Policies That Work (Making IT Real)

We talk a lot about IT, but we don’t talk nearly enough about making IT real.

In particular, I’ve found that there’s a disconnect between IT – security guys in particular – and the people they’re securing. While this applies across the board, it becomes a problem when policies are being created.

One of the keys to effective security is to stop trying to create policies or procedures that aren’t going to work. It’s great on paper to require users to have fourteen character passwords that change every day, only use Internet access for work purposes, turn off their cellphones as they walk in the door, have IT install (and fix) all printer connections, and never connect their iPads to corporate wireless. Unfortunately, these requirements work best on paper….not necessarily in reality. Security policies that users don’t buy into weaken security across the board.

When it comes to wireless in particular, it’s hard to tell users to just give up their need for constant Internet access. So I say: give them a clean, safe avenue to feed their need for unlimited access to the Internet. WiFi is so cheap – Internet connections in general are so cheap – that I suggest having open third-party wireless. It goes out to the Internet, and has no connection to the internal network. You get on the VPN as if you were in Starbucks – it’s just as hostile – and you back that up with policy that you treat the VPN as if you were in Starbucks. If you find a user bridging the networks, you have appropriate policy enforcements, equivalent to the ones if you found out that someone was publishing sensitive docs from a open, public network.

The question, then, is “what does appropriate punishment look like.” Personally, I believe in having effective policies that actually result in real change, and for that I have always found that positive reinforcement works the best. Whether positive or negative, acknowledgement either way is effective and very important. When I do a security awareness engagement (pentest) and I’ve completely destroyed the place, I spend the third day going out of my way getting caught. One time, I walked out with the business processing computer from behind a teller machine. There was a guy who had let me do lots of bad stuff, but this time he caught me. As soon as he caught me, I said “ooh, you caught me.” Basically, I gave him the win! It was a bad situation and we found all these flaws in their security. But these four people were able to find something, and that caught their attention.

We spend too much time in our industry showing people what they did wrong. You can’t find everything that everyone did wrong. But you can show them examples of what to do right. That’s what enforcement policies should be based off of – what it looks like to do things right. When I do enforce a punishment, I go to their desk and make that employee stand right behind me and watch while I “check” at their computer, even if I already know what was wrong. I make them watch the process. And then I say “you do understand our corporate policies, right?” Usually, if it’s the first time, I won’t necessarily even report it the first time, but I do publicly show him what the right way forward is. I don’t just educate this person – I’m also trying to educate everyone around that guy.

Unfortunately, not many IT departments have a guy like me.

But every IT guy can be a guy like me. Every quarter, a security professional or IT team doing security needs to physically walk through the company’s buildings. Pick a floor, campus, department. Walk through while people are there. Look under keyboards and monitors for passwords. Let them know what you’re doing, and let them know why you’re doing it. Security is everyone’s job: you’re just the one being obvious about it.

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