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Understanding the Need for Converged Access Control

Access managementAccording to a study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University – critical system disruptions, loss of information of customers and partners, loss of confidential intellectual property,  brute-force attacks, fraud, reputation risk, etc. were mostly attributed to actions by insiders.

The grave dangers of insider threats, arising from employees retaining their system and/or having physical access even after job termination, can be understood from a shocking incident that took place recently. A US-based Water Service Company auditor, who resigned from his post, sneaked into the company’s building and accessed a former coworker’s computer to transfer $9 million from the company’s fund to his personal account. 

Insider threats, in which the disgruntled employees or ex-employees, gain access to computer systems or networks of the enterprise, is one of the cases of improper Identity Management!

Proliferating Disconnected Identities – Root Cause for Mismanagement of Identities!

In most organizations, it is seen that logical and physical identities often see excessive increase in numbers, making it difficult for the organization to track and manage all the identities effectively. 

On the logical side, an employee may have one identity within the enterprise HR system, such as a SAP system. That identity typically consists of salary, benefits, insurance and other specific employee details. Then there is a logical identity, for the same employee, within the information technology department’s directory software – such as those from Microsoft, Novell, CA, Sun Microsystems, or Oracle. This directory controls the permissions for network, database and software applications for the logical identity. Within the organizations’ Intranets, databases and applications, the user may have still more identities, in the form of different user IDs and passwords or PINs he/she uses to log into each logical resource of organization. This employee will have at least one more identity: a physical credential of some sort used for access to organization infrastructure –workstations, buildings, floors, parking garages, warehouses, research lab etc.

Then, there are cases of merger or acquisitions of organizations which often results in more than one brand of Physical Access Control System (PACS) in the organization. In enterprises with more than one brand of PACS and several facilities or areas users must enter, a user may have more than one physical access credential—and therefore, more than one physical identity.

Unconverged identity management systems either result in error-prone manual interventions or security issues!

Next: The Need for Converging Identities

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November 4, 2010 Posted by | Access control, identity and access management, Risk management | , , , | Leave a comment

Stuxnet Accelerates Exponential Decay!

Exponential-decayOften, change within the technology arena is seen through the lens of Moore’s Law; computer power doubles every eighteen months.  Many predictions of the Law’s demise have come and gone.  As technology approaches the physical limitations inherent in Moore’s Law, innovation has accelerated.  Moore’s Law was convenient for expressing technology’s exponential growth.

However, the Law’s converse – exponential decay – has eclipsed the “Law” and is unrestrained.  The broader concept of exponential decay operates unreservedly.  Exponential decay spurs innovation, is unrestrained by the present, and arises from the half-life of earlier developments. 

Information Security solutions are following a similar construct: exponential decay.  The perimeter defense built to address external threats has degraded to also-ran status.  Expanding business needs and active circumventing the perimeter, rendering it less-and-less effective.

The progression of security threats, similarly, follows an exponential decay model.  Hacking has given way to monetization attacks and espionage; sophistication grows, barriers to entry decrease, and specialization rises.  Exponential decay, also, produces geometric increases in records and funds lost in breaches.

Stuxnet’s introduction to the world represents the next stage of exponential decay.  It epitomizes a militant threat capable of incapacitating industrial production.  However, such a sophisticated cyber capability encourages derivatives. 

Stuxnet’s independent mutation ability and intra-communication has profound considerations.  An enterprise (military, government, academic, industrial, etc.) should consider themself compromised, irrespectively, by some form of cyber-malice capable of harvesting or destroying value.  Intra-communication is difficult to detect.

One enterprise defense from mutation and intra-communication within the enterprise is layered protection (versus layered defense).  While the enterprise perimeter an anachronism, externally, it has value inside the enterprise.  Tightly controlling access by limiting access gives the protection and time to address such attacks. 

Emerging technologies that allow enterprise to build layered, trusted perimeters, a ring-within-rings, are the exponential decay’s response to these new threats.  Watch for DLP, SIEM, and GRC applications to add layered perimeter capabilities and tracking of intra-communication.  Include intra-communication monitoring within perimeters as a required feature in product selection or expansion.

Authored by Charles King, CISSP – King Information Security, LLC

November 4, 2010 Posted by | Access control, identity and access management, Risk management | , , | Leave a comment

The Need for Converging Identities

Access managementPart 2 in the Converged Identity and Access Management Series

One of the most important reasons for converging identities is that logical and physical identities multiply when they are disconnected; it’s time-consuming, expensive and inefficient to manage them. And this applies across the organizations domain – IT, physical security, business units and risk managers.

Another equally pressing issue is that security can be more easily compromised when physical and logical identities are separated. A physical identity may appear legitimate to a standalone PACS but it might no longer be trusted by the enterprise network. That’s what happens when an employee is terminated in the logical systems and that information isn’t immediately relayed to a PACS. If the enterprise has more than one PACs, and they are not integrated with each other, it may take several more steps to ensure all PACs block the ex-employee’s credentials.

Physical or logical credentials that are kept alive even after an employee has left an enterprise can be the cause for compliance gap and, at worst, can leave the virtual or physical door open for fraudulent attacks.  The federal government has acknowledged the importance of converging technologies and has been a significant driver for the development of these technologies. For example, in 2004, the Homeland Security Presidential Directive -12 (HSPD-12) was passed, requiring all federal government employees and agencies to use a converged physical and logical ID badge. Standards were created for how the badge is designed, what identity elements are present inside the card, and how the card is used for physical and logical access. This policy is intended to enhance security, increase efficiency, reduce identity fraud, and protect personal privacy.

November 4, 2010 Posted by | identity and access management, Risk management | , , | Leave a comment

Cyber Crime: The Ominous Writing on the Wall

Cyber-crimeWith the increased media scrutiny and attention that cyber crime attracts today, it is clearly evident that there has been an exponential increase in the sophistication, intensity and frequency of digital attacks. Technological advancements, changes in social behavior and the popularity of the Internet have permitted cyber criminals to make considerable financial gains, usually staying a couple of steps ahead of law enforcement agencies.

As the digital economy has evolved both in size and sophistication, so has the degree and intent of skilled cyber criminals and the nature of their attacks. Some of the more common technical forms of attack include: Virus, Malware & Spyware, Spam, Denial of Service, Phishing, and Password attacks.

While cyber crime encompasses a broad range of illegal activities, these can be categorized depending on the political, economic, socio-cultural and technical overtones of the attack.

Political Threats
A growing political concern among countries is the increasing use of cyberspace to carry out terrorist activities. Cyber terrorists not only intimidate governments and create panic but they also use the Internet to coordinate attacks and communicate threats. An example is Mujahideen Secrets, the jihadist themed encryption tool released ostensibly to aid Al- Qaeda and other cyber jihadists encrypt their online communications. Another example is the use of virtual world sites such as Second Life to conduct and participate in terrorist training camps. Additionally, political activism can be combined with hacking to target a country or group in order to achieve a political goal. Hacktivism, as this is called, is gradually gaining popularity as is illustrated by the attacks on the Estonian government following protests after the relocation of a Soviet World War II memorial. The attacks swamped websites of Estonian organizations, including the parliament, banks, ministries, newspapers and broadcasters.

Economic Threats
The relative anonymity of the Internet has led to a thriving online black market trading in an underground economy of stolen goods, identity theft and rogue businesses. These rogue businesses use the Internet to deal in illegal products or practices as exemplified by the Russian Business Network or RBN based in St. Petersburg. This is a notorious organization that provides hosting services for websites devoted to child pornography, phishing, spam, malware distribution and illegal pharmaceuticals. Identity theft is also becoming an increasing concern with sophisticated tactics such as vishing (Voice Phishing) used to obtain personal identities that are sold on the black market and used to commit credit card fraud and other illegal activities. Additionally, though corporations have always faced the threat of espionage, the opportunity to steal trade and corporate secrets has never been higher. With hackers, pressure groups, foreign intelligence services, organized crime groups and fraudsters willing to deal and trade with illegitimate or stolen material, illegal economic activity online will continue to accelerate and progress.

Socio-cultural Threats
Cyber crime also has far-reaching socio-cultural repercussions with social networking sites and virtual worlds increasingly used for tax free commerce, child porn distribution and other unsavory activities. This reality is catching up with Second Life, the much hyped virtual world that let users create avatars that can walk, chat, fly and buy and sell virtual stuff for real money. The social networking site is running into trouble with authorities over its gambling casinos, questionable virtual real-estate deals and alleged trade in pornographic photos of real children.

Technical Threats
As technology advances, cyber crime has to keep pace with modern and multifaceted changes. Technical cyber attacks include software piracy, botnets and threats against personal area networks in addition to the more popular spam, malware and computer virus threats. Software piracy is the copyright infringement of computer software, mainly for financial gain, such as websites that allow music to be downloaded for free. With the growing use of mobile devices such as Blackberry, PDA or laptops, attacks on Personal Area Networks (PAN) are leading businesses to encrypt or protect sensitive information.

While the threats of cyber crime are real and multifold, there is no single way to mitigate these combined risks. The simplest way to combat cyber crime would be to provide formal education as a little knowledge and precaution goes a long way in preventing cyber crime. Counter measures, such as password protection, firewalls and safe banking practices among others, can be followed depending on the threats and vulnerabilities.

November 4, 2010 Posted by | Cyber Crime, Risk management | , , , , , | Leave a comment