No more weekend war rooms: Shift from reactive to proactive security

Aug 14, 2022
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Cyber attackers worldwide are displaying an increasing level of sophistication. This is a major issue for Australian CISOs and their teams who often lack the resources required to deal with more frequent and complex attacks by well-resourced cyber criminals.

At the same time, legacy security operations centres (SOCs) are dealing with an unmanageable volume of alerts. This leads to ‘alert fatigue’ that slows key processes down and makes it easier to miss potentially significant issues that could be buried in the noise. Hiring an army of security engineers to deal with these challenges is also expensive and doesn’t scale.

SOCs are also using too many security products (the average company may have dozens of cyber security products deployed), and many rely on manual processes for daily operations as well as dealing with incidents. Far too many menial tasks require significant human interaction and toil that can be mind-numbing.

Senior technology executives gathered recently for a discussion about the ways they can move from a reactive to a more proactive cyber security environment. The conversation was supported by Palo Alto Networks.

Attendees were initially asked how they ensure security posture consistency that prevents sensitive data loss and malware across all traffic flows regardless of where the user is working or the apps they access.

Leonard Kleinman, Cortex Chief Technology Officer at Palo Alto Networks, advises attendees that the starting point to achieve a reasonable security posture is to have visibility into all aspects of the operational environment.

“After all, you cannot protect what you cannot see or do not know about. But the approach would be to strive for visibility or telemetry from all sources. These include the network, endpoints, and cloud, irrespective of location, identity or device.

“Such a unified platform provides immense flexibility to achieve various objectives related to, for instance, regulatory compliance and governance, incident response, and data loss prevention. The more sources, the richer the telemetry, the better the context. This permits faster and more informed decisions for detection and response,” he says.

Ian Palmer, head of ITDS at UTS College, says the education provider’s cyber security posture is based upon the risk to data by access and use.

Presently, applications that hold personal data are secured by the organisation’s firewalls with any user needing access using a UTS College laptop that has a VPN back to the firewalls.

“This provides us with protection no matter where the user is working as accessing our devices have multi-factor authentication (MFA), depending on the risk factors presented. All traffic, including internet traffic, is through the firewalls, but we don’t see any degradation of service with excellent bandwidth,” he says.

Nabil Saleh, chief information officer at Woollahra Municipal Council, says that his organisation maintains a consistent security posture by not allowing staff to bring their own devices to work and provides them with managed devices that have VPN access. This prohibits split tunnelling to ensure that all traffic is contained and encrypted, he says.

“VPN access provides a centralised standard operating environment that is the same, regardless of location. The devices have XDR endpoint security to ensure compliance with our security policies.

“In relation to sensitive data leakage, as opposed to loss, it can happen regardless of the controls that are in place and is reliant on the user’s diligence in protecting the data from unauthorised access,” he says.

Ashwani Ram, general manager, cyber security infrastructure and operations at Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, believes that malware, for instance, is easier to take care of these days due to the bundling of EDR and XDR tools with managed security operations centre (SOC) services.

“Of course, you need to overlay this with intelligence EDR/XDR, and DNS security so that users have less chance of being diverted to suspicious sites in the first instance.

“Zero trust application access and web browsing platforms with DNS threat management and web security provide secure VPN services. This means users can get out of the house and work from their favourite cafeteria and be productive – which is how we need to re-brand and sell endpoint security,” he says.

Sensitive data loss is a more difficult and complex problem, Ram adds.

“Before we can prevent data loss, we need to first be able to monitor data at all stages from creation to destruction. Once we better understand this cycle and usage, we need to take a two-pronged approach – education and tooling.

“Just like we say that people are the best firewalls, this is also the case when it comes to preventing data loss,” he says.

Hybrid working introduces new risks

Some attendees said they had reviewed their risk models as workers transition away from the office to their homes and other remote locations that are outside their network perimeters.

UTS College’s Palmer says the organisation has undertaken internal risk reviews and external audits of its cyber security posture to ensure that risk can be managed where there’s no network perimeter.

“We are trying to move towards a zero-trust model and have implemented major capabilities to ensure we are protected by layers of security,” Palmer says.

Woollahra Municipal Council’s Saleh says the organisation has done a risk assessment on working remotely and have educated staff through cyber awareness training on the ‘dos and don’ts’ of remote working. Remote access at the council also complies with ACSC’s Essential Eight Maturity Model, he says.

Palo Alto’s Kleinman adds that risk management is a dynamic paradigm, and it is constantly evolving.

“The reality is that risk in business can never be truly eliminated, but identifying and minimising risk can be significantly beneficial,” he says.

The transition to ‘work from anywhere’ is a great example of the dynamic and reflective kind of risks enterprises face as their businesses grow, develop and respond to remain competitive, he says.

When it comes to reassessing risk, Kleinman suggests that organisations need to start by asking, ‘what are the objectives and what are the risks that will impact the organisation’s ability to meet these objectives?’

“Regularly reviewing the risk model and risk management plan is essential for identifying new risks, developing new treatment plans and then monitoring their effectiveness,” he says.

A voice at the boardroom table

There’s no doubt that in recent years, company boards have become more aware of the risks to their organisations from cyber-attacks, as well as their potential liabilities following a breach.

Kleinman agrees that the main change in recent times is clearly the level of accountability and responsibility of boards for cyber-related risk, much of it stemming from the increase in new regulations and legislation.

“There’s a preponderance of data that supports the position and most board members are acutely aware of this. However, many board members still see cyber as a black box with cyber literacy and experience sadly lacking,” he says.

Kleinman says that a recent study on the cyber security skills of company directors in the ASX 100 found that only one per cent of non-executive directors responsible for overall governance and strategic direction had any cyber experience.

“I believe the conversation needs to shift from one focused on ‘how do we become compliant’ to one about understanding the business’ objectives and the risks that will impact on an organisation’s ability to achieve those objectives.

“History has shown us that simply being compliant does not mean being secure. Assuming that a quality CISO has access to the board or sits on the board, they should be focused on having the right conversation around cyber risk to ensure it is integrated into the wider enterprise risk management program and other corporate governance activities,” he says.

He adds that boards need to ensure they are having frequent conversations with the CISO by continuously reviewing the state of cyber security across the business.

“For example, lessons learnt from security incidents are invaluable in addressing the gaps and updating response plans. However, I also believe that addressing the cyber knowledge/experience at the board level would be a better augmentation to board composition than just relying on the CISO.”

Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand’s Ram, adds that unfortunately, the CISO only has a voice at the boardroom table through the CIO.

This is changing slowly, he says.

“I think boards have realised that they need to understand cyber security, but they are struggling to comprehend it. However, in their defence, I think CISOs also need to get better at translating risks into business terms and pitching it in the language that the board is familiar with and understands.

“I also think that there is an opportunity for the enterprise risk management team to better interface with the cyber security team to help translate cyber risks into business risks at a strategic and operational level. I believe that once this interface gets better, we will be in a better position to help the board understand cyber risks,” he says.

UTS College’s Palmer says that over the past two years, the organisation’s board has become aware of the personal liability they now hold in the event of a breach.

“The major firms have been talking to the board to make them understand the impact of cyber, so it has provided more visibility,” he says.

Palmer reports to UTS’ Audit and Risk Committee (ARC) on cyber security on a quarterly basis and questioned over any perceived risks or threats.

“Also, external audits are undertaken regularly by independent organisations to ensure we are covering risks that are provided directly to ARC. Having the ex-CIO for UTS on our board and ARC has created more awareness and a deeper understanding [of cyber issues],” he says.

Woollahra Municipal Council’s Saleh says that having successfully enabled remote working from day one of the pandemic, the board recognises the value that IT offers to business in tines of crisis and, to some extent, the associated risks.

“Through board and executive leadership team awareness training, all members are more cognisant of cyber security risks than before. Also, there was a cyber security incident a few months ago that affected a similar organisation and made it into the media. As a result, our council is very well aware of the reputational damage that a cyber incident can cause the hence, pay enough attention to security requirements when tabled at meetings,” he says.