We talk about governance and compliance a whole lot on this blog, and for good reason. Across the board, IT security is a difficult undertaking, and it’s becoming more challenging by the day. For one thing, security threats from outside of the organization have only increased in the last few years, with hackers becoming more sophisticated. From the glamorization of hacking in popular culture (see Girl With A Dragon Tattoo hacker heroine Lisbeth Salander) to ‘hacking kits’ available online (see Business Day on 1/18/2011), the constant threat of external attack is front and center on a daily basis. Perhaps even more dangerous, the threat from inside (like the alleged catalyst of Wikileaks, for instance) is alive and well, and often gets overlooked as organizations scramble to defend their perimeters.
The process for securing data and systems starts with protecting your resources by eliminating (or, at the very least, controlling) vulnerability, continues with active monitoring to detect deviations from norms and standards, and culminates with corrections for exceptions. Underlying all of these processes are industry-centric compliance regulations that ensure that all organizations in a particular vertical are adhering to the same strict security standards.
IT departments follow these regulations in an effort to pre-empt attacks and plug holes. Unfortunately, the tedious nature of the checkpoints for particular compliance standards makes them difficult for administrators to adhere to, potentially leaving environments fatally vulnerable. The problem stems from the fact that the data (detailed accounts of access, permissions, changes, etc. for users and groups, as well as patch and security configurations for systems) is difficult to come by. Extrapolate that difficulty by hundreds or even thousands of users and boxes, and millions and billions of files, and you begin to see the pain point. What’s more, even an exceedingly complex query may only be answering one of many compliance checkpoints from standards councils like PCI, HIPAA, NERC, and SOX.
The key to industry compliance, then, is a way to collect data once, and then use that data to check against an entire list of requirements. This approach will allow administrators to shift from data-gatherers to pro-active threat blockers. After all, discovering that Lisbeth Salander has rights to your system is only half the battle.