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Security Collaboration — The Problem and Our Solution


Colleagues, the way we are currently approaching information security is broken.

This is especially true with regard to the way the industry currently provides, and consumes, information security consulting services. Starting with Frederick Winslow Taylor’s “Scientific Management” techniques of the 1890s, consulting is fundamentally designed for companies to get targeted specialist advice to allow them to find a competitive advantage and beat the stuffing out of their peers.

But information security is different. It is one of the most wildly inefficient things to try to compete on, which is why most organisations are more than happy to say that they don’t want to compete on security (unless their core business is, actually, security).

Why is it inefficient to compete on security? Here are a couple of reasons:

Customers don’t want you to.Customers quite rightly expect sufficient security everywhere, and want to be able to go to the florist with the best flowers, or the best priced flowers, rather than having to figure out whether that particular florist is more or less secure than the other one.

No individual organisation can afford to solve the problem.With so much shared infrastructure, so many suppliers and business partners, and almost no ability to recoup the costs invested in security, it is simply not cost-viable to throw the amount of money really needed at the problem. (Which, incidentally, is why we keep going around in circles saying that budgets aren’t high enough — they aren’t, if we keep doing things the way we’re currently doing things.)

Some examples of how our current approach is failing us:

We are wasting money on information security governance, risk and compliance

There are 81 credit unions listed on the APRA website as Authorised Deposit-Taking Institutions. According to the ABS, in June 2013 (the most recent data), there were 77 ISPs in Australia with over 1,000 subscribers. The thought that these 81 credit unions would independently be developing their own security and compliance processes around security, and the 77 ISPs are doing the same, despite the fact that the vast majority of their risks and requirements are going to be identical as their peers, is frightening.

The wasted investment in our current approach to information security governance is extreme. Five or so years ago, when companies started realising that they needed a social media security policy, hundreds of organisations engaged hundreds of consultants, to write hundreds of social media security policies, at an economy-wide cost of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. That. Is. Crazy.

We need to go beyond “not competing” and cross the bridge to “collaboration”. Genuine, real, sharing of information and collaboration to make everyone more secure.

We are wasting money when getting technical security services

As a technical example, I met recently with a hospital where we will be doing some penetration testing. We will be testing one of their off-the-shelf clinical information system software packages. The software package is enormous — literally dozens of different user privilege levels, dozens of system inter-connections, and dozens of modules and functions. It would easily take a team of consultants months, if not a year or more, to test the whole thing thoroughly. No hospital is going to have a budget to cover that (and really, they shouldn’t have to), so rather than the 500 days of testing that would be comprehensive, we will do 10 days of testing and find as much as we can.

But as this is an off-the-shelf system, used by hundreds of hospitals around the world, there are no doubt dozens, maybe even hundreds, of the same tests happening against that same system this year. Maybe there are 100 distinct tests, each of 10 days’ duration being done. That’s 1,000 days of testing — or more than enough to provide comprehensive coverage of the system. But instead, everyone is getting a 10 day test done, and we are all worse off for it. The hospitals have insecure systems, and we — as potential patients and users of the system — wear the risk of it.

The system is broken. There needs to be collaboration. Nobody wants a competitive advantage here. Nobody can get a competitive advantage here.

So what do we do about it?

There is a better way, and Hivint is building a business and a system that supports it. This system is called “The Colony”.

It is an implementation of what we’re calling “Community Driven Security”. This isn’t crowd-sourcing but involves sharing information within communities of interest who are experiencing common challenges.

The model provides benefits to the industry both for the companies who today are getting consulting services, and for the companies who can’t afford them:

Making consulting projects cheaper the first time they are done.If a client is willing to share the output of a project (that has, of course, been de-sensitised and de-identified) then we can reduce the cost of that consulting project by effectively “buying back” the IP being created, in order to re-use it. Clients get the same services they always get; and the sharing of the information will have no impact on their security or competitive position. So why not share it and pocket the savings?

Making that material available to the community and offering an immediate return on investment.Through our portal — being launched in June — for a monthly fee of a few hundred dollars, subscribers will be able to get access to all of that content. That means that for a few hundred dollars a month, a subscriber will be able to access the output from hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of projects, every month.

Making subsequent consulting projects cheaper and faster. Once we’ve completed a certain project type — say, developing a suite of incident response scenarios and quick reference guides — then the next organisation who needs a similar project can start from that and pay only for the changes required (and if those changes improve the core resources, those changes will flow through to the portal too).

Identifying GRC “Zero Days”.Someone, somewhere, first identified that organisations needed a social media security policy, and got one developed. There was probably a period of months, or even years, between that point and when it became ubiquitous. Through the portal, organisations who haven’t even contemplated that such a need may exist, would be able to see that it has been identified and delivered, and if they want to address the risk before it materialises for them, they have the chance. And there is no incremental cost over membership to the portal to grab it and use it.

Supporting crowd-funding of projects. The portal will provide the ability for organisations to effectively ‘crowd fund’ technical security assessments against software or hardware that is used by multiple organisations. The maths is pretty simple. If two organisations are each looking at spending $30,000 to test System X, getting 15 days of testing for that investment, if they each put $20,000 in to a central pool to test System X, they’ll get 20 days of testing and save $10,000 each. More testing, for lower cost, resulting in better security. Everyone wins.

What else is going in to the portal?

We have a roadmap that stretches well into the future. We will be including Threat Intelligence, Breach Intelligence, Managed Security Analytics, the ability to interact with our consultants and ask either private or public questions, the ability to share resources within communities of interest, project management and scheduling, and a lot more. Version 1 will be released in June 2015 and will include the resource portal (ie the documents from our consulting engagements), Threat Intelligence and Breach Intelligence plus the ability to interact with our consultants and ask private or public questions.

“Everyone” can’t win. Who loses?

The only people that will potentially lose out of this, are security consultants. But even there we don’t think that will be the case. It is our belief that the market is supply side constrained — in other words, we believe we are going to be massively increasing the ‘output’ for the economy-wide consulting investment in information security; but we don’t expect companies will spend less (they’ll just do more, achieving better security maturity and raising the bar for everyone).

So who loses? Hopefully, the bad guys, because the baseline of security across the economy gets better and it costs them more to break in.

Is there a precedent for this?

The NSW Government Digital Information Security Policy has as a Core Requirement, and a Minimum Control, that “a collaborative approach to information security, facilitated by the sharing of information security experience and knowledge, must be maintained.”

A lot of collaboration on security so far has been about securing the collaboration process itself. For example, that means health organisations collaborating to ensure that health data flowing between the organisations is secure throughout that collaborative process. But we believe collaboration needs to be broader: it needs to not just be about securing the collaborative footprint, but rather securing the entire of each other’s organisations.

Banks and others have for a long time had informal networks for sharing threat information, and the CISOs of banks regularly get together and share notes. The CISOs of global stock exchanges regularly get together similarly. There’s even a forum called ANZPIT, the Australian and New Zealand Parliamentary IT forum, for the IT managers of various state and federal Parliaments to come together and share information across all areas of IT. But in almost all of these cases, while the meetings and the discussions occur, the on-the-ground sharing of detailed resources happens much less.

The Trusted Information Sharing Network (TISN) has worked to share — and in many cases develop — in depth resources for information security. (In our past lives, we wrote many of them). But these are $50K-100K endeavours per report, generally limited to 2 or 3 reports per year, and generally provide a fairly heavy weight approach to the topic at hand.

Our belief is that while “the 1%” of attacks — the APTs from China — get all the media love, we can do a lot of good by helping organisations with very practical and pragmatic support to address the 99% of attacks that aren’t State-sponsored zero-days. Templates, guidelines, lists of risks, sample documents, and other highly practical material is the core of what organisations really need.

What if a project is really, really sensitive?

Once project outcomes are de-identified and de-sensitised, they’re often still very valuable to others, and not really of any consequence to the originating company. If you’re worried about it, you can review the resources before they get published.

So how does it work?

You give us a problem, we’ll scope it, quote it, and deliver it with expert consultants. (This part of the experience is the same as your current consulting engagements)
We offer a reduced fee for service delivery (percentage reduction dependent on re-usability of output).
Created resources, documents, and de-identified findings become part of our portal for community benefit.

Great. Where to from here?

There are two things we need right now:

Consulting engagements that drive the content creation for the portal. Give us the chance to pitch our services for your information security consulting projects. We’ve got a great team, the costs are lower, and you’ll also be helping our vision of “community driven security” become a reality. Get in touch and tell us about your requirements to see how we can help.
Sign up for the portal (you’ve done this bit!) and get involved — send us some questions, download some documents, subscribe if you find it useful.
And of course we’d welcome any thoughts or input. We are investing a lot into this, and are excited about the possibilities it is going to create.


Article by Nick Ellsmore, Chief Apiarist, Hivint

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