which infected a PC that was not patched because the user was out on maternity leave.

“When I was a CIO, imaging software probably saved us the most time and had the strongest impact initially along with mail filtering products and endpoint management tools for remote control. Besides these products, I believe that standardization of what we did and how we did it had the single largest impact on our organization being able to progress as rapidly as we did with as limited resources as we had.”

For fighting insider threats, “you have to have contextually aware DLP and scanning products as well as what I call “Distributed Peer Review” by the nodes that attach to the environment.  Each node has to contribute to the survival of the organism by being a sensor in the larger scheme of things.” He has seen plenty of ransomware, and feels that “first and foremost it is a test of backup and recovery plans. Having a known-state in that area fell out of vogue for a while but now it is more important than ever even if it seems like boring blocking and tackle.”

At his current employer, “we do use MDM and they also allow BYOD. As a former CIO, we had not adopted BYOD when I left but had made the entire workforce mobile and managed it accordingly. We also had implemented Imprivata for its single sign-on package.”

When it comes to securing the cloud and his cloud-based servers, “there are similar challenges to what we have been pursuing since the dawn of time. Visibility is king.  Constructs that give you real-time visibility give you the edge over any other type of product when coupled with real-time mitigation and resilience.”

Now that he is on the vendor side, “I would say that the state of cybersecurity has gotten a lot worse since I made the jump because the pace of innovation and change has hit a vertical level and never stops. Malware creators have become more and more adept at how to attack the exploding number of devices. I believe we have a chance to get out in front of the next phase of this is, but to do so we have to share information in real-time as well as allow companies to participate without artificial barriers to entry. However, our window of opportunity is closing rapidly.”

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The view from a non-profit CIO.

Being the CIO of a non-profit gives you an entirely different perspective in terms of managing people, resources, and technologies.

David Goodman would know. He has been involved with managing IT operations for different non-profits for most of his professional career. He used to be the CIO of International Rescue Committee, and currently is the CIO-in-Residence at NetHope, an umbrella organization that is a resource for some of the world’s largest non-profit aid organizations.

“The biggest challenge for non-profits about IT is that few people understand it in that context. We usually don’t have any roadmap or a sizable staff for how we are going to implement any new technology. Many organizations don’t have any dedicated infosec staff, or if they do they only have one person for this task.”

Often, IT takes a hit due to unplanned consequences that is more because of the where the non-profit is located than anything related to the technology itself. For example, he tells the story of a nonprofit that opened an office in a very insecure country. “We opened an office there to help benefit refugees, which is our mission. We made connections with the local militia to make sure that we were permitted to do this and didn’t have any issues until one day our office was overrun by the militia and our people were taken hostage. They didn’t like what we were doing. While that doesn’t happen too often, it was pretty scary for our staff and volunteers. They took all of our computing equipment. Eventually, we were able to get them to release everyone, although two Americans were held in a hotel for a few extra weeks.”

Planning for this situation is a challenge, as you might expect. But the office had no incident response frameworks, no security policies. “There were passwords written on whiteboards. There were staffers using personal Skype accounts to communicate with headquarters. Because all the laptops were stolen, the rebels were using the staff’s personal Skype accounts that were set to autologin and were sending messages impersonating the staff. They couldn’t easily shut down these personal accounts.” Eventually all personnel returned safely and everyone was accounted for. But they lost all their equipment: “that was never seen again.”

Few IT managers or CIOs have to deal with this kind of situation. “It is pretty nasty stuff, and it is because of the nature of how many international nonprofits operate and the places they have their offices are often in conflict areas. This means we don’t just worry about IT security, but the safety of the staff too.”

Here is another example. At one international nonprofit, he wanted to improve the organization’s password policies. The issue was that many of the staffers are scattered around the world and don’t regularly login to their enterprise Active Directory domain controller which meant that staff didn’t get regular notifications of expiring passwords. “So for the field staff, we set their domain passwords not to expire. As you might imagine, this wasn’t great infosec policy, so I tried to implement a better one that had complexity and change management built-in. I got buy-in from senior management and approval from the CEO. We were ready to implement it, and I sent a reminder email to some of the affected parties, including the CEO.”

Suddenly he scuttled the whole idea: “He told me that he had been using the same password for more than 30 years and wasn’t about to change it now. So the very straightforward and approved password policy was shelved, and there are probably still hundreds of people using non-expiring passwords around the organization.” Goodman couldn’t get him to understand why a better password policy matters.

All is not gloom and doom however. At NetHope, he is working with a number of major donors, including the Gates Foundation and MasterCard International, to create non-profit specific security controls that can be used for guiding IT auditing and compliance. “We will have a set of best practices on how to appropriately secure critical data, all based on existing standards like ISO, NIST, and PCI. We will also provide implementation guidance so that nonprofits without dedicated info sec staff — which is nearly all of them — will know how to implement these controls.”

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The view from a small college CIO: Infosec is getting harder to do.

Ravi Ravishanker is the CIO and Associate Provost at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. He has been in IT for many years, and supports an organization with more than 1400 faculty and staff. I spoke to him in September 2016. “Information security has continued to be one of the highest priority for every one of the IT organizations I have worked for. The only difference is that it has become harder and its relative importance compared to the other things we have to do has gotten higher, which results in much higher resource allocation to security across the entire institution.”

He recalls back in 1986, when he began his IT career. He was writing code in assembler for a VAX VMS. This was done to make it faster to execute. “However, we made a programming error to have one user send a file to another using TCP/IP. Because of an internal security lapse, the students found out they could send someone else’s files using our program. It didn’t take long to fix the problem, fortunately.” Coming into the modern day, he finds that vulnerability scanners are one of his most important security tools. “This is because they expose vulnerabilities about network ports that shouldn’t be open. Similarly, scanners that test our web apps for a range of vulnerabilities are also essential.”

“We realize that given our limited resources, we have to be very diligent. First and foremost, data and network security needs to be a priority for everyone in the IT organization, not just a select group of security administrators. Also, security is a joint partnership between IT and our users; it is a shared responsibility of the entire the enterprise. If our users aren’t following best practices, they can expose our enterprise to data security issues. Security is a critical part of everything that we do.”

To date, he hasn’t seen much in the way of insider threats at the college. “People in higher education have a sense of loyalty to the institution, and we place a lot of trust in our employees. While insider threats are always a potential issue, we are in a space where it is minimal.”

The college has moved into the cloud and continues to increase its cloud footprint. “We try to do as much due diligence when we sign up with a new provider and make sure that they are giving us the security that we need. We thoroughly review the contracts and agreements from security and compliance perspectives before signing up with a provider.”

“We are a fairly small IT organization and currently our user services, which manages desktop support, and the systems and network groups are all under one director. This works really well in terms of information exchange between the groups and easy access to the systems and network engineers. However, we recently decided to reorganize this group and we hope that this relationship will be preserved because this relationship is critical from information security perspective.”

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How one small trade association manages their security

I spoke to the IT Manager of a 65-person trade association in the DC area. I have known this manager, whom I will call John, for decades through various IT positions, mostly in non-profits and trade associations.

(He has asked that I not use his name or the name of his association.)

Things have changed since he first began working at the association eight years ago. “When I was just a few months into my current position, we had about 15 laptops stolen from their docking stations by (what we believe was) the night-time cleaning crew. People came in to work and their laptops were gone. My logistical response was executed pretty well – I had folks up and running very quickly. But we never treated the incident as a serious information breach. These days we think about things differently.”

One of the biggest impacts that John has had was to hire a network management VAR to help setup and monitor their firewalls. He uses a combination of tools such as NetWrix for auditing their Active Directory logs (“I can unlock a user before they even realize it,” he said), Sophos for anti-virus full disk encryption and its web appliance.

He uses another VAR and additional monitoring tool that is industry-specific. “They have a monitoring appliance in our environment that sends a ton of alerts that tend to be very non-actionable – like someone used a cleartext password on a website. Well, there’s only so much I can do about that. The value is that they aggregate our data with our members’ data to look for unusual trends across the country so they can alert us to industry-wide attacks.” This VAR also performs vulnerability scans annually that he says is very disruptive to our storage array. But it is useful. ”For example, did you know that APC products (UPSs and PDUs) have three factory default login IDs and passwords? We knew about the first. Didn’t know about the second and third. So, I’m changing those asap.”

When it comes to dealing with insider threats, he says “a big win for us has been KnowBe4.com It is a very affordable training program that allows me to spam and phish my own staff. Plus they offer videos and a learning management system that we hope to implement next year with HR’s approval. They also send me a “scam of the week” which I repackage and send to staff. It’s both entertaining and educational.” Another classic phishing situation was when one of his VPs sent out member email addresses to a Yahoo address he thought was our CEOs. “ It happened on a weekend and the VP was on his phone and couldn’t really see the whole message on the screen. It was quickly discovered that the CEO did not have a Yahoo address. That was our first real cyber security incident. Calls were made. The board was notified. It was only names and email addresses, but those two items are considered personally identifiable information. This happened about a week before I implemented KnowBe4. If I had gotten approval for it earlier and set it up earlier, this might have been avoided.”

John also deploys a BYOD policy for some of the staff, and is still evaluating mobile device management strategies. They just migrated their email to Office 365 and haven’t yet implemented any two-factor authentication.

John’s total staff is a help desk technician and his VARs, one of whom is on site two days a month.

“Security is a bigger part of my job today because of the increased emphasis and because our association represents a high profile industry where security is also a high profile issue. Our CEO wants us to walk the walk if we’re telling our members to do the same.”

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Learning from the US Secret Service how to protect your enterprise

With all the changes to infosec technology, here is a not-so-outrageous idea: maybe you should take a page from the US Secret Service playbook in how you run your IT security department. Actually, this idea didn’t come from me, but from someone who actually is familiar with both roles. Nathaniel Gleicher is trained as a computer scientist and a lawyer, and currently is the Head of Cybersecurity Strategy at Illumio, a security vendor. Previously, he prosecuted cybercrime at the US DOJ and served as Director for Cybersecurity Policy at the White House National Security Council. While he worked at the White House, he saw multiple data breaches. “Every breach relies on lateral movement, and instead of attackers being at risk once they get inside, they’re able to take all the time that they need to identify high value information and cause damage.”

He thinks organizations need to take a different, simplified approach and go back to the basics: get visibility inside the data center and cloud and then be able to truly lock the doors inside.

In a blog post for his firm, he writes: “Like the Secret Service, cybersecurity defenders face a similar problem: they are defending high-value assets that must be protected, but also have to speak to hundreds or thousands of other servers. You have to have visibility, and reduce your attack surface, and focus on the security consequences for your most valuable assets. Shutting down the attack surface constrains attackers, makes lateral movement harder, forces attackers to risk exposure, and makes other security tools more effective.”

Sadly, most organizations focus their cybersecurity spend today at the perimeter, making no effort to secure or even understand the interior of their data centers. After reading Gleicher’s post, I asked him if there is a difference between interior and exterior networks any longer. He told me in a phone interview, “Everything is a potential threat. One difference is that you can have greater control around an interior network. And your network visibility is much more limited with exterior ones. But that’s missing the point. An intruder can find something once they are inside your network and can look around. Organizations are trying to layer defenses at the fortress wall, while the cyber attackers are parachuting inside and then free to move around as they want inside the data center and cloud.”

He continued, “I still have conversations with CISOs that don’t know how their devices are connected to their networks. And I don’t mean just a list of these devices, but how they are related to each other, both logically and operationally. This is the kind of information that attackers can exploit.”

His work with the Secret Service has him focused on understanding some of these lessons from providing physical security to protect the President. “People don’t see the Secret Service advance work that was done months before any presidential visit. They had to map the location and understand the physical space. The same is true for cybersecurity, because we need to identify the attacker quickly and respond fast too. This means that any cybersecurity effort should start months before any potential attacker actually shows up.” In other words, it isn’t just about stopping someone from getting across the White House fence, but understanding what will happen once then enter the grounds and what they might end up doing.

He agrees that good security isn’t easy. And he started early in his career with his first IT job for the Peace Corps. There he created a created a campus-wide network to connect 85 machines that were located in the different buildings of a college on a Caribbean island. Less than five minutes after it was first connected to the Internet it was breached. It took him several tries to close various ports and other vulnerabilities before he could defend the network properly. “This was an early lesson on how hard it was to do security properly: there are way more people trying to get in than keeping them out. It also showed me that the steps to strengthen data security aren’t rocket science and are very straightforward. It is a lot more how to orchestrate them and use them efficiently across the enterprise.”

Instead of focusing on the lack of response, he says we should be doing a better job of evaluating the highest-value targets, which is another lesson he learned from watching the Secret Service in action. He said, “You shouldn’t be in the business of protecting the app that handles your employee’s lunch request.” And not everything in the data center should be treated equally, too. “There are some things in your data center that are more valuable and you have to focus on what needs the most protection. If a burglar gets into your house and gets into your basement that is different from him getting into your bedroom where you keep your jewelry.”

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