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Fact-Based Network Security: Compliance Benefits

By Mike Rothman

As we discussed in the last post, beyond the operational value of fact-based network security, compliance efforts can benefit greatly from gathering data, and being able to visualize and report on it. Why? Because compliance is all about substantiating your control set to meet the spirit of whatever regulatory hierarchy you need to achieve.

Let’s run through a simple example. During a PCI assessment, the trusty assessor shows up with his/her chart of requirements. Requirement 1 reads “Install and maintain a firewall configuration to protect cardholder data.” So you have two choices at this point. The first is to tell auditor that you have this, and hope they believe you. Yeah, probably not a recipe for success.

Or, you could consult your network security fact-base and pull a report on network topology, which shows your critical data stores (based on assessments of their relative value), the firewalls in place to protect them, and the flow of traffic through the network to get to the critical assets/business systems.

Next the auditor needs to understand the configuration of the devices to make sure unauthorized protocols are not allowed through the firewalls to expose cardholder data. Luckily, the management system also captures firewall configurations on an ongoing basis. So you have current data on how the device is configured, and can show the protocols in question are blocked. You can also explicitly show what IP addresses and/or devices can traverse the device, using which protocols or applications (in the case of a new, fancy application-aware firewall).

You close out this requirement by showing some of the event logs from the device, which demonstrate what was blocked by the firewall and why. The auditor may actually smile at this point, will likely check the box in the chart, and should move on to the next requirement.

Prior to implementing your fact-based network security process, you spent a few days updating the topology maps (damn Visio), massaging the configuration files to highlight the relevant configuration entries (using a high-tech highlighter) and finally going through a zillion log events to find a few examples to prove the policies are operational. Your tool doesn’t make audit prep as easy as pressing a button, but it’s a lot closer than working without tools.

Going where the money is

To be clear, compliance is a necessary evil in today’s security world. Many of the projects we need to undertake have at least tangential compliance impact. Given the direct cost of failing an audit, potentially having to disclose an issue to customers and/or shareholders and applicable fines, most large organizations have a pot of money to make the compliance issue go away.

Smart security folks still think about Security First! Which means you continue to focus on implementing the right controls to protect the information that matters to you. But success still hinges on your ability to show how the project can impact compliance, either by addressing audit deficiencies or making the compliance process more efficient, thus saving money.

It’s probably not a bad idea to keep time records detailing how long it takes your organization to prepare for a specific audit, without some level of automation. The numbers will likely be pretty shocking. In many cases, the real costs of time and perhaps resources will pay for the tools to implement a fact-based network security process.

As we wrap up our blog series in the next post, we’ll take this from theory to practice, running through a scenario to show how this kind of approach would impact your operational security.

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