Tuesday, November 29, 2016

How to Handle Being Questioned

In my post, How to Converse Better in Infosec, I laid out some rules for better infosec discussions.  A key tenent of that blog post was asking questions.  But what if you are on the receiving end of that?

To the questioned:

When expressing a view, being questioned feels like a challenge.  For me, it feels as if the other person doesn't believe me and is trying to catch me in a lie.  Frankly, maybe I did embellish a bit.  Maybe I made a statement based on something I thought I remembered hearing but don't quite remember where I heard it.  Or maybe I feel the statement is so obvious, the only reason someone would question it is if the other person wanted to try and take me down a rung.

It's OK.  If, as speakers, we feel we are in the right, we can treat all questions as if the questioner doesn't know the answer and is seeking help learning, or there is some ambiguity in the questioner's mind and they are just trying to help clarify it.  (Remember, for topics we are knowledgeable on, it is hard to see the subject from the perspective of a less-informed person.)  Answer with the intent of being as genuinely helpful as possible.  Have fun!  This is our chance to help someone out!

And if we don't have the answer, we can be polite and say so.  "I honestly can't demonstrate it right now.  If you'll allow me the time, I'll collect the information for you and get back to you.  And, in the event I can't, I'll let you know."  Everyone is wrong at some point.  Big people can admit it and only weak people don't accept it from others.

And to the questioner:

Be aware that you may be unintentionally putting the questioned person in an emotionally defensive position.  They may have all the answers and be able to clearly explain it.  They may be right, but need time to collect the evidence to demonstrate it.  They may be flat out wrong but not prepared to say so.

Be a good participant in the social dynamic.  If the other person can't answer, is evasive, or is demonstrating some technique to avoid answering, give them an out.  Say, "It's OK, let's pick this up again later."  Or "If you find/remember the answer, please message it to me."  If the question is unimportant to you, you lose nothing by letting it go until the questioned person brings it up to you again.  And if it is truly relevant to you, you can look it up yourself.  If you feel you can't let it go, ask yourself if you're truly practicing the principle of charity.

In conclusion

Remember, a conversation involves multiple people. You're all in it together. Either everyone wins or everyone loses. So help everyone win.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What is most important in infosec?

"To crush your enemies -- See them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women!" - Conan the Barbarian

Maybe not.


Recently I asked if vulnerabilities were the most important aspect of infosec.  Most people said 'no', and the most common answer instead was risk.  Risk is likelihood and consequence (impact). (Or here for a more infosec'y reference.)  And as FAIR points out, likelihood is threat and vulnerability. (Incidentally, this is a good time to point out, when we say 'vulnerability', we aren't always saying the same thing.)  While in reality, as @SpireSec points outthreat is probably more important, I suspect most orgs make it a constant 'TRUE' in which case 'likelihood' simply becomes 'vulnerability' in disguise.  I doubt many appreciate the economic relationship between vulnerability and threat.  As many people pointed out, the impact of the risk is also important.  Yet as with 'threat', I suspect it is rarely factored into risk in more than a subjective manner.  There were other aspects of risk such as vulnerable configurationsasset management and user vulnerability.  And there were other opinions such as communication, education and law.


The first big take-away is that, while we agree conceptually that risk is complex and that all its parts are important, practically we reduce 'risk' down to 'vulnerability' by not dynamically managing 'threat' or 'impact'.  While most organizations may say they're managing risk, very likely they're really just managing vulnerabilities.  At best, when we say 'managing', we probably mean 'patching'.  At worst, it's buying and blindly trusting a tool of some kind.  Because, without understanding how those vulnerabilities fit into the greater attack-surface of our organization, all we can do is patch and buy.  Which leads to the second take-away...

Attack Surface

The second take-away "I think we need to change the discussion from vulns to attack surface." Without understanding its attack surface, an organization can never move beyond swatting flies.  If an organization is a city and they want to block attackers coming in, what we do is like blocking one lane of every road in.  Sure, you shut down a lot of little roads, but the interstates still have three lanes open.  And what about the airport, busses, and beaches?

Our Challenges

Unfortunately, if we can't move from vulns to full risk, our chances of moving beyond simple risk to attack surface are slim.  At least in FAIR, we have the methodology to manage based on full risk, if not attack surface.  However, while vulnerabilities are the data is not easy to collect.  It's not easy to combine and clean.  And it's not easy to analyze and act upon.  (All the things vulnerability data is.)  We don't even have national strategic initiatives for threat and impact, let alone attack surface the way we do for vulnerabilities, (for example bug bounties, and I Am The Cavalry).

In Conclusion

Yet we continue to spend our money and patch vulnerabilities with little understanding of the risk it addressed, let alone how that risk fits into our overall attack surface.  But for those willing to put in the work, the tools do exist.  And eventually we will make assessing attack surface as easy as a vulnerability assessment.  Until then though, we will continue to waste our our infosec resources, wandering blindly in the dark.


The third and final take-away is that the whole discussion completely ignores operations, (the DFIR type vs the installing-patches type).  In reality, it may be a strategic decision, but the trade-offs between risk and operations based security are better left for another day blog.